How to start a project: Why it’s hard, and what you can do about it

Start small
How to start a project
© Jessica Swift

Consider something you’re procrastinating on. Something that feels big and scary, but that you know if you would just buckle down and do it you’d feel a sense of accomplishment / happiness / pride / relief. Are you struggling with how to start a project? Really get it in your mind and think about the thing you know you need to do but are just not doing.

How does it make you feel?

Anxious? Like you’re lazy? No good? Like you’re proving to yourself that you just don’t have what it takes and you never will?

  • What if I fail?
  • What if I succeed and then I squelch and waste it?
  • What if I just don’t have what it takes?
  • So-and-so is better at this than me. Why bother? I’ll never be that great.
  • This is too hard. I’m not smart enough.

You get the idea.

Maybe you put this big, scary thing on your calendar week after week and never make any progress, and you proceed to feel worse and worse and worse.

All of our excuses stem from some form of fear — worry, doubt, comparison, judgment, you name it — and they stop pretty much all of us from time to time. We’re only human after all!

For me, the hardest part in getting started on something that feels big / scary / unknown is simply that: the part where I have to get started.

I am an artist, and sometimes making art feels pretty scary — making art is essentially creating something brand new out of nothing! Sometimes I’ll procrastinate all day and find every reason I can come up with not to just go downstairs to my painting studio. Getting to my painting table is often THE hardest step. Once I’m there, it’s all good. (Sweet relief, I did it!) But you wouldn’t believe how challenging getting there is sometimes.

Can you relate?

Maybe your big scary thing is learning about email marketing. Maybe it’s organizing an in-person workshop. Maybe it’s cold-calling potential customers. Maybe it’s making a phone call to ask why your invoice hasn’t been paid. Maybe it’s making art. Maybe it’s facing your taxes. Regardless, if you’re wondering how to start a project, I have a solution. You can create an ease-filled path for yourself to get from where you are now (procrastination/fear) to where you want to go (success/action). And it’s actually pretty simple!

Big tasks can feel scary. Small tasks feel much more manageable.

How to start a project

I want you to make a list of every teeny tiny step that it will take for you to get started on your big scary thing. I want you to make it soooo simple and dummy-proof that each step feels practically effortless. Go back to the very beginning of what stops you. For me, it’s often that I get sucked into my computer and my email inbox. So I’ll start there. I’ll keep with my painting example from above to illustrate what I mean.

My big scary thing: Starting to work on a new painting.

My steps to get there:

  1. Turn off my computer.
  2. Stand up.
  3. Take 3 deep breaths.
  4. Say to myself: “I’m going downstairs.” Decide to do it.
  5. Walk to the top of the stairs.
  6. Walk down the stairs.
  7. Turn on the lights.
  8. Turn on some music. Put on my painting apron.
  9. Hang a new canvas on the wall.
  10. Put some paint on my palette.
  11. Pick up a paint brush.
  12. Put paint on the canvas.
  13. And voila, I’ve started a painting!

Once I’ve started, half the battle is over. It’s much easier to continue creating the painting once I’ve built some momentum!

When you make a list of these tiny to-dos rather than one big, scary to-do — and when the first item on the list is incredibly easy to accomplish — you set yourself up for success. If you’re like me, you love checking things off a list, so each tiny step you complete brings you closer to a sense of success and forward motion, and that feeling is addictive!

Every scary task can be broken into a series of non-scary steps. And once you start the first non-scary step, you’re on your way to an ease-filled journey toward accomplishing your big scary thing.

It may seem too simple, but it really works. Now you know how to start a project so please try it!

Image by: Phil Roeder via Compfight cc

Jessica Swift
Jessica Swift, a full-time artist and surface designer in Portland, Oregon, is on a quest to inspire everyone on the planet to pursue their wild + colorful dreams … and never give up. Her magically uplifting artwork is licensed by companies and manufacturers.