Ok, that title was maybe a litttttttle click baity, but I couldn’t help it. Because it’s true — I’ve been needing to write this blog post, to kick off the new year with a solid blogging game, and yet there’s only one thing I seem to be doing instead: procrastinating. I’m like really, really good at it. My mom used to call it putzing. Doing lots of little things to put off doing the big thing. When I was a kid, the big thing I should have been doing was go to bed. I’m a night owl, so it all makes sense now, but as an independent 9-year-old, I’d waste a good 2 hours after my supposed bedtime, putzing around my room. Organizing my CDs, dusting my shelves, rearranging furniture, hanging some new posters or torn-out magazine pages. Putzing was where I really shined.
And now as a 30-something entrepreneur, here I am doing it again.
I sent out my annual year-end survey a few weeks ago and I asked one main questions:
What is your big goal for the new year?
As answers started trickling in, there was one glaringly common thread that was too obvious to miss:
"Start it. It's been on incubation mode for a long time, but as a side-hustle, it's been very hard for me to find time and energy to plan for my day job tasks and the side-hustle."
"Start it! lol"
"Start. Silly but scared to take the leap."
"Leave behind my perfectionism and actually start it.”
No joke, these were all among the first few answers. At first I was like, really people, come on. Just start the darn thing, it’s not hard. But then I apparently couldn’t START on a freaking blog post about STARTING, and I was reminded how hard it can actually be to take that first step.
Whether it’s just a blog post, or something bigger — a product, a service, an entire business. While sometimes it feels like I fell into a lot of these things in my own journey as an entrepreneur, when I really think about what it felt like on those Square Ones, it was not easy.
Starting isn’t easy. But it doesn’t have to be hard or complicated either.
So let’s chat about how you can get started on That Thing you’ve been thinking about since you clicked on this post, and why you might be putting it off. That Thing that keeps getting pushed to the bottom of your to do list. That Thing that you’re avoiding with furniture rearrangements and more Hanson posters. You know what That Thing is for you, so keep it in mind as you read.
How do you know when it’s the right time to start?
Good news, my stressed out friend, there is no right time to start. And “now” is NOT always the right answer, no matter what you’re hearing blasted on the street corner at the start of this new year. Starting on That Thing is a personal decision for you to make — not for a stranger on the internet to decide for you. Here’s an example from my own life:
Writing a book. I’ve wanted to write a book for my entire life, basically, but I felt in my gut that timing needed to be right. In 2016 and 2017, I felt like I was close to starting on it, but not quite there yet. How did I know? No idea, it was just a gut feeling. Wow, Kelsey, super helpful! I know, I know, sorry. But towards the end of 2017, my business was shifting in ways that allowed more time for other projects. I was ruthlessly cutting out parts of my business that I was burned out on or that just weren’t pulling their weight anymore. I had more freedom to journal and blog and write. No book yet, but I practiced the craft that would lead me to a book down the road. (Hint: sometimes practicing is more beneficial than starting.)
And on a personal note, the content I was writing about (single parenthood) was a touchy subject for a lot of those years. It was all still so fresh and raw and I was still writing as a therapy, not as a public practice. So in late 2017, with time freeing up, some nudging from close friends, I finally felt ready to start real work on the book when I heard a random episode from a favorite podcast. I won’t go into it here (you can read about it in my book, see what I did there?!), but just know this — that last bit of inspiration that makes it super clear that NOW is the time to start could be in a place you least expect it. So keep your ears perked, your eyes open, and just keep practicing That Thing until you’re ready to make your big move.
And so if it is the right time, how can we stop all the putzing, procrastinating perfectionism, and just START already?
My brain goes to the practical side of things (and maybe that’s why you came to this weirdly-titled blog post in the first place). The best example I can think of in my own business, something that I was putting off for awhile because it totally freaked me out, was creating my first online course, The InDesign Field Guide.
It was back in 2015, before the big heyday of online courses, and my freelance business was burning me out FAST. I was tired of working with clients, I wanted a taste of that sweet passive income pie, and the clients I was working with all happened to be creating these new things called online courses. I found myself designing all the components that go into these beasts — and I also got to see the potential they had for earning money on a much larger scale than my client list.
