Self-Starting vs. Self-Stumbling

Hi and welcome to my first post on Scoutie Girl. I am thrilled and honored to be a part of the team here and look forward to my time here.  Conversation starters will be my platform for gathering hot ideas and inspirations from across the net as a jumping off point for asking and answering my own questions and inviting you into the conversation. I also invite you to send me questions you’d like to see covered.

This first topic came to me as the result of starting a lot of new things at the same time (including this column) and stumbling a bit to meet deadlines. As artists, crafters, DIYers we usually start alone and frequently work alone for much or all of the time we work create.

What I have discovered this past month is that deadlines make all the difference.  As a typically right-brained creative, I have balked at lists and deadlines much of my life preferring the notion of the free-spirited artist that needs inspiration, a muse, a perfect work space and supplies to do my best creating, to do any creating.

I have many times whined to my husband about lack of inspiration, self-doubt, uncertainty to which he loves to say “just do it.” Oh how I loathed Nike for coming up with that little gem, but I have learned to appreciate it.

Last week I had an idea that required me to act immediately if I were to accomplish my goal and I gave myself 5 days to finish. I worked hard all 5 days making mistakes going in circles and finishing at about 3pm on Friday the 5th day. I must say I am pleased with what I accomplished and impressed at how well my self-imposed deadline worked when I took it seriously.

As self-starters, it can be too easy to break our commitments to self.

That we need to wait for inspiration or the perfect idea is a nice notion but it is no way to start a business. The business of art, like any business requires that we not only put in the hours, but that we take action and produce.  The key is to start.

In Seth Godin’s latest book Poke the Box he writes:

The first rule of doing work that matters is: Go to work on a regular basis.

Art is hard. Selling is hard. Writing is hard. Making a difference is hard.

When you are doing hard work, getting rejected, failing, working it out-this is a dumb time to make a situational decision about whether it’s time for a nap, or a day off, or a coffee break.

He adds:

Isaac Asimov wrote and published more than 400(!) books by typing nonstop from 6am to noon every day for forty years.

He started, every day. No doubt most of those books were not best sellers and many  were rejected or got bad reviews but he kept at it.

I came upon this article Team Player Vs. Self-Starter where they say we fall into one of these two categories.

Most of us fit into one of two productivity camps—team players and independentworkers or “self-starters”.

Some of us thrive on the camaraderie and brainstorming that occurs when a high-functioning workplace team gets together to work on a project, while others prefer the solitude and focus that working solo provides. Most people prefer one or the other, but managers like to see employees who can deliver the same results in either arrangement.

This statement is aimed at a traditional “job” but I think it applies just as well to us entrepreneurs. If we are natural self-starters we will find it easier to, well, start, but if we are team players we can still do it. I think it is a matter of how much support we need from family, friends or places like Scoutie Girl, and an understanding of how we cycle when working. What I mean by that is how much time we need to process before starting, and how much time do we need to unwind upon finishing for example. There may be many variables but it is about knowing what your work patterns are and showing up to honor them.

Inspiration maven Diana Valentine does a column called Finish it! Friday in which she interviews self-starters on the process of finishing what they start. In a recent interview with Bindu Wiles, Bindu candidly admits that she DOES NOT finish everything she starts, and that she often needs significant couch time after first launching a new idea. More importantly she talks about knowing when to “call in the troops” when she gets stuck.

It may sound like she couldn’t be very productive with all this couch time and support getting. Not so. Bindu is one of the most active self-starters out there and she is awesome.

My Conclusion

Being a self-starter is no day at the beach.

Ok, seriously, I think all 3 points made above are valid.

  1. We need first of all to show up if we want to make things happen.
  2. Lists, calendars, and deadlines are our friends.
  3. We have personality types that can help and hinder this kind of work and we need to be very aware of our strengths and weaknesses.
  4. We need to honor our cycles and know when to ask for help.

OK, that’s 4 points, I added my own. So let me know what you think.

Do you agree or have a different opinion? What are your experiences as a self-starter and what tools do you use to keep you on task?

