Muddle Your Way To Success

Muddle your way to success through these 10 easy steps

by Paul Mitchell
Sydney Morning Herald, 2003
reproduced from

They’ve gotta be kidding, those lurid self-improvement manuals screaming at us from their own special section of every bookshop whenever you go in for a quiet browse.

They all say the same thing: get up earlier so you can work longer, work out in the gym so you can work harder, plan in detail before starting anything so you can do things better, and exercise ruthless willpower in a relentless pursuit of objectives.

I find this sort of approach totally intimidating and suspect a capitalist plot by a consortium of overpaid chief executive officers to wring even more out of their workers.

I couldn’t work this way, could you?

Here is my alternative for us slobs; a methodology guaranteed to bring success in anything you might put a hand to — fixing a rickety chair, writing a novel or building an empire without too much exertion.

THE 10 PRINCIPLES OF MUDDLING THROUGH (everyman’s not so dynamic guide to success in everything):

  1. NEVER PLAN: Planning is a boring, unproductive activity. Scientists have proved that life is too chaotic to plan anything successfully. Trying to make an effective plan is discouraging and an unnecessary waste of time. You may never do what you set out to do if you go down this road; the task will seem impossibly difficult and you’ll give up in despair.

  2. DREAM: Dreams are far nicer than plans. They can be enjoyed while you stay in bed long after all the planners have gone off to work. Just let fancies drift deliciously into your mind. Be excited by them but don’t try to refine. Let the muddling process take care of the details later. And don’t feel guilty — you’ve started work.

  3. WARM TO THE TASK: Take a nice long shower where you can crystallise your dreams enough to contemplate starting. Take your time over this because once that glass door shuts behind you, it’s a world of confusion and delusion out there. I suspect that under the shower is the only place to think constructively; not at the drawing board or staring at a blank computer screen at six in the morning. Enjoy a leisurely breakfast and maybe have a short stroll (none of this power walking). Now you are in the right frame of mind to start.

  4. BEGIN: Go mindlessly to where you intend to work — at the computer, in the workshop or the garden. The crucial moment has arrived and we don’t want to dither about, do we? Muddling is not to be confused with indecision. So — just start. Don’t think about where; just do the first thing that comes into your head.

  5. RESTART: After a few minutes it will become clear that you are on the wrong track and you will see where the start should really have been made. This is positive. You can now start all over again, this time in the realisation that you have muddled onto the right track. The process has started working for you. The bit done before will probably come in useful later anyway.

  6. TRIAL AND ERROR: This is the core of the process. Proceed in any haphazard way that suits you. Don’t be frightened of going wrong — nothing is wrong without the straitjacket of a plan. Having no preconceived plan gives you the flexibility to go blissfully down any new path.

  7. PACE YOURSELF: The secret is a little at a time, frequently. Feel like a break? Take it. Six hours a day is enough for anyone; working longer is unproductive. You’ll get lots more done this way than working long hours, and then never coming back to a task that now seems overwhelming. Have an afternoon nap.

  8. LIVE WITH CLUTTER: If your desk or workbench gets untidy while you are at work, don’t worry, just keep going. Being able to cope with confusion is a sign of superior intelligence. When it’s time to do something else for a change, this is the time to sweep up or tidy the desktop. If you really feel like it.

  9. THE WAY AHEAD: As the task muddles along, there will come a time when a shape emerges, the way becomes clear in a far more detailed and integrated way than could ever have been planned for. Go for it.

  10. I can’t think of one. I should never have planned for 10. See what I mean? That’ll have to do.