One of the most complicated things to start (or so they can appear) is the creation of an online course. So I did what I do best — I broke it down as small as I could into manageable chunks, giving me a realistic answer to the questions, Can I actually create this, and How long will it take?
The first thing I did was research. I researched my buuuutt off, reading as many blog posts as I could and following along with as many online entrepreneurs I could find who were doing the type of work I wanted to be doing. Observation can teach you A LOT. Sometimes more than said course.
And then my perfectionism started creeping in. My putzing tendencies flared up and I could tell I was avoiding the hard work by just doing more and more “research.” Busy work that kept me from the real work. When you feel yourself start settling into that kind of rut, you know it’s perfectionism taking the reigns.
And so I’ll throw you that great cliche we all love to hate: Done is better than perfect. Eventually you have to stop putzing, stop researching, stop planning, and roll up your sleeves for the hard work. The creation of the thing, the revising of the thing, the launching of the thing. As a whole, it’s overwhelming, no matter what That Thing is for you. In my online course example, I had to move on from the research, the outlining (here’s my process for that, fyi), and start building the thing already.
I wrote down every single task I would need to complete to create one lesson of the course:
Write full content
Design slide template
Design full slides for that lesson
Create the test project to teach on
Record the video tutorial
Edit the video
Upload the video
Write the PDF resources
Design the PDF resources
Put together the videos and PDFs in the course dashboard
On it goes, and it can seem like a never-ending list when you break it down that granular, but for me, it was absolutely necessary to make any progress on That Thing. From this list, I could estimate how long it would realistically take me to complete one lesson. And from there I could project my whole timeline for the entire project, building in margin for when things go wrong. (And yes, things will go wrong at some point. Build that into your schedule, your future self will thank you.)
And to really give yourself the final kick in the pants to stick with this task monster you’ve created, dump it on a calendar. It could be your Google Calendar, iCal, Asana (here’s how I use that), or a printed physical calendar that you hang up by your desk (I did this, too!). Put a schedule to your tasks, and maybe even ask a friend to help keep you on task. My brother and his friend used to have this trick where they’d write the other person a check for $500 or whatever would be painful to lose, date it for the day they want to have some specific milestone finished, and tell them to cash the check if they don’t hit their goal. If they do hit the goal, they get the check back (and probably breathe a sigh of relief). Money is motivating, so maybe this out-of-the-box trick could work with you and some trusted friends.
The last thing I’ll say on this whole START topic — and maybe it’s not completely related, but it feels like it at this point — is about starting an entire business, which I know is on a lot of people’s new year list. But here’s something to consider on that super daunting goal:
Starting a business is NOT a one-time, one-day, flip-the-switch event.
It’s gradual. It’s fluid. Maybe it starts as a side-hustle or just a simple product or offering. Then maybe you add a website, or a way to get the word out a bit more. Maybe you send a few more emails to some prospects you have. Then maybe you take on a little more work, and you start to phase out the day job. Full-time down to 30 hours, down to 20, then 10. Maybe this happens over a few months, maybe this happens over a few years. (Here’s the timeline of how that worked out for me.)
The point is this: Starting a business sounds like an actual event where you switch over from one life to another life. Like flipping a card over in a game of Texas Hold ‘Em. But ask anyone currently running any kind of business, and they’ll tell you it wasn’t a one-day decision. It was a series of tiny decisions. It was a collection of yes's and no's over a longer period of time than you might think. It’s not a switch to flip, it’s more like a turn dial. You’ll slowly rotate out one way of earning a living, and slowly rotate in a new way.
Yes, starting is important, but maybe the more important part is starting smaller than you think. Take on just one client, don’t worry about a whole roster of clients. Create just one product, don’t worry about having an entire spring collection right out of the gate. Offer just one, simple solution to a problem, don’t worry about discovering the magical key to all of life’s success just yet.
Start small. Start for you. Grow slowly if needed.
What big thing are you struggling to start right now? Are you putzing or procrastinating on the real work? Is perfectionism getting in the way? What ways will you combat that so you can actually start That Thing?