After leaving my day job in 2019 to focus on my business, I spent what felt like the entire year generating ideas, elaborating and refining those ideas, and recording actions I should take.
You’ll note that nowhere in this list do I say “and actually taking action”.
Of course, I’m being a little harsh on myself. It’s easy to generalise, and in reality, I did take action on a few big projects.
But the truth is, I spent a lot of time spinning plates.
Thinking, imagining, plotting, and planning. A Trello board full to bursting with ideas.
But why do we get stuck in the ideas phase, and fail to take action?
- Perfectionism. We can perfect our ideas to within an inch of their life, but we’re afraid of taking action in case we do a terrible job. Which we’d ultimately make to mean something bad about us as individuals.
- Fear of getting started. Other than the fear above, of being seen as inherently faulty, wrong or bad, maybe we don’t think we have what it takes. Maybe, on the other hand, we’re actually afraid of success.
- We’re not sure how to proceed, or the task requires more effort or focus than we think we can give.
But what is the cost of spending all this time in stasis? Hashing and rehashing ideas?
Isn’t it better to have one bright idea that’s brought to life, than twenty bright ideas still resting on the shelf? Who’s missing out if you continue to hide this precious gold?
Is it your clients, your community, your cause?
So, what’s the antidote?
Starting before you’re ready.
From someone who observes their perfectionistic tendencies more closely than an anthropologist, here are three of my top tips to help you do just this.
- Train yourself to opt for imperfect action over perfect inaction. Aim for done, not perfect. And when you do, challenge the inevitable thoughts that try to convince you it’s not good enough, people will think you’re incompetent, it should be more polished… These thoughts will only keep you stuck, and who does that serve? Start off with imperfect action on a low-risk task, and when you notice the world doesn’t fall apart, upgrade to a more important one. Closely observe the outcome. Was there really any negative effect from prioritising done over perfect?
- Fail fast. Yes, it’s a buzz term. But it’s catchy for a reason. The essence of failing fast is putting a rough draft of your task, project or idea out there, and getting feedback, so that you can learn, refine and continuously improve. If it doesn’t get traction, you can shelve it — saving infinite energy that you would’ve otherwise wasted on getting it perfect, only to find out it wasn’t going to fly.
- Team up with people with different operating styles. If you’re someone who tends to get caught in the details, or likes everything to be planned out perfectly, team up with a risk taker, or someone who’s focused on taking action. There are three benefits to this: one, they won’t allow you to stay stalled. Two, you’ll observe a different way of operating, and realise there’s more than one way to success. Three, you’ll be accountable to each other, not just yourself. Believe me when I say this speeds things up.
Embrace these principles with just one of your ideas, and watch the momentum gather. Soon enough, it’ll be hard to stop. When you’re committed to taking action, the idea takes on a life of its own. And even if it fails, you’ll have invaluable learnings for next time. Something that simply can’t be gained from ideas gathering dust on the shelf.