"I never put off till tomorrow what I can possibly do - the day after."
Procrastination. The struggle to get started is an issue that affects almost all of us at one time or another. Doing your income taxes. Cleaning out the garage. Filing (yuck!) Tackling that organizing project. Avoiding things that are difficult is a common human affliction. When I struggle to get going on a project (like writing this newsletter :-), I employ a few, simple tricks to get myself started. Here are my top three favorites - maybe they will help you get going on that long-overdue project, too!
Fifteen to Start:
When I have a hard time getting started on a project that I know will take a lot of time and energy (physical or mental), I set a timer for fifteen minutes. Then, I force myself to work on the project just until the timer goes off. I figure I can do anything for fifteen minutes, even if it's something I hate! When the timer goes off, I give myself permission to take a break, work on something else for a while, or even quit for the day. Often, I find that getting started is the hardest part, and when the timer goes off, I'm on a roll and I just keep going. The Pomodoro Technique follows a similar premise, and many have found it to be helpful for just getting started on lengthy or tough projects. Put in enough fifteen minute segments, and your project will be done!
One Bite at a Time:
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time! This riddle is one of my favorite pieces of advice for anyone facing a huge project. Looking at the big picture is often overwhelming and discouraging, and encourages procrastination because it can just feel so daunting. When I'm facing a big, intimidating job, I'm reminded of the difference between a project and a task. A project is a multi-step deal, which can be broken down into smaller parts. A task is something that can be accomplished in one step. Therefore, the first thing that you need to do before you tackle that big job is to break it down into smaller chunks. A project needs to be broken down into single-step tasks in order to be manageable. Sit down with a large pad of paper, a stack of index cards, a new document on your computer, or even one of those easels with a huge pad and a marker if you like lots of writing space. Do a giant "brain dump" - get every single task that needs to be done for your project down on paper. They don't have to be in order - you can do that next. Some people like to use mind maps for this part of the process. Just search "mind maps" and you will find lots of great mind-mapping programs available on the web, or make up your own. However you decide to do it, getting each and every individual task out of your head and onto paper (physical or digital) will make it so much easier to know what has to be done and when. Seeing something large and intimidating broken down into small pieces takes away the "overwhelm", gives you a place to start, and helps conquer the procrastination you may be experiencing.
Tackle the Big One:
Author Brian Tracy (Time Power, and Eat That Frog!) calls this tip "eating the biggest, ugliest frog first!" Every project has a component that is the most difficult to accomplish, every to-do list has one or two tasks that are the hardest to face. When facing a combination of difficult and easier tasks in a project, get the more difficult ones out of the way first. Do the toughest one right away - at the top of the day. Make that intimidating phone call, get that difficult research done, compile those tedious figures right off the bat. Everything else that follows will seem much easier, and you will get so much more accomplished once you've established some flow. Getting the tough stuff out of the way often opens the floodgates to productivity for the rest of your day.
"You can dance in the storm. Don't wait for the rain to be over before because it might take too long. You can can do it now. Wherever you are, right now, you can start, right now; this very moment." (Israelmore Ayivor)
Life is full of challenges, and procrastinating only postpones the inevitable. Just getting started is often the hardest part, but once you do, the rewards are great. Imagine yourself done - reaping the benefits of more time, more space, or more peace of mind. Got that image in your head? On your mark, get set, GO!