Just start

Sometimes you just have to start

A fourth year student is stalled and stressed because a 20 page paper due in a day is not progressing and not flowing. Their response… don’t write anything. Their strategy? If it is not flowing then stop typing. That is probably the worst thing you can do. You have to just start and keep on starting, every time you are stuck.

I may not be a student in University anymore, but as a project manager, the field of project management demands communication and presentation of ideas, and those don’t always come easy. I write many 20 page term papers throughout the year, they are just not called term papers. They are called business cases, charters, decision requests, alternatives comparisons, user guides, systems descriptions, and sometimes persuasive emails, to name a few.

One of the three pillars in project management is communication. You should be doing it every day and whenever it is needed to move the project along. Sometimes you start with a template; sometimes you are creating a template. However you are formulating ideas for analysis, education, persuasion, or reference. There are many audiences of project management materials, from executive stakeholders to project champions, to managers with resources, to team members to vendors and a host of other eyes, and some you will never meet. It can be intimidating to start writing. It can feel like the words just don’t want to flow, that others will view you writing as poor, that the arguments will be considered weakly structured; and so the way around this? Write anyway. Just start. And you will have to start many times, every time you get stuck. But you have to keep on writing. Eventually the ideas will begin to flow. Eventually the structure will emerge. There is a struggle going on in your mind that you can’t control subconsciously on the surface, but you can win tactically.

Any resource of value in the field of writing will tell you that when you are stuck, keep writing, because your left hand side of the brain, though limited is very controlling and wants to direct the structures based on past experience, based on past fears and based on its limited ability to see patterns. The left hand side doesn’t have a creative ability. It doesn’t make it patterns. The right hand side understands deep complicated patterns and creates simplicity and structure out of complexity and parts that don’t seem to relate.

The quandary you are in as a human being is that while the right hand side formulates the elegant patterns, ideas and concepts that win you accolades and move ideas along; no matter how beautiful the thought it must be expressed through the left hand side via speaking or writing. In an ideal world your left hand side would be quiet while the right hand side created the beautiful and elegant ideas, and then these ideas would be handed off to the left hand side who would then just express them. However it never works that neatly. For as the left hand side begins to recognize the patterns it will then begin to take over the creation of ideas as well; as it is the dominant hemisphere. It will begin to create the ideas in your project management docs, in your English term papers. The left hand side will say “I know how to do this”, and will literally take control from the right hand side and attempt to do the creating. But it can’t, and it will evaluate the result, blame itself, tell you that you can’t do it and your system will grind to a halt.

What you have to do is “trick” the left hand side of the brain. You do this by writing. When you write, even if it is unconnected, raw and unformulated, the right hand side will eagerly drink it up looking for patterns, however the left hand side will become frustrated because it does not see familiar structure. The more your write steadily without stopping to criticize (because the right hand side does not comprehend criticism) the more your right hand side will start to see the beautiful complicated patterns, and the more your left will begin to give up. It is the same technique used by Betty Edwards in “Drawing on the Right Hand Side of the Brain”. Give the brain something complicated, without an obvious or familiar pattern and the left hand side of the brain will give it up to the right hand side of the brain, who will happily take it on and create what you need. Once the writing is done, then the pruning can take place, and now the left hand and right hand side will work more congenially and together drive together to a successful conclusion.

In conclusion, if you are stuck in creating your project management materials you have to ignore that feeling and just start; and start as many times as you need until your work is complete whether creating the draft or driving to a final document.