How To Not Overcomplicate The Uncomplicated

When I was at school in Business Studies, I remember whenever we were set a new project, we’d all rush to our computers, and start on what was obviously the most crucial and urgent part of our project. The front cover!

We’d go through dozens of fonts, and colours, and different backgrounds and text alignments, trying to get our project cover looking just right.

Eventually, after about a lesson and a half where the teacher realised that virtually the whole class was doing the same and hadn’t actually written a single word of their projects, she told us all to stop with the covers and get on with the content. She didn’t care if the front cover was a simple sheet of paper with our project title and name written on in hand.

We had all been focusing on something very trivial, trying to make it far too complicated, and at the same time avoided getting any meaningful work done.

image: pupski

Oh, hang on, does that sound familiar? It certainly does to me.

You can apply this same idea to many examples. Not starting a new journal until you’ve browsed every possible journal on the face of the planet to make sure you get one that’s just perfect. Looking for a new ideal shade of green for a tree in a painting, despite already having seventeen shades of green available.

Or planning any new project in such tiny detail that the plan itself is a great sprawling novel, before you’ve even put pen to paper, brush to canvas, or hand to camera in the actual project itself.

So why do we try to overcomplicate the uncomplicated?

More often than not, it’s simply to avoid getting our teeth into creating. In a word, procrastination.

I’m still prone to it myself. I remember a couple of months ago when I started this blog, thinking about the header graphic, and starting to plan a design that would complement the logos of my other two CoachCreative sites.

I could’ve easily spent a whole day or even a few days in Photoshop designing the “perfect” header. But I realised procrastination was at work, just trying to put me off that first post because I wasn’t sure what to write.

In the end I just wrote the header as simple text, and wrote a very short first post. The blog was born, it was up and running, and from then it was easy to keep the momentum with new posts. I’ll go back and design a more fancy header at some point, but for now it doesn’t need to be complicated.

One of my favourite quotes is: “Implement Now, Perfect Later.”

It’s something I’ve got far better at than days back in school with those hours spent on designing project covers!

Take a close look at your creative life. How do you complicate the uncomplicated?

All you need to create is your own mind. All you need to write or draw is a pencil and paper. All you need to take photos is a camera.

Go create, right now, in its simplest, purest, most uncomplicated form.

Stop complicating the uncomplicated, start creating.

How do you complicate the uncomplicated? Share your thoughts and experiences with us below.

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12 thoughts on “How To Not Overcomplicate The Uncomplicated”

  1. I spend way too much time on the ‘peripherals’ of my art. Tidying up, organizing, making lists, purchases… everything BUT the actual art. Why? The fear of failure. My feeling is, if this art thing doesn’t work, what else do I have? I spent way too many hours in class or at a job I hated, wishing I was at home drawing, painting or writing. And here I am, procrastinating.

    Also, due to personal budget limitations, I feel every line or brush stroke needs to be something someone might want to purchase. No pressure! No wonder there’s a productivity block. I need an off-switch for tormenting thoughts!

    Thanks for your posts. I need to consult them often, since my fear of failure has turned into a powerful enemy.


    1. Thanks for your comment Diane.

      Can I ask, if this is fear of failure, then what is the opposite? What is “not failing” or “success” to you?

      I’m not saying this is true for everyone, but often we have a very vague grasp on what success and failure actually mean, so these definitions get pushed out to the extremes.

      Failure becomes a terrifying beast in the shadows that we must avoid at all costs because we think it can kill us with just a sideways glance, and success because an unrealistic summit on some distant mountain we can’t even see, in a land we’ve never heard of.

      I believe if we bring the concept of success back to a personal, day to day level, we can build and retrain our thoughts. Success one day might be getting out your materials, on another day it might be preparing a canvas, another it might be a new page on your website, or making a connection with another artist. We don’t need to conquer the world every day, just makes steady steps forward.

      Hope that helps.



  2. Success to me is creating a piece of work, art or writing, that I am satisfied with, specifically something I can look at and feel good about as well as comfortably show someone else.

    2nd in importance is having that work displayed, published, or purchased, especially now when a little extra income is needed. This is especially difficult since I create for the love of it, not for financial return.

    Fear of failure IS a terrifying beast, and I have to keep reminding myself of those baby steps and missteps that will eventually lead to a success. (By the way your “terrifying beasts in the shadows” just gave me an idea for a drawing!)

