The Blog.

Starting badly

7 Apr 2014 | Mind monkeys

A friend told me about her frog the other day. Not an actual frog that sits in a pond. The kind that sits on your to-do list.

That unattractive task you keep putting off.

We’d had the conversation about eating a frog for breakfast before, and last time we found that it was actually not her frog. This time it was.

“It’s not that it’s a hard thing to do. In fact I know I could spend 10 minutes and get it done – but it wouldn’t be brilliant. I wouldn’t be happy with it. I know I can do so much better than this.”

Do you ever get that? Where you know you can do so much better, so you end up doing nothing at all? 

“What I need – and what I usually get – with a project like this is a burst of inspiration. A bright idea that’s just perfect, then I can get on and make it happen. But with this one, I’m still waiting for that thing, that idea. And in the meantime, I know I’m letting my client down by not doing anything at all.”

We talked around what’s stopping her, how clear she was about what needed to be done, how she could give her creative muse a boost, but in the end, it boiled down to this:

Sometimes you just have to start badly.

It’s great to be inspired, to have a brilliant vision. But if that’s not happening, sometimes you just have to do something to get the cogs whirring.

It’s what I often do with writing, when my muse is playing hard to get. Start writing anyway, and let my muse catch up with me.

So I challenged her to do the 10 minute job that would get it done to the basic ‘acceptable but not great’ level. Then give herself a deadline until the end of the week to deliver whatever she had to her client.

With any luck, this will give her creative genius the kick it needs to show up. But if not, at least she will have shipped something. The client would have a basic, working version, and she could always come back with a dazzling upgrade later.

I’m looking forward to seeing how she gets on. In the meantime, what about you?

What are you stuck on – or not even started – because your high standards of perfection are getting in the way?

What if you decided to start that ‘badly’ this week? What would that look like?

Leave me a comment and let me know – I’d love to hear from you!


  1. Sharon Dale

    I heard this at a conference recently ‘Go Ugly Early’ meaning – don’t worry about getting it pretty or perfect etc just start and iterate based on what you learn.

    I actively seek out those tasks that I am not starting and try to work out why. If it is not an actual blocker and is just resistance because of perfectionism I do 20 minutes of ‘discovery’ to see what I need to do next and that usually gets me over the hump.

    • Gaelle

      what do you mean by 20 minutes of discovery?
      Gaelle by the sea

      • Sharon Dale

        Gaelle – Discovery is a term used in Agile projects. What *I* mean by it is deciding what done looks like, scoping the task or project and finding out the knowns and unknowns. By calling it discovery I get into a frame of mind where I am not trying to finish something but start it, this helps with the perfectionism. There is quite a good video here

        • Gaelle

          Thank you Sharon for explaining this. I think this is making sense. I would use different words for it because I work in a different field but the process and end result with a client in mind is still relevant. Thank you. Gaelle by the sea

    • Grace Marshall

      Go Ugly Early – love it Sharon! And great strategy with 20 minutes discovery – as I think Mark Forster said, sometimes you just need to get the file out.

  2. Gaelle by The sea

    I so agree with this. I sometimes go into my art studio and sit, play with materials and look at what I have and sometimes it all comes together by putting some elements together I had not thought of. Sometimes if I am stuck I have a little Pinterest session and search for solutions via the search bar. I now use this a look as a creative search engine. Of course this is potentially distracting but I try to be focused except when I relax and browse.
    Sometimes when starting we make a mistake or something unplanned and this is how the magic happens!
    Thanks for such lovely and inspiring Monday goodness! x

    • Grace Marshall

      Totally Gaelle – most of the best inventions have come from mistakes and play. I think there’s something about the creative process that flows better when we take the pressure off it having to be perfect. Glad you’re enjoying the Monday Momentum messages! x

  3. Richard Tubb

    Grace – putting off getting started is something I’m, unfortunately, *very* familiar with! I love using the Pomodoro technique to get me past my inaction. Setting a timer for 25 minutes and just working on something for that amount of time. Just the act of setting and starting the timer seems to be enough!

    Of course, next to 25 mins, the 10 minutes you’ve suggested to your friend is absolutely nothing! So there’s no excuse for us not to get things done! 🙂

    • Grace Marshall

      The 10 minutes was her suggestion. She knew that the basic job would only take her 10 minutes, it was the waiting for inspiration to do a perfect job that took the time.

      Love the Pomodoro technique for getting started. You’re right, just the act of setting a timer is great for getting started. Even my kids have got a ‘piggy timer’ – although sometimes they use it on me!

  4. Diane Warburton

    Morning Grace
    This manifests itself all over the place but the main things which popped into my head where my City & Guilds patchwork and quilting classes. Every craft related course has to do a design module. This at first freaked us all out, as we didn’t have a clue what to do and said things like ‘I’m not arty at all’. What we’ve learnt though is to let go of that. Free yourself, give yourself permission to explore. By allowing those ‘absolute rubbish’ activities to pass through us, they are vital to providing the impetus for other things which can end up being fantastic. Sometimes they’re still not great of course or just not what you expected but then you keep designing/creating/playing. In fact, mostly we end up with something we didn’t expect. We get something which surprises us; we get a project which is way beyond our expectations. That’s a great feeling.
    I totally agree that working through that initial barrier can be trialling but if we communicate this process to the people around us, then they’ll come on the journey with us hopefully. If not, it’s their loss! 🙂

  5. Linda

    I know just what you mean. I am an enamel artist and jeweller. I had a commission for a design that was a little out of my comfort zone so I have been putting off starting. I had spent some time on Pinterest collecting some inspiration so I was ready to start and I had some preliminary drawings that I done a while ago. Sunday afternoon was wet and dismal so I set myself up on the dining room table with my pens and pencils with plenty of chocolate and regular cups of tea. Success. Such a feeling of achievement. Starting is always the hardest thing but once you do the way is clear.

Image if author Grace Marshall

About Grace

I coach, train, write and speak on productivity. I help people adopt new ways of working and thinking about their work to replace stress, overwhelm and frustration with success, sanity and satisfaction.

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