Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco

Breaking Out Of A Destructive Do-It-Yourself Mentality

When you see yourself as a creative, intuitive, independent person, your default response to challenging scenarios is often to push yourself harder to get everything done on your own. Sometimes this works.

Most of the time, it backfires. The “I-can-do-it-myself” approach typically leads to an enormous amount of unnecessary pressure, stress, and procrastination that could have been avoided by building in the right support structure early on.

So how can we address the problem before you end up in a blind panic after realizing that you can’t do everything on your own? Below, I outline some common scenarios in which we tend to overreach and exhibit destructive “Do-It-Myself” behavior, and propose ideas for how you can take a healthier “Support Structure” approach instead.

Scenario 1: The Soul-Crushing Side Project

You have responsibility for a major project, event, or trip that involves loads of communicating details, sending reminders, following up, picking up supplies, shipping items, visiting spaces, or making travel arrangements.

Do-It-Myself Approach: Particularly if this project, event, or trip falls outside of your normal scope of work, trying to manage everything on your own can lead to you pulling long hours, getting cranky, racing across town, and losing focus on your other important projects.

Support Structure Approach: Make a list of everything that needs to be done and then mark what someone other than yourself can do. This usually means any type of task that you can explain quickly or describe once and someone can repeat many times. Then you can hire someone on a project basis, such as a virtual assistant, by getting a referral or searching online channels like,, and Or you can bring on an intern who can get class credit for the experience.

Make a list of everything that needs to be done and then mark what someone other than yourself can do.

Scenario 2: The Big, Meaningful Project You’re Avoiding

You are really struggling with motivation on an important, long-term project. Although you know you should spend more consistent time on moving it forward (and only you can actually complete the work), you find yourself doing everything but writing your thesis, finishing your painting series, wrapping up your portfolio, or whatever major creative endeavor you want to move forward.

Do-It-Myself Approach: Punish yourself for lack of motivation by holing yourself away in your office or studio and not allowing yourself to “waste” time interacting with others until you finish your major projects. Don’t allow yourself to work on anything else until you make progress on your main project, which can then lead to not doing much of value at all if you procrastinate on your super-scary, super-big goal.

Support Structure Approach: You can begin by reconnecting with the peers you already know in the field, and then branch out to organized groups that you can interact with on a regular basis to keep you motivated, accountable, encouraged, and getting outside feedback and support. You can also search for individuals and groups through sites like Behance, Twitter, or

Begin by reconnecting with the peers you already know in the field, and then branch out to organized groups.

Scenario 3: The Utterly New, Anxiety-Inducing Project

You are facing the great unknown as you begin something you have never done before like opening a store or managing a team. Although you have a desire to serve and a general knowledge of the field, you have no specific experience on how to approach these new activities.

Do-It-Myself Approach: Pretend you know what you are doing, skim through a few books and blogs on the subject, close your eyes, jump in, and hope for the best. When you feel confused or don’t get the results you seek, you try to avoid letting anyone know what’s going on and just put in more hours.

Support Structure Approach: Find a mentor, coach, or trainer who has done what you would like to do. Ask them to explain the steps they followed, challenges they faced, and lessons they learned. When you get lost or confused, come back to them for advice, support, and direction. Typically these situation-bound relationships inspire you to complete a specific project, make it through a transition, or master a certain skill.

As the African proverb goes: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” The proper support at all levels is an essential component of unleashing your creative genius.

Over To You…

Do you have a strong support network?

If so, how have you built and maintained it?

Elizabeth Grace Saunders

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Elizabeth Grace Saunders is the founder of Real Life E Time Coaching & Training and author of The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment: How to Achieve More Success With Less Stress and How to Invest Your Time Like Money. Find out how you can accomplish more with peace and confidence at
load comments (28)
  • Lisa A. Riley

    Excellent article! This is so true for us creatives. Because many of us have so many diverse talents we naturally want to do everything ourselves. My new motto in the last few years has been “Just because you can do it yourself and do it well doesn’t mean you have to it yourself.” Thanks for the reminder :-)

  • Blake203

    I used to go it alone but time and maturity allowed me to incorporate others into my plans…i think you need to let go of the idea that things need to be done perfectly and its more important that things get done. Every major great idea or project that was successful incorporated people working together to make it great…excellent post

  • Elizabeth Saunders

     That is an EXCELLENT motto.

