Optimising before Starting
Often, when we think about starting something, we get very excited. The initial graph of excitement vs time looks something like this.
Fuelled by our initial enthusiasm, we chalk out a plan & start strategising on what might help us do what we’re looking at doing. SayI decide I want to take my physical health seriously. I’ll probably sign up for a gym & then start researching on the best shoes for me, workout clothes that look good, the best supplements to use & what kind of an exercise regime to follow for my goals.
In almost all cases, this exercise would make me feel good about starting to work out. All the micro actions would give me the dopamine hit that comes with the anticipation of doing something. I’ll find myself spending my time figuring out strategies to optimise my workouts, diet & equipment instead of actually working out. I might delay starting my workouts thinking that I haven’t yet figured out the perfect plan or found shoes that would be best for me.
A lot of us avoid taking real action instead spending time doing things to optimise & justify this as a quest for perfectionism or for getting things “right”. More often than not though, it’s just a way to procrastinate the task at hand, instead doing things that make us “feel” like we’re working on that task but not really adding anything to the outcome.
When you’re starting out at something as simple as getting healthier, should you really be concerned with optimising the shoes you’re wearing or what plan you’re following? You could argue that the shoes & the exercise regime itself are important & you wouldn’t be wrong. For Usain Bolt, yes, the marginal gains that you get from the best shoe matter a lot. But as a beginner, most of the gains will come just getting into the habit of moving everyday.
The law of diminishing returns comes into play here & I see a lot of people including myself focus on the things on the right side of the curve, much more than building habits to just do the work, consistently. Obsessing over the details is fun & tricks us into believing that we’re on the right path. But maybe, it’s just another way to not face our fears of doing the thing we really should be doing. Are we truly optimising before we start or are we just finding ways to deal with the anxiety or fear about the actual work?
Spending time reading about which productivity software to use, which project management tool will be best for the startup idea in your head are often times just diversions . At the beginning, till you reach critical mass (which you can usually tell because you would have plateaued in progress), it’s rarely an optimisation problem. In fact, over-optimisation might just be the enemy of progress since talking about your goals or doing things which don’t move the needle give you the same feel good Neuro-modulators that you’d get from actually doing them.
I’m not saying that getting things set up properly & having stuff that makes you motivated to do what you want is a bad thing, it can really help in some cases. But err on the side of caution when you find yourself “optimising” for something too soon.