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19 Mar

Start in the middle

Datum: 2024-03-19 09:45
A man is silhouetted against the sky while operating a large spotlight on a crane.

When we are about to do some­thing new, some­thing nei­ther we nor our col­leagues have done before, it can be hard to know with what and where to start. Some of us then choose to pro­cras­ti­nate the task and do some­thing eas­i­er instead.

Time flies and the dead­line keeps get­ting clos­er. Of course, we fin­ish on time, but the final parts of the task are done hap­haz­ard­ly and the qual­i­ty of what we deliv­er does not live up to our usu­al high stan­dard. If we had only got­ten start­ed soon­er things would not have got­ten so stress­ful and slap­dash” towards the end, but it was just so dif­fi­cult to get the whole thing moving.

For you who pre­fer lis­ten­ing to read­ing, this post is also avail­able as an episode of the Done!” pod­cast:

Once upon a time …

Just before year 0, the Roman poet Hor­atius coined the say­ing in medias res”, which can be trans­lat­ed as begin­ning with­out intro­duc­tion”. It is a styl­is­tic mea­sure where the writer starts right in the mid­dle of the sto­ry and then grad­u­al­ly tells what has hap­pened lead­ing up to the dra­mat­ic sequence which the read­er was first intro­duced to. 

This trick is quite com­mon nowa­days and is used in both nov­els, films and TV shows. You prob­a­bly know what I mean if you have ever seen a thriller that begins in the mid­dle of a scene filled with car-chase stunts and shoot­ings, fol­lowed by a vignette with the text Three weeks earlier”.

Start in the mid­dle and work your way out

We can use this con­cept as well when we do not know where to start, even if we are doing some­thing else than writ­ing a script. For exam­ple, we might:

  • out­line a com­pli­cat­ed process which describes how some­thing is sup­posed to be done
  • for­mu­late a dif­fi­cult email
  • pre­pare for an impor­tant presentation
  • cre­ate steps in a project which are noth­ing like what we have pre­vi­ous­ly encountered

Let us begin with what we know, some­thing that prob­a­bly fits in a bit fur­ther down the line, and we will sort the whole thing out eventually.

Do this

If you want to, take a moment right now to recall if there is some­thing you have pro­cras­ti­nat­ed due to not know­ing where to start. If you come to think of some­thing, write down or out­line what is going to hap­pen some­where in the mid­dle once the whole process is up and run­ning. I am cer­tain that you can think of at least a few things what need to be includ­ed some­where through­out the project, task or process, even if you are still unsure of where to start.

As you move along, add what­ev­er steps you come to think of before, in-between or after these ini­tial pieces of the puz­zle. In time you will get the whole pic­ture — even that elu­sive first step.

The soon­er you start, the faster you finish

If you dig right where you stand, start in the mid­dle and use what pieces you have, you will get going a lot faster even if you feel hes­i­tant as to where to start. Instead of pro­cras­ti­nat­ing the task for no good rea­son and then get stressed towards the end, you will get the nec­es­sary work done with time to spare and bet­ter fore­sight, and you might even have time to check your work one extra time before you hand it over, thus pro­duc­ing even bet­ter results as a con­se­quence. It is worth a try, wouldn’t you say?

What is your way?

Have you applied this trick or done some­thing sim­i­lar? If so, feel free to share it in an email to me.

By the way, Hor­atius also wrote Dimid­i­um fac­ti qui coepit habet”, which means Half the work is done for he who has start­ed”. A wise man, obviously.

(By the way, don’t con­sid­er your­self a fail­ure if you have to begin again and again.)

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