33 thoughts on “Self-Starting vs. Self-Stumbling

  1. Great post! Thanks for sharing! 100% Agreed!
    I have experience as a manager and yet, managing yourself is a different thing altogether isn’t it?
    I talk back to myself! I don’t always follow my own advice! I tell myself to do one thing, and I do another! :)

  2. I often run into other creatives who scratch their heads at the notion of project time lines, calendars, business plans, and deadlines. It is so restrictive, they say. Or, “how very corporate of you.” But to me, trying to create without those things in place is PARALYZING. My best friend is my egg timer. You’d be really surprised at the greatness you can produce when you are under fire from a ticking clock. It is almost cathartic.

    So knowing there are personality types and also keeping in mind my years spent in corporate America – is my work method congenital or conditioned?

    1. Hey Janice!

      Can I say that I think it’s both congenital & conditional?

      I think that we’re finely attuned to the deadlines & pressure of needing to provide shelter, food, and water to ourselves & our families. However, we don’t see those pressures in front of us nearly as often as our cavemen ancestors did.

      So we’ve conditioned ourselves to see artificial deadlines & pressures as just as important. Which is why your system works well for so many people!

      But that’s just my 2 cents!

  3. This is such a great piece! I am a mega-procrastinator, so having fixed goals and announced deadlines are imperative to my productivity. Goals for my business keep me motivated and help me measure my sucess.

  4. Thank You all!!! Janice thanks for bringing up the timer. I have an egg timer and an electronic timer, but I have not been using them lately and need to. I have always had a terrible sense of time especially when it comes to predicting how long it takes ME to do something. The timer is therefore frustrating but also a great way to improve my time management.

  5. It’s true. How easy it is to come downstairs and watch the judge shows in the morning and get nothing done. It’s one of the reasons I started a Facebook project to write poetry based on words supplied by friends. I’ve written 25 really wonderful poems, and I wouldn’t have written a word of poetry without this project.

    I write and design and take pictures and make mosaics for a living, though I also do all these things for fun. Poetry is the one thing I can’t really sell, so I went a few years forsaking it. Unfortunately, it’s the best thing I do.

    When you’re a self-employed self-starter, probably the best thing you can do is get dressed for work when you get up in the morning.

    Anyway, all good advice, Gwyn. Congratulations! You’re one of the most inspiring people I know.

    1. Oh my gosh, I thought I was the only one who did that! I get dressed in actual work attire – high heels, make up, coiffed hair – every week day. It is practically ritualistic. I am transitioning my mind into work mode. Besides my workroom door, it is the best way to signal to myself and my family that I am “at work.”

    2. Hey Leslie!

      Who says you can’t sell poetry?!?!?!?! I would love to see you compile an ebook of the “Facebook” poems you’ve created. So clever – and very sticky! You could add some pages on how you got the idea and what struggles you had in writing the poetry.

      Sell it on your own… OR create a kindle version & sell it for cheap $1.99 or $2.99 and see what happens! You never know until you try!

      1. Hey, Tara, thanks so much for your comment. You’re right.

        A couple years ago, Simon & Schuster published my first nonfiction book. I did nothing to promote it, and it tanked. I’m now gun shy, even though I have dozens of ideas for a new nonfiction work. I am usually good at just starting, but I have a few obstacles at home that keep me from spending countless hours on something I’m not sure will sell.

        That said, a few years ago, I published a chapbook that I made by hand. I must have sold fifty of them via the Internet. It was a real joy. But I am also a snob. I like the cachet of being represented by a publisher, even if they leave me dangling in the breeze.

        I am going to rethink that, though. This is some of my best work, and I think it’ll be well received. Thanks for the encouragement.

  6. I do need to set deadlines and I think it’s helpful when someone else is involved to spur me on to action. That doesn’t mean I need or want someone else “in charge,” but if I am the only person who knows about the deadline and no one else is in any way aware/involved, it is easy for me to push the deadline back, back, back. I have seen myself do this a billion times. So, I need deadlines that have some kind of grounding outside my calendar-for-the-sake-of-a-calendar.

    I often have success when I rashly begin a project before spending a hundred years planning it out. Planning is good, but DOING is great. (Oh, I know you need some planning, too. :)

    Good post!