    I find that often times we undervalue the importance of our sanity and well being when considering whether or not to get help.

    Putting support in place first allows us to stay balanced and to have an emotional, mental and physical reserve for the times when we need to push a little harder.

    To your brilliance!
    Elizabeth Grace Saunders

  • Elizabeth Saunders

     That is very true.

    There are a few items that must be done to perfection and in your own unique style. But many things accomplish there purpose when they’re done at an average level.

    Another important point that I’ve found is important to keep in mind is that just because someone does something a bit differently than you doesn’t mean that they’re doing it in an incorrect way.

    Giving other people the freedom to use their creative abilities to support you helps everyone.

    To your brilliance!
    Elizabeth Grace Saunders

  • RosvitaRauch

    Excellent article, thank you very much. I was also an inveterate “go-it-aloner”. It’s actually been the experience working with my clients as their editor that has changed my thinking 180 degrees.  If my input helps them produce better work, then inevitably others, with their insights and input, can help me. Plus, working alone so much, I’ve deeply enjoyed the social interaction that collaboration brings with it.

  • Elizabeth Saunders


    It’s great when we realize something like this through our experience of helping others.

    The only way we can keep giving is when we also receive.

    To your brilliance!
    Elizabeth Grace Saunders

  • Shawn Tuttle

    Oh, the cursed side of the DIY bug. I’ve been challenged with this lately and have noticed that any anxiety I might feel, quickly grows out of proportion (as if any anxiety is an OK proportion? lol, that’s telling!)

    Thanks for this topic, Elizabeth. I appreciated the “try this instead” format.

  • Elizabeth Saunders

     You’re welcome! Just because we could, doesn’t mean we should.

    To your brilliance!
    Elizabeth Grace Saunders

  • Nick Aster

    Steller tips as always!  All added up I’d say i’ve wasted a year of my life doing things myself.  Granted it’s always extra tough when you’re in the early days and it’s hard to pay for help.

  • Rocky

    “Make a list of everything that needs to be done and then mark what someone other than yourself can do.”

    So true. Especially for people who work hard in general, the first instinct is to work harder as you said and taken on tasks with gusto.  This past year I made the transition to full-time editing at home. It’s a tough period when you don’t have staff to outsource to though.  There is a certain time period when small businesses grow and I think I’m in that stage.  I’ll get to the point where I can hire people or outsource tasks but it is tough at this point to find the right people at a wage they would accept, especially for highly skilled work.

  • Elizabeth Saunders

     Thanks Nick! And yes, it’s true it can be hard to reach out for help when money seems tight. However, I’ve found that these type of strategies can help overcome that barrier:

    -Hire an intern who wants to earn college credit or someone who is wanting to gain experience and will work for a lower than typical rate.

    -Barter your services so you provide something you’re really good at for someone else and they provide something they’re really good at for you.

    -Remember that doing something yourself is not free, and by choosing not to DIY you can increase your income earning potential if you’re an entrepreneur and for everyone you can increase your sanity and quality of life (which in my opinion is worth a great deal.)

    To your brilliance!
    Elizabeth Grace Saunders

  • Elizabeth Saunders

     Good point-

    There are definitely growing pains with developing a business. But often even if you can’t outsource an entire project you can segment out smaller parts that require a less specialized skill set. Or you can outsource non-work activities, like doing errands, so that you have more time to do what only you can do.

    All the best to you!
    Elizabeth Grace Saunders

  • Mark

    Awesome post!
    I quit doing it all myself a long time ago. I partnered with people that are way smarter and more creative than I am. In return, I have happier clients, and I do only the stuff I enjoy doing. Sure, now I have to share my profits with someone else, but it’s a small price to pay, considering the time it frees up for spending time with my family…

  • LianChikakoChang

    “…This usually means any type of task that you can explain quickly or
    describe once and someone can repeat many times…Or you can bring on an intern who can get class credit for the experience.”

    Seriously? Are you really recommending hiring an unpaid intern to do tasks that are by definition straightforward or repetitive? A blog that calls itself “99%” and that serves the creative class should be more responsible than this.

  • iq14ty

    So, you, basically, advocate the outsourcing.

