Early Work

A brief, no fluff, summary of Paul Graham’s essay Early Work.


The fear of creating a lame project and the embarrassment of early work prevents many people from starting in the first place.  

How do you turn off this fear?

  1. Understand that early versions of projects should not be judged to the same standard as a final version. 
  2. Be optimistic. Think of why an idea could work, instead of why it won’t. 

Why are people so harsh on early versions of projects?

  1. Inexperience from dealing with early work.
  2. People hope you will fail — people don’t want you to rise above them.

You must watch out for your own skepticism. You will be your own harshest judge. It is good to keep some of this skepticism because this makes you do good work. But how do you temporarily turn this off so you can start? Here are some ideas:

  • Overestimate the importance of your project
  • Be slightly overconfident, which will protect your from both your own, and other people’s critiques
  • Surround yourself with people who will encourage you, and they themselves have good taste and are working on similar projects
  • Be disciplined. Force yourself to work through the embarrassment of early work, just continue. You will get better. 
  • Focus less on the work quality, and more on the rate of improvement. If you see it improving fast, you worry less about it looking bad to start with. 
  • Frame your early work as a different format e.g. it is a sketch, not a painting; a hack, not a piece of software.
  • Think of every project as a way to learn something. Don’t be afraid of it failing, because you”ll still gain knowledge from the experience. 
  • Be curious. Try things out just to see how they will turn out. 

Try to see early work for what it is. 

Free yourself from harsh judgement, and keep trying.

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