Start at the End, But Also Now

Start Now. Image by Gift Habeshaw

You’ve heard the saying. “The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago; the second best time is now.”

And yet, here you are, reading this, somewhere between not-yet-started and still-not-done. Why’s that? Well, I have a theory.

You need to have a clear picture of what needs to be done before you just do it.

Starting is easy. It’s easy to plant a seed, if we’re going to go with that analogy. It’s easy to decide on a goal, to set a plan into motion, to talk about the idea of things. Just do it! Nike says, and we done it. We had a whole getting things done revolution and still, for some reason, there’s still things to do.

And that’s because we often don’t have a clear picture of what done actually is. You need to have a clear picture of what needs to be done before you just do it. It’s easy to know what needs to be done with common tasks like cleaning the kitchen or walking the dog or any of the several things we do day in and day out. But when it comes to uncharted territory like starting a business, building a community, or making a product, done gets a little murky.

So how do you get your big idea from this uncharted thing in your mind’s eye to some doable? Let’s look at the kitchen cleaning task as an example. You’ll know when the kitchen is cleaned when a few things have happened: the dishes are washed and put away, the stove is cleaned, the counters are cleared, the trash is emptied, and the floor is mopped. Boom. Cleaned.

What we see as one task, “Clean the kitchen” is actually made up of five different tasks. One task, many “dones”. Finishing means understanding every piece of done that your project contains.

Subconsciously, you know any single task is actually made up of a bunch of smaller tasks. It’s why we get overwhelmed with the idea of tasks we’ve never done before but want to do. We haven’t defined what done is at the macro or micro levels, so we just get lost in a storm of hypothesized difficulties.

Defining done is just as important as getting started. In fact, it should be step one. How do you know that your idea has been executed? How do you know that your project is complete? Start at the end and, well, get it done.

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