Starting. And Starting Again.

Six months ago, I was in my last week in Turkey.

Moving boxes lined the hall and best part of our living room. A certain moving company and I were having a complicated relationship, and I was filled with that strange exhaustion that accompanies change.

There was a plan. It involved a new city (Rome), a new home (seen digitally only), a new school for the kids (all confirmed). There were a lot of forms to fill out and no-this-is-not-goodbye parties to attend.

We were going to be starting over.

Six days after we left Turkey, there was an interesting plot twist.

It involved a new city (Miami), a new home (let’s just AirBnB for a bit), and a new school for the kids (we are already a month behind!). There were even more forms to fill out and this time, time zones to contend with.

Starting Over While Starting Over

We were going to be starting over, while in already in the middle of starting over.

It was a tumultuous time. It was a time of learning, and a time of triumphing over uncertainty, over fear, and over mental, emotional and physical fatigue.

And this is when I learned how to leverage the power of re-starting.

What would happen if a startup and a successful legacy company had a baby?

Imagine that the baby took the best qualities from each: the excitement and enthusiasm of a start up coupled with the proven process of the legacy company.

Now, in real life, if something like that were to occur, the startup would simply be absorbed into the larger company, and that would be that. It would be absorbed. I know it because I lived it — twice – in my corporate career.

But I digress.

Back to power of starting over and over again.

Getting Excited — Every Day

One thing that’s so fun about startups and starting over is the blank slate.

Think about it. A blank page. A new folder in your Documents folder. A pristine, brand new notebook. A clear counter in your home. An empty closet! A new project plan.

It’s impossible not to get excited about something new.

In fact, the only thing that mars the newness is the potential uncertainty or overwhelm that comes with it.

What am I going to write on that blank page?

I don’t want to ruin this beautiful, blank journal.

What if I set up this plan wrong? 

That’s where process comes in.

Working The Process – Every Day

I knew this primary teacher many years ago. I remember Jackie telling me about the frustration of not moving on to other stuff until her students learned to title and date each page, and were doing it by default.

I remember thinking she was being a bit anal, frankly.

Her words came back to me while sitting in an AirBnB in Rome, pulling together the myriads of logistics involved in the just-kidding-we’re-not-really-going-to-Rome-we’re-actually-moving-to-Miami plot twist.

In an established, successful company, nirvana is walking the fine line between an established, repeatable, successful process on the one hand, and on the other hand, time-consuming bureaucracy that buries you in unnecessary paperwork, approvals and other forms of jumping through hoops.

Nirvana in this example is sticking to a process that is consistent in terms of heading each fresh page — title, date.

Unnecessary bureaucracy is making you use pre-defined page header templates that are outdated, but you can’t change unless you get approval from three signatories in Quality Assurance and at least one in Legal (if you’ve ever worked with RFPs, SOWs and technical contracts I know you feel my pain).

Consistently Re-starting Afresh

I started re-starting each morning with three things:

  • a blank page of my notebook with the date at the top
  • one hard deliverable to finish that day (school forms, anyone?)
  • one fun thing to research that day (affordable apartments on the beach!)

I re-started afresh each day. Didn’t look at a to-do list. Didn’t bring yesterday into today. In fact, some days I didn’t even bring this morning into this afternoon.


One hard thing.

One fun thing.

Do them.


That’s the repeatable, successful process in 5 steps.

By keeping it on a fresh page, keeping it small (the deliverable), and keeping it exciting (the fun research / learning thing), I got through the period I not-so-fondly refer to as that-weird-time-in-Rome.

Fresh page, date, time, write two things, may be a doodle. Go get them done.

When done, repeat. Date, time, two things. Regardless of whether that happened the next day or two hours later.

Some days I got to re-start twice or even three times. Some days I had the same hard deliverable running over a couple of days.

What? No To-Do List? No Trello, Wunderlist, Asana ….?

Nope. Nada. No to-do list.

So how did I keep track of the million things that needed to happen?

Here’s the thing. You and I darn well know we DON’T need a to-do list to tell us what needs to get done, right?

[bctt tweet=”You and I darn well know we DON’T need a to-do list to tell us what to do” username=”_naima”]

You know it! It’s the most important thing to you right now.

I needed to find a school for the kids. I needed to find a place to live close to that school. That’s it.

You don’t need a to-do list with starred priorities, separated into subtasks with color-coded labels  when you have just two IMPORTANT things to get done.

[bctt tweet=”You don’t need a to-do list with priorities, subtasks and labels when you have just two priorities.” username=”_naima”]

Of course, they were two pretty big things with lots of detail attached to them.

Not having a to-do list doesn’t mean I didn’t keep reference notes and files. I had folders for everything I was doing, screenshots, and URLs.

I also had deadline reminders with dates and times and other appointments in my calendar that would ding away at the right time.

But NO To-Do List.

You Don’t Forget Your Thing

Want to write a bestselling novel? You don’t need a to-do list with subtasks, labels and stars to tell you that you need to get your butt in a chair and start writing.

Want to move to Thailand and live on a beach there? You don’t need to a Trello board to hit research mode, figure out what options there are to move there, and start filling in forms!

Want to start a blog? You don’t need a content calendar and a scheduling tool to tell you that you to sit down and write a blog post.

Want to become an amazing cook? You don’t need 25 recipe books and a course retreat to get yourself in the kitchen and start cooking.

You just need to start.

And then start again.