    Well, it will not work, if you are THE AUTHORITY to make a decision. Even basic CYA strategy will not work, either. You can’t outsource your responsibility…

    OK, you can, then … good luck… Last time the guy tried to avoid DIY, he ended up with message “Vada a bordo, cazzo!”.

  • jvmedia

    It took me years to break out of this (and I still fall victim on occasion) but over time I’ve learned what things I’m a total rockstar at and what things it’s just always better for me to hand off to someone else. The most important factor in order to make this work though is not you simply admitting you need assistance, it’s finding those people to support you. It took me another chunk of time to find those awesome, talented, dependable people I now work with.

  • Rachel Heslin

    The author advocates delegating tasks, not responsibility for making decisions. There is a significant difference.

  • Rachel Heslin

    I’m not quite sure your concern. I *loved* having the opportunity to have unpaid internships when I was in college (I worked at three different record labels and a major PR company) because it gave me the opportunity to “learn the ropes” and get a foot in the door. Sure, there was a lot of envelope stuffing and repetitive work, but it needs to be done, and it seemed a fair trade-off. An independent freelancer might not have the same cachet as a major company, but it still provides experience, a glimpse into the real-world life of a creative professional, and looks good on a resume.

  • Paul N

    Well said. Help can go along way with any production or project. Support is essential to success.

  • Elizabeth Saunders

    Excellent! Glad to hear you’ve seen this be effective in your work and help you to focus on what you do very well.

    You’re absolutely correct that it can take time to find the right people to support you. But once you have them in place, it’s amazing how much more you can get done with significantly less effort.

    To your brilliance!
    Elizabeth Grace Saunders

  • Elizabeth Saunders

    Yes Rachel, you are correct that I’m not advocating delegating decision making but completing some part of a project. For instance, maybe someone else could compile a document that shows you a sampling of logos being used in a certain industry. Then you could simply review those logos before working on designing a logo for a new business instead of having to do all the research yourself.

    To your brilliance!
    Elizabeth Grace Saunders

  • Elizabeth Saunders

    I appreciate your concern and am not advocating that an intern only do task that are repetitive. But as Rachel also commented, it is of huge value for interns to get experience and can save you hours each week. They can take care of activities like doing basic updates on a website, calling people to research a certain topic, and making sure documents conform to production standards, in addition to more creative independent projects.

    All the best,
    Elizabeth Grace Saunders

  • Lucy

    I think there’s some really sage advice in this post, and until I read it I have to admit to being somewhat in denial about just how strong my own DIY tendencies are! However, one thing that’s a seemingly constant struggle at the moment is that of doing more with less resource – delegating is great in principle but what about when there is nobody to delegate to? Finding a mentor is fine but not when you have to justify every minute not spent ‘visibly’ on task. I’m not sure there’s a ready answer to this but sadly I suspect this isn’t merely a passing problem – it’s one that’s here to stay.

  • Elizabeth Saunders

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment Lucy.

    I understand your perspective and in response to it, I would say that you may want to consider doing less. If you can’t delegate, or can’t delegate much, then you need to be even more vigilant in setting boundaries, saying No, and focusing on the very highest investment of your time.

    To your brilliance!
    Elizabeth Grace Saunders

  • Stock Photos

    DIY is my middle name :O) I think this article was written for me. Maybe I’ll eventually sink some of this info in through my thick skull?

  • Amyn Nasser

    Excellent article! Reminds me to go out and do just that!!!
    Jipe Moyo Uta Shinda!

  • Francis Mwangi

    The DIY in me should DIE for sure. Hit me good with this one. GOD (JESUS) Bless you.

  • Jay Wong

    My school years were plagued with all the problems you mentioned, high expectations, very promising projects but always less than perfect outcome. It was a result from the competitiveness within the class, the “I must do more and do it better than anyone” mentality, luckily I grown out of it afterwards and start experiencing real team work, and learn the benefit of trusting others in small areas that I shouldn’t invest too much time in.

  • Dawa Sherpa

    it’s true. I agree with the African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
    I think that I’m smart and can do things better on my own by simply reading up on it. However, for bigger projects that require patience, I’ve realized that I need to ask for help and have a support network. great article!

  • Abhishek Kumar

    nice information. thank you for sharing it.


    Packers Movers

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