    Thanks so much for your responses. I do appreciate them and find them helpful 🙂


    1. Diane, how do you know when you’re satisfied? Is it just that feeling good about it, or do you have a set of criteria?

      Your second point is of course a dilemma for all artists who offer their work for sale. And a subject with no short clear solution. Many create what they love without compromise and support it with a low maintenance day job or other creative work in a similar media. For example you might be an aspiring novel writer and support this by writing for magazines.

      I think the most important thing is here that at least SOME of your creative work (and ideally as much as possible) is that which you simply have to create, that you’re called to create, that you’re burning to create, even if that isn’t the art that initially sells. It’s vital for our creative souls and growth I believe.

      I’m wrestling a little with my own failure fears at present, and need to up my game, be brave and expose what I do more. It helps feeling we’re all on our versions of the same path. 🙂



  3. I don’t have any concrete criteria that I use as a gauge for a success. It’s more a general feeling of satisfaction, whether the art balances well and achieves, for the most part, my original vision of the work. If someone points out an area they are bothered with, but if it doesn’t bother me, I don’t think of the piece as a failure. So, my own personal feeling of, “yeah, that’s what I wanted it to look like,” means success to me!

    For many years I had a “pay the bills” type job during the day which left my evenings and weekends for art, but it seemed those day jobs stressed me out so much, I felt too drained to create, and therefore PROCRASTINATED. (That awful P word). My schedule has changed, but other demands have entered the picture, but with your help, I’m trying to make better use of the free time I have.

    Good luck with your quest. You have a lot to offer and do it well, so I have no doubts for your success 🙂


  4. “Implement Now, Perfect Later.”
    I totally adore the quote too~

    It reminds me a quote of Lao Tzu.

    “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.”

    Rather than obsessed with complicating things, we can simply flow with the things. And we will just know when’s the perfect time for us to really tweak our fonts/titles extra arty 🙂


    1. Thanks for commenting Sandy. That’s another great quote. It reminds me of a TED Talk I saw where scientists are studying nature in more detail than ever and replicating it for human medical and engineering applications, rather than invent something brand new. Again, their core belief is that nature already does things perfectly as it should, why try to mess with that, or better it? Easier to learn from it.

      That made me smile about arty fonts and titles. 🙂


  5. Belatedly wanted to reply to Diane’s definition of success with her art “Success to me is creating a piece of work, art or writing, that I am satisfied with, specifically something I can look at and feel good about as well as comfortably show someone else.”

    This struck such a chord with me because when I joined Coach Creative Space three(?) years ago I wrote something almost identical as my definition. Recently though I’ve tried to amplify my definition of success – or perhaps narrow it! – by trying to define criteria for each piece that I make. In other words I set myself a concrete brief which might be to try out a new technique or to work with a new kind of subject or to work towards overcoming, say, my block about drawing hands…Having these goals it is far easier to feel I have achieved something and look forward to moving on and achieving something else and I am able to feel ‘happy with’ specific achievements within the piece rather than needing the piece to be successful overall to feel any sense of accomplishment.


  6. That’s an interesting way of seeing it Cherry, and useful in not having huge expectations for every piece of art we create.

    It’s a very learning-based philosophy about creating.

    Thanks for your comment.


  7. Great article with a lot of applications. I routinely have people say they want to “help me work.” When I ask what they want to do, everyone of them says, “the fun stuff.” Harder to understand is that the fun stuff rests on the foundation of the hard stuff.


  8. Thanks for your comments Quinn.

    The fun stuff isn’t necessarily the stuff with no ties, or the stuff that’s most immediate.

    Sometimes (ok, nearly always) it’s more rewarding to build long terms projects, rather than dabble in shorter, more “fun” ones, though each have their place in our lives.

    Your thoughts have sparked off mine, thank you.


  9. My problem is that i over complicate what i love doing. Simply put, instead of focusing on my work, i compare every step i take to other peoples projects / paintings / whatever. So before i even get to step 2 i am already demotivated and stressed because i just cannot seem to get that first stroke / vertex / note / whatever as i imagined it would be compared to a pros work.

    Every step is second guessed, overcomplicated to the point of just giving up. Bahhhhh.
    Knowing the issue is not yet the realization.
    But repitition leads to action / realization.


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