  7. Thanks again! As I sit here in my jammies as I do most days I am wondering what it would be like to shower and dress before hitting the “office”. I do know I need to be comfortable to do my best work so formal work attire is out of the question, but a bra, real pants, shoes and maybe a little make up do make me feel a little spiffier. I’ll give it a try tomorrow.

  8. Very inspiring post!

    I’m definitely a left-brained creative, relying on lists, a calendar and timers. My problem is dealing with interruptions and setting clear limits for the family. When they are home, they automatically see me in my role of ‘mom’. I’m good at turning off the computer and not answering the phone, getting up early to do yoga, but what about the family?

    1. For me, Laura, it’s required me to have a clear home office, frank discussions, and set working hours. My daughter & husband know when “mommy is working” and that means I need peace & quiet.

  9. It’s really important to be able to work with deadlines, calendars, and lists if you want to move forward. Even if you’re a no-list kind of person, the power of internal goals and stakes in the ground gets you motivated. But it’s important to not beat yourself up if things go awry. Sometimes goals don’t get met, but that doesn’t mean you’re a failure and you should never set another one. Perseverance!

  10. Great post! I love lists but getting myself to love schedules is a bit harder..but I find that it really does help support me. At times I have to evaluate is the schedule not working or am I not working the schedule! I have found lately that the “Just do it” phrase is right often.. For many areas of my life, I may not feel motivated but I feel great after I follow through. I start with a list for a longer length of time a year or so, then I make a monthly list, looking at my monthly list is what helps me plan my weeks. Otherwise it’s to easy for it all to get away from you..
    I do not get gussied up for work, and only have a small shared space to work in, but I do get dressed out of my PJ”s in something comfy and put on my make-up so I am ready for the day..

  11. As a fellow right-brainer, I like to have written visual reminders all around me.

    I have started turning up daily.
    I have been writing daily to do lists and sticking to them.
    I made my own large wall calendar which helps me remember what day of the week it is 😉
    I’ve recently downloaded a free app available for Pc and Mac It’s a 25 minute electronic timer that sits on your desktop. It stops me from getting distracted.

    I also have folders for each project I’m working on and an idea folder.

    That still doesn’t stop me from having written notes strewn around and probably around 4 lined A4 pads with notes on just about everything!

    I am getting better though 😉

    Ali x

  12. Just what I needed to read this morning. Thank you! I am sitting here overwhelmed with too many projects, too many ideas and too little time (or so I think). I just wrote down (on my calendar) one project I know I can finish this week that I have been trying to do for a year. Thanks for the inspiration and motivation. Thought I was more of a self starter, but just realized how much this post helped me, so I guess I also crave the support. And just like your last point stated, I need to honor my cycles and work in a way that feels right for that day or even moment.

  13. This couldn’t have come at a better time for me, as I’ve really been struggling with being really “on” or “off” with my new creative business. Sometimes I just don’t want to do anything (usually Fridays, ha ha) business related, whereas other times I think that I push myself a little too hard to meet these self-imposed timelines. I’m learning that just because I create deadlines doesn’t mean that if I don’t make them the world will end. But I have learned that I won’t get one thing done unless I write it down on my calendar and have a date and goal to work towards. In my work, I’m really trying to learn balance between the two. I’m trying to show up, be ready to work, and get things accomplished so I can take my business where I want it to go. Thanks again for this very timely post!

  14. I’m in the middle of reading Poke the Box. Can’t seem to finish it though, I keep putting it down in order to start things!
    For me, it’s the finishing things that’s a challenge. I still haven’t found the system that works for me.

  15. Wow thanks everyone, and thanks Tara for the great replies! I am absolutely thrilled if I can inspire or help in any way. I love hearing the different strategies especially those from the more left brained types.

    I am going to email your suggestion to Leslie as she may not get back to see the comment and she needs to hear that.

    Thea I am in the same place with PtB. I usually read first thing in the am with my coffee and can’t seem to get very far before I am compelled to get started. Gotta love that!!!

  16. I LOVE lists… LOVE them – I have notebooks full of lists! But… I hate schedules. I’m a procrastinator and a perfectionist, and I love my space and my things to be organized and tidy, but my management of time is not organized and tidy at all. I write lists to keep my brain from exploding with all the ideas buzzing around in there but I’m hopeless at keeping to a timetable [even though I see it work beautifully for others].

