If you are an ambitions, smart person my bet is you often feel like you have trouble getting stuff done. Your want-to-do list is a mile long and you never seem to get it done. Or the stuff you most want/need/should do doesn’t get done, but all the other urgent does.
I feel you brother.
There is no one solution to fix this problem or feeling. But recently I got picked up a distinction that may help. Momentum, or inertia. (Ok if you a physicist or physics nerd, I apologize if I butcher these concepts.)
Once we get going on something, it is much easier to keep going. The more we do, the more we want to do. I call this momentum and it is a key to getting big things done.
Getting Started is Often the Hardest Part
In order to have momentum you have to start, and that’s not easy. See momentum works both ways. Just like it is easier to keep going when you are already moving. It is easier to not move when you are already sitting on the coach with a bag of cheetos and 3 seasons of Game of Thrones in the queue.
If you are in that position you’ve got a hard row ahead of you. A very hard row because there is a lot of negative inertia.
But a lot of the time we’re not that rooted on the couch. For instance when you get up in the morning you’re at least neutral in your motion once you are out of bed. These are the times a small action can start building in the right direction.
Do What It Takes To Start Making Progress
There are a number of tricks you can use to get started. Here’s a couple:
Do the easy stuff first
There is a school of thought that says do the hard things first and get them out of the way. There is some wisdom in that, but often hard things come with a lot of resistance and I find all kinds of ways to avoid them.
What gets me going and in the flow is to do some small easy tasks. I’ve even started labeling tasks in todoist @small. These are tiny things I can do in a minute that will let me start checking things off. Then I’ve got momentum to work on more items in my todo list.
Commit to the littlest unit you can
“Just commit to flossing one tooth.” – Neil Strauss
That’s a strategy to get you to floss more. It’s pretty easy to get yourself to do and once you do it, you’re going to do the rest of your teeth. I mean, who flosses just one tooth?
Another idea would be something like just write the first paragraph of that blog post. Chances are you are going to keep going.
This also uses the fact just getting started has overhead. To write a blog post means getting in front of the computer, opening an editor, creating a new post, picking a title, etc. Once you are ready to write that first paragraph the second takes comparatively little effort.
The thing that works against momentum is friction. This is anything that slows you down, or makes it harder to keep going.
The big one today is distraction. Phones, people, TV, radio, etc are all constantly trying to get our attention and move us where they want us. The more of these you allow in your workspace, the more friction you are adding against your momentum.
Luckily people and companies have started realizing this a problem and are giving you more ways to turn things off. But in the end you have the ability and responsibility to corral these distractions.
Another trick to keep moving is to create an open loop. This is an idea that came from Neurolinguistic Programming and it uses the brain’s natural desire to complete things to keep going. Generally this is used in conversation or writing, but can be used in work as well.
The idea is to start an story and then, before it is finished, but after you are interested in what is going to happen, move to something different. People will stick with you because they want to know what happens.
Have you ever been watching a TV show or movie and decided in the middle it was stupid or bad, but you stayed to the end because you wanted to know what happen? That’s this principle.
Some writers use this tactic on themselves. Instead of waiting till a good stopping point while writing, they stop the day’s writing in the middle. They know what needs to be written next, but intentionally don’t write it. That way the next day they are jonesing to finish that thought when then sit down to write. It also makes it easier to start the next day because they don’t have to overcome the “what should I write now?” feeling. They are ready to go when they sit down.
I think you can see how this could be applied to business for instance. Stopping the days work with some stuff you know what to do, makes starting the next day easier.
Do What Works For You
The key to getting and keeping momentum is to figure out what works for you. You may be the kind of person that will waste time on unimportant things because they are small and easy and never get to the hard things. In that case you need to do the hard thing first.
As with all Distinctions here try them and see how they best work for you. Then do that to make a big difference.
What tricks do you use to get going on a project or task?