Are you struggling with how to start a project? There are countless resources full of advice about how to start a new project. However, they all mostly assume that you already have a plan in place. In reality, that initial step can be the hardest part of any endeavor.
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. 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.
It does not have to be that way.
In this article, we’ll discuss how to start a project, including the “pre-start” phase of figuring out what you want to do, setting clear goals, and developing a stable foundation that you can build on as the project progresses.
But first, let’s start with overcoming your fear of starting your project.
How to overcome the fear of starting a project
Really get it in your mind and think about the thing you know you need to do but just aren’t 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?
All of our excuses about starting a project come from some form of fear — worry, doubt, comparison, judgment, you name it — and they stop pretty much all of us from time-to-time.
So, instead of looking at your project as one big, scary thing, how about breaking it down into smaller pieces? All you have to do is make a list of every teeny tiny step that it will take for you to get started on your project as a whole.
When you make a list of tiny to-dos rather than one big, intimidating to-do — and when the first item on the list is incredibly easy to accomplish — you set yourself up for success. Each tiny step you complete brings you closer to a sense of success and forward motion, and that feeling is addictive.
It might seem too simple, but it really works.
Whether it’s simply a list of steps, an action plan or project timeline, breaking the overall project into more manageable tasks is the “pre-start” you need to really get your project successfully off the ground.
The hardest part of getting started on something that feels big and scary is simply that: the part where you have to get started.
How to start a project: Begin the begin
You might think simply having your project in mind is enough to get you started; however, making sure the first few phases (and the project as a whole) actually go well requires careful pre-planning.
To get started with any type of project, big or small you’ll want to:
- Develop your broad ideas into a tangible plan.
- Gather the tools and resources you’ll need.
- Set goals and targets, and potentially implement a development methodology to increase the odds of success.
At this point, you’ll likely have the glimmer of an idea for your project. This might be in the form of a vague goal, such as “build a website.”
This simple, core desire will be the backbone of the entire process, so make sure it’s something you feel passionate about.
The initial pre-planning for most projects starts with a pen and paper (or a text file, if you prefer). For the first few hours or days, you’ll want to focus on fleshing out your initial idea.
In our example about building a website, we’d likely first consider the niche for our website, put together the draft of a mission statement, and think broadly about how the site will be structured.
We’re being deliberately vague, of course, since this is essentially a brainstorming process. While you want to stay focused, it’s important not to restrict yourself at this stage, and to avoid rushing things.
At some point, you’ll have a solid “back of the napkin” sketch of your project ready. The next step is to turn up the heat by stepping into the kitchen.
Organize your project
If Kitchen Nightmares has taught us anything, it’s that focus, drive and commitment to your cause can get you far. However, what might not be so obvious is how high your level of organization needs to be.
It’s this aspect that turns a vague idea into a full-fledged project.
French chefs are renowned for organizing their kitchen, tools and ingredients before setting to work. “Mise en place” is the term for this, and roughly translated it means “everything in its place.”
In other words, you’ll first want to gather everything you need, lay it out in a convenient order, and then get to work.
Just as kitchens are meticulously planned, so should your project be. To apply the methodology of mise en place, take your napkin sketch and consider the following questions:
- What “cogs” do you need to piece together? In other words, what are the constituent parts of your project, and what do you need to create (then combine) them?
- Are there any tools or assets that will help you develop your project?
- In what order will you begin putting your project together?
This last question can be tough, since many projects quickly become sprawling and messy if left unchecked. That’s why it helps to be as clear as possible on your goals and overall roadmap before starting.
This is where creating your list of smaller steps to build up to the big, scary thing might come in handy.
Setting goals for your project
Admittedly, developing and starting a new project can feel like reaching into the darkness. You’ll look ahead to discover what you need to do, before pulling your focus back and carrying on with the planning process.
To put it another way, you’ll often find that there’s overlap between the various pre-planning stages of a project.
While you’re looking ahead towards the goals and targets for the project and its larger elements, you’ll also need to consider how you’ll implement the work needed to achieve each stage.
We’ll talk more about this in the next section, but for now, just be mindful that your development methodology will likely influence your goal setting. As long as you’re aware that you might have to flip-flop between these stages, you’ll be perfectly fine.
We’ve talked a lot about goal setting in previous articles on the blog, so we won’t go into lots of detail on that step here. However, we will say that making your goals SMART is a logical and proven way of achieving your project aims.
We’d also advise taking your time with this step.
There are two parts — ascertaining what milestones constitute the project, and making sure they’re SMART enough — and both are vital. After that, the final piece of pre-planning relies on getting a solid methodology in place.
Solidify your project methodology
Most of those working professionally in software development are already familiar with methodologies. They’re essentially the way you get things done on a day-to-day basis.
A strong methodology is essential for completing a project, and it can both improve your efficiency and sharpen your focus.
Lots of companies use Agile or Scrum methods, although these are usually team-based. That’s great if you’re actually working within a group. However, it pays to seek out more suitable methodologies if you’re a solo web professional.
For example, the Waterfall Technique is a solid way of getting a project started and finished — especially if your pre-planning is watertight.
However, there are plenty of other options.
If you’re the creative type, potential projects might pop into your mind on a frequent basis. Most of them will likely be forgotten, however, mainly because you’ll have no quick way of getting them off the ground.
Fortunately, there are four pre-planning stages that can help you strap a rocket to your idea and turn it into an MVP (or better).
First, you’ll want to get over the fear of starting your project. Then you’ll want to brainstorm your idea, leverage the concept of mise en place, and finally create SMART goals in conjunction with a suitable methodology.
After that, you’ll have laid strong foundations that will enable you to get started on your project!
This article includes content originally published on the GoDaddy blog by Jessica Swift.