Ben Scofield

me. still on a blog.

On Starting

Back in May, I gave a talk at Ignite RailsConf on being awesome. The presentation revolved around three (well, two and a half) rules, of which the first was:

Start stuff

The justification for this rule is simple: if you don’t start things, you’ll never succeed. To go cliched, you’ll never reach any destination unless you take a first step. Beyond that, though, the more things you start, the more chances you have to be awesome. No one in history ever became great by only doing one thing.

To prove my point, here is a sweet and not-at-all made-up chart showing the relationship between the number of things someone starts and how awesome they are (all other things being equal, of course)

[[posterous-content:CCGdHcrfxkyjyEiqmGGE]]

OK, it’s easy enough to say that you should start lots of stuff, but it’s a lot harder to actually do it. As I see it, there are two main problems around following the rule.

What to start

First, you have to figure out what things to start. There’s an entire cottage industry around people who think they don’t have enough ideas, and I don’t have much to add to that – I’ll just tell you what seems to work for me. The more reliably I track my ideas, the more (and better) ideas I seem to have. The medium doesn’t seem to matter very much; I’ve had bursts of creativity with pen and paper, voice recorders, and tools like Evernote alike. I will say, however, that some choices make reviewing things much easier than others, and now I primarily use Evernote for tracking ideas.

Overcoming intertia

The other major challenge around starting things is inertia. We’re all busy, and it takes a real effort to start new projects regularly. For me, the best way to deal with that is to start smaller and smaller projects. When I’m reviewing ideas for something new to work on, things that are too big (writing the Great American Novel, building a new piece of hardware to do some task around the house, etc.) are massively intimidating; the fear that I’ll never be able to finish them makes it that much harder to start them. Small projects, on the other hand, make it much easier to convince myself that I’ll be able to bang them out – and that’s a huge step.

Next up

There’s a lot more to say on starting, of course, but I don’t want to ignore the other rule-and-a-half, so I’ll be talking about finishing and quitting next.