Getting started is tough. Whether it’s trying to get going for the day or begin a big new project or lifestyle change, step one, day one – that’s the hardest part.
We often know exactly what we need to do. We have lists and reminders and probably healthy doses of guilt and shame. If you’re like me, sometimes we even have lists of lists, not to mention mega lists that are full of overwhelm. The worst part often is knowing how important some of those items are, especially when they involve key areas of our lives like our physical and financial health, or our training and preparation for emergencies. The next worst part, at least for me, is knowing that if only I could begin, the rest would be easy. If you’re similar, maybe a few of these strategies I use to get over the hump will work for you too:
Breaking down the task into a series of smaller ones not only lets you procrastinate by not actually doing the thing, but it gives you yet another list to stack onto your pile of lists. It’s still helpful, though, because one of the reasons tasks don’t get done is because they seem too monumental. We don’t start because we don’t know where or how. The exercise of coming up with all of the subcomponents makes the whole more approachable. Instead of, say, moving to a new home, it starts with packing up the hall closet, then a box of books, then two. Instead of summiting a rock wall or a mountain, it starts with placing one hand, then the other, then one foot, then the other. Each little chunk is achievable, one at a time, until the entire thing is done.
The cool thing about little sub-tasks is that you can often find one that is super simple – an easy win, as one of my first mentors used to call them. We loved to start each day with those straightforward items that didn’t take a lot of thought, energy, or even time, but still had to be done. Getting them over with was a necessary evil, with the advantage of creating just a tiny bit of momentum with that one item you’ve crossed off your “to do” list. After all, it’s the starting that’s the hardest, right? An easy win is a low effort way to start shifting the inertia of doing nothing at all, which is what makes it worthwhile to have and keep those small things on your list. There’s a joke out there about how the first entry on your task list for a day should be to make a list, but there’s also a kernel of truth in that, and that’s the easy win.
Another part of coming up with a detailed list with tasks and subtasks that can be helpful is setting some timelines on them. There’s a lot of pressure that comes from having piles of things to do, but focusing that pressure by prioritizing each item and setting individual deadlines can actually remove some of that overwhelming feeling. It’s not that you don’t still feel the burden of everything that needs to get done, but you can push off worrying about some of them when there is a smaller set right in front of you. It’s difficult when everything feels like it’s top priority and due right now, but I suspect that even then, you can slice even thinner to figure out which really must get done first and use that to start eating the elephant, one bite at a time, rather than freeze in indecision about where to dive in. Just remember that it’s perfectly okay to start with a low priority task if it’s what you need for an easy win, or just to pare down your list into something more manageable. That way, at least you’re productively procrastinating.
So far, all of these are all ways you can motivate yourself to get going, but even if you are on your own, you don’t have to rely only on yourself. Accountability partners or motivation buddies can come from all sorts of sources, and might not even be someone who starts as one of your friends – or, for that matter, someone that’s doing it for free. There’s nothing wrong with hiring a coach to wheedle you into doing necessary work and to cheer you on as you succeed. Whether you’ve paid someone to play that role or found a friend or friendly stranger to do it because of a shared interest or goal, they can provide the nudge you need to move and keep moving. It might be because you feel obligated to take advantage of a service you’ve paid for, because you respond well to friendly competition, or because you don’t want to let down your partner or buddy, but if it works to get you off the figurative couch? Worth it.
And when all else fails? There’s something to be said for starting over with a clean slate. Declare task bankruptcy and wipe everything out. Sure, it means that you aren’t actually going to start, let alone finish, anything on that list. However, it does mean that you have a fresh chance to complete what shows up on your new list. As items filter onto it, you have the opportunity to get on top of them while they still seem manageable…and the ones you never see again? Maybe they weren’t that vital to get done after all. In the meantime, you’ve started building that momentum to keep barreling through the rest of what needs doing.
Have something that works better for you? I’d love to hear it because I think we can all use any help we can get for that hardest part of any day and any project: getting started.