Dreamers and Doers

Those who can, do. Those who can’t, read Lifehacker and fantasize about the perfect system to get things done.

When I first planned to have a second site dedicated to work-related matters, I wasn’t certain about a lot of things. I’ve had my personal domain for almost ten years, and in that time it’s built up a lot of Google juice. I didn’t want to lose it at first, so I asked a few trusted friends on what they think would’ve been a better route. (Obviously I was convinced to move design and work-related matters to a brand spanking new domain.) What ended the discussion for me was when one of them said “Google juice can be earned.”

Something that simple cut through a lot of doubt. I’m not going to lie: I have to deal with second-guessing myself. It’s a daily challenge and it’s not easy. Sitting down to wireframe a site on a pad of graph paper brings the excitement of a project getting ready to take shape. It also brings the sheer terror that the hour or two I’ll be spending doing this will result in a mulligan, or worse, an outright rejection. The same mental storm thunders through my mind as I do comps, as I code a WordPress theme, every step of the way.

It takes practice to keep trucking through—or around— this white-knuckled fear. I didn’t have anyone to tell me how to deal with it, except I knew that every book half-read on my shelf, every blog post draft unpublished, every sketch that never gets the time for play into an actual comp, was time spent starting something and not finishing that thing. It was time wasted. Each and every case.

I learned to stop regretting that wasted time, and instead to gaze upon the those wastefully murdered hours and just tell myself to not add to that pile. That time wasted not finishing something could’ve been time spent with family, with a special someone, on fitness, on anything else with a beginning and end, simply because that heap of unfinished projects is time forever lost… until the projects are finally completed.

However, for every procrastinator and second-guesser like myself, there exists another, more challenged individual: the perpetual planner. These productivity-obsessed folks spend hours reading about the processes of other, more successful people. Many of them spend hours on Lifehacker and similar sites, always thinking of how to do things better without actually having a goal in mind. They read these featurettes about how Mr. Big Name Internet Celebrity works, as if a thousand-word article can distill years of him developing a process that worked specifically for him. They spend all this time thinking to themselves, man, if I only worked that way I would get this project done. The problem is they never get past that bit. They find another alluring idol to follow with a story on their process, then another, then another. Instead of collectors, they become hoarders.

It need not be this way, though. I wish I had read Steven Pressfield’s Do The Work when I was in college. I wish it were written back then, but come to think of it, I wouldn’t be here without developing the processes I needed to develop on my own. I’ve made many mistakes and have paid for them, but most importantly I’ve learned from them.

That is the biggest difference between dreamers—perpetual planners—and doers. Dreaming requires no risk, sacrifice, nor discipline. Doing leaves one vulnerable to rejection and failure. Only one route makes you a better person.

Posted on: June 4, 2011 at 9:00 am under: Freelance Protips

3 Responses

3 Comments to “Dreamers and Doers”

  • girard31 says:

    Projects attempted but rejected or unfinished are part of the process. The time spent doing them is not wasted if you learned something in that process.

  • Debbie says:

    I agree with girard31 – I hardly ever walk away from an unfinished, rejected or not-the-right-time-for-this-idea project without having learned something important from the experience.

  • I agree that there’s value in unfinished projects. I think Jay’s talking about those who are constantly re-vamping their “process” to match the next thought leader on the Internet, those who are always talking about the next big thing but never really accomplishing anything of substance.

    You guys are describing what I’ve found in the past 5 years to be a very rare and heavily contextual circumstance (rejected, not-the-right-time).

    Creating a small project in an effort to learn a new skill is a great idea, it’s how you can help early adopt things (like HTML5, CSS3, etc.).

    At the same time, reformatting your Mac Book Pro and purchasing 10 new apps and migrating all your client data to them to streamline your “process” for clients you haven’t shipped anything to in a year is a giant waste of unproductive time IMO.

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