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Getting started doesn’t have to be so hard

4 actionable tips to breakthrough productivity inertia

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Photo by Elizaveta Dankevich on Unsplash
Photo by Elizaveta Dankevich on Unsplash

Productivity has inertia. Just like an object at rest, or in motion, it has a tendency to keep on keeping on.

Inertia: a property of matter by which it remains at rest or in uniform motion in the same straight line unless acted upon by some external force.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

So sometimes you find yourself in a rut. You just can’t get started. Whatever you want to do, it seems too big. Too hard. So you just…don’t. You keep sitting on the couch, Netflix keeps auto-playing.

And likewise, sometimes you’re on a roll. You wake up early, you unload the dishwasher, you get that project out the door. You feel good. Unstoppable. You keep going.

But how do you get from stuck to rolling? Well, that requires some sort of force. Often clients ask me for advice on how to just get started with something. They know, inherently, that once they get started it will be easier to keep going. But the barrier to get started, that inertia, is strong.

I’ve got a few tips to get you started:

MAKE IT EASY

It’s really hard to get started on something big. It feels like you’ll never have enough time, so why bother. To get going, you’ve got to break it down so the next action, the first action, is so small you can’t convince yourself NOT to do it.

In fact, break it down so far it feels silly.

You need to create a deck for your big presentation next week? Start by naming the Powerpoint/Slides file. Can’t think of a name? Save the file as “TBD Slide Deck”. Even that’s too much? Open the laptop.

Got a mountain of laundry on the couch waiting for you to fold it. Start with just one shirt.

THINK LIKE A CHILD

I always get a slightly (ok, maybe severely) skeptical when I make this suggestion, but try it and tell me it doesn’t work. The next time you need to just get started on something, say to yourself in your head (or out loud because why not; who’s gonna hear you in quarantine?!) “3…2…1…Blastoff”. Then start.

Ridiculous, I know. But you know what’s more ridiculous? When you say “3…2…1…Blastoff” and then you do nothing.

It’s been ingrained in us since we were kids that once you hear “blastoff”, something’s going to happen, and fast. So you better make it happen.

MAKE A PLAN

I often talk about separating the planning from the doing. When you plan in advance, it’s a lot easier to just execute when the time comes. You don’t have to think about what you want to do, you just do. Because you’ve already decided. Making a plan can kickstart the process to just get started. (And remember, make the first step of your plan easy and don’t worry what the next step will be. That will become obvious once the first step is complete.)

TRY THE POMODORO TECHNIQUE

Set a timer for 25 minutes. Or even 5 minutes. When that timer starts, start working. Tell yourself in advance that you can stop when the timer dings. Will you stop when the timer goes off? Maybe. Either way, you got started. And you’ll probably keep going, because you provided just enough force to pop yourself out of the rut of “at rest” inertia.

Now, you may be saying, “I’m a master procrastinator; these techniques won’t work for me!”. But that’s a whole nother article (and one I’ll write soon!). Productivity inertia is not the same as procrastination. Procrastination is active. You’re deciding specifically not do to something, to push it off until later. Inertia is more insidious. It happens without you deciding. It’s harder to spot.

And you know what? Now I’m on a roll, so to keep going with this physics metaphor let’s talk about friction. Friction is an outside force that can slow your roll. So to stay moving, you want to do what you can to remove friction:

  • Notice and remove distractions. From yourself. From others. From technology.
    • We are distracted, on average, every 11 minutes, and it takes 23 minutes to refocus. That’s some serious friction.
  • Make sure you have a system for tasksthat runs in the background.
    • The fewer times you have to ask yourself, “what should I do next?” or worry that you are forgetting something, the less internal friction exists.
  • Make fewer decisionsto alleviate decision fatigue
    • Every time you have a make a decision, that’s a friction point. Streamline. Routinize. Plan.

And now i want to hear from you. Which of the techniques above have you tried? What works for you?

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