One of my favorite articles on productivity was written by Leo Baubauta on his ZenHabits.net site. The title of the post was “Best Procrastination Tip Ever.” While the title of the post seems more than a little aimed at getting some search engine love for people searching for anti-procrastination tips, the message of the post resonated deeply with me.
The essence of the post was that getting started is difficult, but by just focusing on getting started on the first piece of work you can overcome the initial resistance and build some momentum towards getting some serious work done on an important project.
Leo is much more eloquent in his delivery of the message and I encourage you to read his article, but I just want to add my own thoughts on this subject.
If you’ve been an avid reader of productivity articles on the internet, I’m sure you’ve read about the state of flow. It’s that critical point in your work where time seems to slip away as you’re solely focused on the task at hand. You may not always be aware of it, but think of times when you’ve been at your desk and you glance at the clock, notice that it’s 4:15pm and you wonder where the day went. Chances are you were in a state of flow all afternoon when you were churning through your work.
Flow is really the state in which you get most of your work done.
Doing the work when you’re in a state of flow is easy. The key is figuring out a way to consistently get yourself into a state of flow.
This is why Leo’s tip of “just starting” is brilliant. He encourages you to just get started for 30 seconds or a minute, just to get things moving.
It’s like a snowball that starts going downhill. Initially you have to start rolling a snowball down a hill. But it quickly starts picking up momentum, becoming bigger and bigger and moving faster as it continues to roll downhill.
If we look at an example, consider a report you may have to write. When you’re getting started, you look at that report as a monster that’s going to take copious amounts of work and use up your precious time to get done. Getting started on this type of project is a challenge because you really fear the amount of work it will take. So often you will put starting on this project off until a later time, much closer to the deadline.
If you were to just start however, maybe you could look at opening your computer and saying that you’re just going to open your favorite word processing software and create the file that will be your report.
So you’ve named your file and you’re looking at a blank screen. From here you might think, “well it wouldn’t be too painful to maybe write an introduction.” So you type for a few minutes and the introduction is drafted. It didn’t take too long. So then you decide to outline some topic ideas for the various sections that may require some additional research. And you proceed from there.
Do you see how this works?
Most often, the hardest part about work is getting started.
You can really use this in almost any area of your life where you find yourself having trouble getting started.
The key is to remember to focus on just the first step you can take towards moving your task forward. Identify the smallest element of that task and focus on doing that smallest piece. If you feel a desire to move away from that task, acknowledge that desire but don’t let it consume you. It’ll pass shortly and you can re-focus on completing your first task.
Do this consistently when getting started on tasks and you’ll be much more likely to spend more time in the state of flow