Do you have a big project you’ve been avoiding because you’re overwhelmed, don’t have time, or aren’t sure how to get started? In this week’s episode we’re talking about how to figure out what’s holding us back and come up with strategies to get started.
How do we deal with those projects we’ve been avoiding?
Many of us have projects we need or want to undertake but haven’t been doing anything about. It might be a work project, such as that big report we need to write, or a new system that needs to be implemented. It might be a personal project, such as getting our taxes done or organizing the family photos or writing a book. We procrastinate for many reasons, and we’ve talked about this in the past (see episode 286-11 Time Wasters to Eliminate)
It’s a common thing, and always has been, to have plans, dreams, and goals that we never take action on. It’s been around so long that, according to writer Madeleine Dore:
“Philosophers such as Plato and Socrates developed and debated a term for it: akrasia, which in part describes the experience of not following through on what you set out to do. . . . Aristotle suggested two different varieties of akrasia: the first occurring when we are distracted by pleasure — TV binges — and the second stemming from a lack of self-accountability.”
In her article, Ms. Dore points out that akrasia is not the same as procrastination. As she puts it, “Procrastination is the act of delaying something until eventually deciding to do it — albeit at the last minute — whereas akrasia is a deeper feeling that you “should” do something, without necessarily deciding to do it.”
Whether it’s procrastination on a discrete project or akrasia with respect to a long-deferred dream, there are steps we can take to get past it, get started, and get it done.
How to get started (and keep going)
First, figure out what’s holding you back.
Be honest with yourself!
Is it a fear of failure?
A lack of confidence in your ability to do it?
Not sure where to start?
Your days are too full and you can’t find the time to do it?
Do you really want to do it? (This applies more to a project you’re procrastinating on, not a dream or goal.)
What if you have to do it?
What if you don’t have to do it?
What if it doesn’t really have to be done at all? If you’ve waited this long, it may not be that important. Can you let it go, or let someone else do it instead?
Next, brainstorm solutions to whatever’s holding you back (this is a place where an accountability partner or business buddy can help).
If fear of failure is holding you back
First, “give yourself permission to fail. Assuming your life and livelihood aren’t on the line, failing is rarely as dramatic as we fear” (from What Stopping You from Getting Started (And What to Do About It).
Remind yourself of past successes, regardless of whether they are similar to each other. Make a list of accomplishments and times when you did something you didn’t think you could do.
Imagine what success looks like. Visualization is a powerful tool. Picture what you want to do and visualize everything coming together just as it should, and what that would look like. Imagine every step of the way of getting to the point of success and celebrating it.
“Brain studies now reveal that thoughts produce the same mental instructions as actions. Mental imagery impacts many cognitive processes in the brain: motor control, attention, perception, planning, and memory. So the brain is getting trained for actual performance during visualization. It’s been found that mental practices can enhance motivation, increase confidence and self-efficacy, improve motor performance, prime your brain for success, and increase states of flow—all relevant to achieving your best life!” ~ from Seeing is Believing: The Power of Visualization
Neuropsychologist Dr. Amy Palmer puts it this way: “Simply put, the brain has the same activity when it visualizes doing an action as it does when it is physically performing the action.” ~ from The Neuroscience of Visualization
Dr. Palmer gives these tips for making visualization work best for you (quoting from her article):
- Be specific: Make your visualization as real as possible! . . . And don’t forget to incorporate your five senses. . . .
- Be emotional: We all know that gratitude allows more wonderful things into our life to appreciate. And by adding emotion to our visualization, we tap into our brain’s limbic system, making our visualization even more powerful.
- Be frequent: To keep your goals front and center in your brain’s conscious and unconscious awareness, [Dr. Palmer recommends] visualization at least twice a day.
If overwhelm is holding you back
Find a new way to look at it.
Instead of looking at the whole project, break it down into more manageable phases. What’s the first step? Just focus on the steps and the rest will follow. Looking at a big project or goal in smaller pieces can help reduce the feeling of overwhelm.
If you’re just not sure where to start
Figure it out! Instead of looking for the perfect starting point, just do something–anything. Accomplishing something small will start that momentum that can keep you going.
Sometimes it’s easier to start in the middle, or do the last thing. Write the end of your novel, for instance. Doing this can give you a target to work toward.
One writer suggests making your plan more detailed by starting with the goal and work backward –what would be the last step, then the one before that, etc.
Are your days too full?
Decide that it’s important enough to make time.
Consider keeping a time log for a few days or weeks, just to keep track of where all your time is going each hour of the day. Look at this log honestly and then evaluate what you are spending time on. Choose one thing to defer to make space for the particular project you are wanting to work on. Be willing to spend just 10-15 minutes a day on that project.
“If you find yourself putting off projects that are important to you because you just don’t have time, you probably aren’t facing the facts about your schedule. Sit down and figure out what you can eliminate, and what can wait until your project is done — put on the back burner the tasks that legitimately belong there, not the things that are important to you right now. Until you’ve committed the time to get started on your project, you haven’t really committed to the project itself.” ~ from What Stopping You from Getting Started (And What to Do About It)
Prepare to act
Once you have figured out what is holding you back and you have brainstormed solutions to go forward, the next step is to spend 30 minutes outlining the project you want to work on.
- List every step
- List all the supplies and tools you’ll need
- Identify people who need to be involved, or whose input you need
- Start a list of questions you need answers for
- Identify the resources: where will you find the answers you need?
- Identify the first steps (or A first step)
- Block out time on your calendar to work on it
“If you find yourself stalling, you may need to add classes, a trip to the library, or contacting an expert mentor to your plan. There’s no shame in not knowing how to do something; there is shame in letting your dreams fade because you aren’t willing to go out and learn how to make them real.”~ from What Stopping You from Getting Started (And What to Do About It)
On the day you’ve decided to start (and each time to sit down to work on it), set a timer for the time you’ve allocated. Know that you can stop when the timer goes off. Challenge yourself to see how much you can get done in the time allotted. Clear your workspace and turn off all distractions.
Another good thing to do is create a ritual to help signal to your brain that it’s time to work on this particular project.
In the article I mentioned earlier about getting started on personal projects, Madeleine Dore notes: “A recent study found that enacting rituals enhances feelings of self-discipline and improves behavioral self-control.”
She says the rituals can be simple and even meaningless, but still will have the effect of triggering action:
“Creating somewhat meaningless rituals can provide the kick-start we need to create momentum for a project: writing out a to-do list before we sit down to do a project, lighting a candle to create a sensory cue, or doing a star jump before setting to work. Rituals help create a sense of control — the very antidote to akrasia.”
Find an accountability partner–someone you can brainstorm with, who can help hold you accountable to small consistent progress, and for whom you can return the favor. If you are writing a book, find a writing buddy you can check in with. If you are building a business, maybe a partner will help hold you accountable to your goals and encourage you.
What do you think?
Resources and Links
- Can Visualizing Your Body Doing Something Help You Learn to Do It Better? – Scientific American
- Seeing Is Believing: The Power of Visualization | Psychology Today
- The Neuroscience of Visualization
- Power of the Mind 1: The Science of Visualization – Science Abbey
- What’s Stopping You from Getting Started (and What to Do About It)
- Can’t Start, Won’t Start: Tricks for Overcoming Procrastination – Adobe 99U
- Why we put off personal projects, and how to finally start – ABC Life
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Royse City, Texas