    I absolutely believe in ‘just do it’ but I get so overwhelmed by the big picture that I often can’t think what to ‘do’ first. The strategy that has worked best for me is just breaking things down into bite-sized chunks. Accomplishing just one tiny thing seems to create momentum and before I know it a whole lot of little things have become one big thing.

    Really got to work on that schedule thing though!

  17. Emma I spent many years overwhelmed by the big picture hating myself for not being able to “just do it”. It has been a long process to get to the action phase for me and big part of it has been these internet relationships I’ve built. It is a different world and I’m sure glad this old dog was willing to learn some new tricks! Keep at it and try being public about those schedules and deadlines.

  18. I find that I seem to go back and forth on this one, probably depending on the nature of the task more than anything else. Sometime I need some sort of externally imposed deadline to get something done. For example, if someone, particularly a friend, places a custom jewelry order and tells me “Don’t worry about when you finish it, I don’t need it by a specific date,” I will beg them to give me a deadline, even if it’s arbitrary, just so I have something motivating me to get it done in a timely manner.

    Other times I have the opposite problem – If I have a really good idea and launch right into it, whether it’s related to my jewelry business or some home improvement project or an organizational undertaking (like cleaning out my closet) I will dive head-first into that project and not come up for air, to a point that I forget to eat something or go to sleep at a reasonable hour.

    I think this all-or-nothing attitude actually applies to everything I do. I’m either full-speed-ahead or I just can’t seem to get started. It’s especially apparent in how I physically move through the world. I find myself regularly admonished by coworkers at my day job for literally *running* through the office, but I’ll have no idea that I’m running until they point it out. But if I park my butt on the couch when I get home from work, there is absolutely no moving me until it’s time to go to bed. 😛

  19. Thanks, Gwyn! Your post has been the catalyst for a bit of a lightbulb-moment of self-revelation. I have the personality that I have – to move forward I need to take my strengths and weaknesses into account and plan accordingly. And yes… make those deadlines public!

    This is just what I needed today!

  20. Love this piece Gwyn. It led me so many place in my head, but mostly to the place of agreeing, with vigorous head nods that Showing Up is the most important piece of being a self starter, and then, I kissed my calendar.

  21. I made myself a pledge that I’d get myself dressed everyday! It worked for several days and I was feeling much better (even when I’m busy all day long, if I’m in my PJs, I still feel lazy). But, oh, oh, I’m in my pajamas again at 11am!

    I’ve enjoyed coming back and reading further comments here. It’s nice to hear the stories of others and know how many other women are out there everyday starting, sometimes stumbling but always giving it their all!

    Gotta go get dressed!

    Have a great weekend!

    Andrea Deal

  22. Again thanks to all of you that read and commented. I am thrilled that my first post here is a success. Now I have to keep it up and that is a bit scary :-) I have to admit I’ve had a bit of a stumbling week myself. Partly I needed time to process before I make a big move, and partly I’ve been avoiding AKA procrastinating. I think the trick is to recognize the difference between processing and procrastinating and knowing when to knock it off and just do it. Toady is that day for me.

    Concerning pajamas I have decided it does not make much difference to me in how I feel or work, I need to be comfortable more than look good. However I have gone through the closet and gotten rid of my rattiest lounge attire. Even pajamas can be cute right?

  23. i could cry with happy tears of ‘you get me’! all i can say is, ‘oh thank god i’m not alone!!’ i happen to be surrounded by type A…HIGHLY motivated, functional dedicated creatives. ack!

    i love it. i appreciate what they can do. but it’s not me and i struggle with myself worth about it constantly.

    on any given day i can squander my time with the best of them. i know a schedule would actually be freeing, but the artist in me screams, conformist! i know it’s not, but somehow i have to soothe her.

    i have a dozen or more half started pad/tablets/journals all purchased for one specific purpose and then when i am sitting working i grab the closest one, and it becomes another book of directions. todo’s. ideas. budget..etc.

    most days i feel like i’m going crazy, in overwhelm with so much to do, no idea where to begin, and wanting it to all be done now.

    in reading this.. i realize how much i need people in my life, doing what i am doing. thank y o u!!

    i’m taking a few of the ideas here and going to work with them this week.

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