The Hardest Part of a Project
Sometimes, the hardest part of a project is getting started. The first step can feel like a huge leap into the unknown. Even if you’ve diligently planned, you don’t know what obstacles you’ll encounter, how it will turn out. The work might be hard. You might face criticism.
Our minds enchant us with endless stories about the risks that await us when we are on the threshold of a new project. No doubt you know them well.
In our productivity-focused culture, where the emphasis is on “getting things done” and shipping the work, the challenges we face when starting are often the topic of discussion, along with advice on how to take the leap.
Usually, advice like start before you’re ready.
There’s another side to this that gets less attention. And when it does get the spotlight, it’s often with a negative connotation.
Sometimes, the hardest part of working on a project is stopping the work. Putting down the pen. Stepping away from the keyboard.
We can bring as much resistance to rest as we can to our work. Sometimes more.
And in a culture that honors doing, the resistance to rest is sanctioned. We lionize people who pull all-nighters or don’t stop to eat or take a bathroom break. Those people did “whatever is necessary” to get the job done.
But at what cost to their health, relationships, and the quality of their work?
Fear of Starting is Fear of Stopping
Starting and stopping are two sides of the same challenge. In my work, I’ve struggled with both and found that they are causally linked.
Sometimes I hesitate in starting because I know I might get sucked into the zone of hyperfocus and will have trouble stopping; I don’t want the project to consume all my time. And I might hestiate to stop because I am afraid I won’t be able to start up again.
Some of the fears of stopping to rest include losing momentum, forgetting where you were, or a fear that I’ll lose track of my ideas. When I sit down to work on a project, I want to complete it in that sitting.
The challenge is that as our work gets more complex, completing projects in one sitting becomes increasingly unrealistic.
And when we don’t honor regular periods of rest, we suffer and our work suffers.
Rest is Essential to Creating Our Best Work
Regular periods of rest and recovery are not the obstacle to our best work; they pave the path.
Although it’s tempting to wait until we feel tired, rest doesn’t work that way. By the time we realize we are tired, we are over-tired. Then we need even more rest and recovery.
My personal experience has taught me that when I don’t stop to rest and recover, something will arise that forces me to rest. Maybe I get delayed by a technology malfunction, or maybe it’s something more serious, like illness, burnout, or a brain injury.
Often whatever force arises knocks me out does interrupt my momentum. And it didn’t have to be that way.
Although my resistance to rest has been strong, I’ve slowly come around to learning that rest isn’t an option, it’s an essential part of the productivity cycle.
If we wait until the work is done before we stop, we won’t stop, because the work is never done.
We need to stop before we’re ready.