If there’s anything I’ve learned from trying to get my shit together, it’s that you have to get started.
It’s not rocket science but, often, the main reasons we procrastinate are that the task either isn’t enjoyable enough, or it seems too daunting to even bother starting.
I’m no Mary Poppins, so I can’t teach you how to get things done at a click of your fingers, and I can’t sing a little ditty and dance a merry jig to keep you amused while you scrub the toilet, but I can tell you that getting started is the hardest part. Good ol’ Einstein was right when he said that an item at rest remains stationary until an outside force acts upon it. In other words, your arse will stay glued to that couch until you kick it into gear.
Look, we all procrastinate. Let he who is without procrastination cast the first stone… sometime later on. Trying to eradicate it is impossible; it’s part of the human condition. But steps can be taken to minimise it, and to ensure that we’re not procrastinating on the big, important stuff.
“What steps?” I hear you say. How about we start 😉 with these:
- Do a brain dump of all the things you need to do and/or would like to do — everything from specifics like dusting the bookshelves to loftier goals like eating healthier.
- Prioritise that list. This will be different for everyone, but figure out what’s important to you and bump it up. You could also separate out your list into different categories, like errands to run, work projects, personal goals, DIY jobs, etc. (Or, if you’re a stay-at-home parent, click here to see how I divide out my day to ensure maximum productivity.)
- Break tasks down into smaller steps. This won’t necessarily work for every single item (like calling your mother), but a lot of tasks require several steps (like cleaning the kitchen or doing tax returns, for example).
- Start the first step.
It sounds simplistic, but how many times have you told yourself that you’ll do something later? Or next week? Or “sometime”? How many times have you heard, “The diet starts tomorrow”?
The reality is that, in motivation terms, “tomorrow” rarely comes, and “sometime” is not a day of the week. If you’re not starting something now, or at least making a very definite plan for starting, you’re at nothing. Realise that you’re lazy now, and you’ll still be lazy later. Tasks rarely get more appealing as time goes on. Quite the opposite, in fact. Working on a presentation for a few minutes every day is better than pulling a last minute all-nighter. Taking five minutes to do the dishes now is better than going several days without doing any and then facing into an hour or more of days-old dirt and dried-on food.
Jobs get harder the longer they’re left undone. Stains get more stubborn, doors get more creaky, things fall apart, a loose thread suddenly becomes a large hole, time gets more pressing, and stress levels rise.
If you’re putting something off, just do the first step. Go gather up the tools you’ll need, download the information required, look up the phone number, or write the first sentence. Whatever it is, start small. Build momentum.
I often get writers block, so I try force myself to just write a sentence or two. Sometimes I leave it there, and sometimes it’s the jump start I need to write a paragraph or two. Or even a whole post.
If you need to cut the grass, just get the lawnmower out of the garage. Maybe check the petrol level. Perhaps just mow around the edges first. You might call it a day right then and there, and have to try again tomorrow but, chances are, you’ll just keep going and, before you know it, you’re the envy of all your neighbours.
Sometimes even the first step can be too overwhelming because it’s something that could take a long time, like doing research for a thesis. In that case, consider setting a time limit on it so you’re still starting small and building momentum. Once the timer stops, you can call it quits, or you can roll up your sleeves and go for the gold.
One final thing to note is that you don’t need to know all the steps involved. As long as you know what the first one is, the rest will become clear as time goes on.
I’m an interminable list-maker. I rarely face into any day without making a list, and it’s one of the first things I do when I feel at a bit of a loss. The trouble I sometimes run into, though, is that I can spend hours just writing the list but not actually achieving any of it.
Figure out the first step, and maybe a handful after that, and then dive in. Again, starting is the key.
Give yourself permission to slope back to the sofa after the first step if that’s what you need to do but, more often than not, you’ll suck it up and stay the course. Taking the first step means that half the battle is already won, and it’s then much easier to go on to slay the remaining steps.
What have you been putting off?
What’s the first, smallest step you could take to make some progress on it?