Often the hardest part of any task is just getting started. There are things we can do, though, to make it easier to get past that hurdle and start gaining momentum toward accomplishing the things that matter most.
We Can't Finish Until We Start
In Episode 72 of The Productive Woman, we talked about ways to learn the skills we need to accomplish our goals. In this episode, we’ll talk about getting starting on those goals. Taking the first step can be the hardest part, and as important as learning is, it’s easy to use it as a stalling technique.
I've found myself reading books about writing instead of writing, or listening to podcasts about podcasting instead of starting my podcast. Maybe for you it's researching schools and programs instead of signing up, or attending seminars about career development instead of polishing your resume and sending it out. Can you think of examples in your life where you spent too long getting ready to start as a stalling technique?
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To get started on any task of importance, we have to first get past that blockage that some have called resistance. (We’ve talked overcoming resistance in past episodes, and I encourage you to listen to Episode 26 for tips to help you in that process.)
In The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, author Steven Pressfield writes about resistance, that internal “something” that we come up against when we undertake something important. It doesn’t come from the circumstances, but from our emotional response to the circumstances.
Psychologist and life coach Brooke Castillo has said our emotional response is caused by the thoughts we’re having about the circumstance. We have a thought, it triggers an emotion, the emotion drives an action, and our actions determine our results. It’s important to remember we have the ability to change our thoughts.
What's holding you back?
Here are some questions to ask yourself to help you get started:
- Do you understand why you want to do this project?
- Do you understand the desired outcome?
- Is it overwhelming because you haven’t broken it down into the smallest pieces?
- Is it something you just don’t want to do? Sometimes we have to do the project whether we want to or not, like for our job or our personal obligations. Unfortunately, we don’t always have a choice in the matter.
Another way to look at it is to consider the consequences of not starting.
- You won’t accomplish your dreams
- If it's something you must do, no matter how long you delay, you’ll run out of time, and you’ll do it hastily or it won’t be your best work
- You’ll carry anxiety, stress, or frustration over not doing what you need to do.
How do we start?
Once you realize what you have to get done, it’s time to put aside the to-do list and get to it. Don’t let things stay on that list because you never end up starting them. You never know how your motivation might change just by taking that first step, no matter how small, and just start.
- Give yourself permission to do it badly
- Writer Anne Lamott talks about the “crummy” first draft, but it’s something you need to write before you can achieve the polished, final draft.
- You can always edit and fix something once you have it started, but there’s nothing you can do with a project that hasn’t begun.
- Peter Bregman wrote in the Harvard Business Review article “How to Start the Big Project You’ve been Putting Off” to acknowledge the fear that holds you back. Lower the expectation that getting it right is the key to getting it started.
- Remember your “why” — find your reason for motivation.
- Why do you want to do this?
- What are the consequences of not doing this?
- Julie Sheranosher, host of the Time Hackers Podcast, says, “Ask yourself ‘what will I have if I accomplish this thing that I don’t have now?'”
- Write down your goal and post it somewhere you’ll see often to remind you.
- Reframe how you think about it.
- You’re only going to start, you don’t have to put pressure on yourself to finish it in one sitting.
- In the article “The 4-Step Plan to Never Procrastinate Again,” it’s suggested to remind yourself that getting started isn’t the same as doing the entire project.
- Find the simplest way in.
- What can you do right now?
- What is the simplest step to start with?
- What is the smallest task you can do? (For more information on breaking down a project into smaller, more manageable tasks, check out Episode 60.)
- Create a good working environment
- What incentivizes you to work and focus?
- At work:
- Find music to help you focus. I enjoy using [email protected] for ambient music to help me concentrate.
- Get comfortable. Adjust your chair. Put on a sweater if it’s cold.
- Turn off internet access, if you can. I've been using Freedom — an app for your mobile device or desktop that will block you from social media or other distracting websites that you can customize to help you focus and avoid distractions.
- Have all your materials ready to go.
- Tidy up your desk. BUT — don’t completely reorganize your desk and use this to stall. Simply fill a box with items or papers you don’t need at the moment, and create a task in your task manager to go through your box of clutter and organize when you have time.
- At home:
- Put your shoes on to get the mindset of activity.
- Put on some music that energizes you.
- Open the windows and let some fresh air in, if you can.
- Set a timer
- Do one little piece at a time.
- Example: Cleaning: Set timer for 15-30 minutes to clean as much as you can before the timer goes off.
- Try the Pomodoro Technique, which I’ve mentioned in previous episodes.
- Choose a task.
- Set timer for 25 minutes and work non-stop on that task (and nothing else).
- Set timer for a 5 minute break, then repeat.
- The third or fourth break can be a little longer.
- Choose a tiny task.
- A great book I recommend that focuses on tiny tasks is Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results by Stephen Guise.
- You don’t have to focus on the larger project if you’re just trying to get started.
- You’re not going to write a book; you’re going to write a sentence of the book or brainstorm chapter titles.
- You’re not going clean the whole house; you’re just going to pull the trash out of one kitchen drawer.
- You’re not going to do a full 30-minute workout, but you can try for one perfect pushup or five minutes on the elliptical.
- Find the tiniest step you can take that will let you get started and help spark your momentum.
- Set a deadline and make it realistic. Make an appointment with yourself to take that first step. Write it on your calendar, and honor it as if you’ve made it with the CEO of your company or the Queen of England.
Reward yourself. Figure out what motivates you, what things you want, and reward yourself when your first step is complete. It can be as small as “When I finish the chapter, I’ll check Facebook” or “When I complete this run, I’ll watch a movie.” And don't forget to give yourself a pat on the back when you finish your task.
Find an accountability partner or someone with the same goals as you to accomplish your goals together. I will gladly be your accountability partner; email me and I’ll email you to make sure you’ve done your goal. (And I encourage you to hold me accountable in my goal of writing a book!)
- “How to Start” from Zen Habits
- “4 Ways to Beat the Resistance and Reach Your Goals This Year” by Michael Hyatt
- “6 Timeless Principles to Deal with Resistance and Excel in Life” from Tiny Buddha
What do you think?
What project have you stalled on? Is there a step you can start today? Do you have any tools I haven’t mentioned that have helped you get started on the projects you care about? Please feel free to ask your questions or share your thoughts by commenting below or on the Facebook page or send an email to me.
- To watch the replays of my recent appearances on Blab or to follow me for notifications of upcoming Blabs, visit blab.im/LauraMcMom.
- Remember you can still pick up my free project-planning template.
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