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How to Start Any Task

A path to becoming a self-starting pro.

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“It’s one of the most intimidating things. It’s the lack of starting that kills most tasks and projects.” – Leo Babauta

“You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.” – Zig Ziglar

Knowing how to start a task on time and with the right attitude is one of life’s most important skills. Here are your four proven techniques for starting any task and becoming a self-starter pro.

The 3-minute Technique

A 3-minute rule is a powerful technique that helps you get over feelings that hold you back, and to finally start a task. Resolve to start a task and keep working on it for three minutes in a row. You can drop it afterwards if you don’t feel like working on it after three minutes. No matter how boring, hard and pesky the task may be, you will work on it if it’s only for several minutes. Anyone can agree to work on the task knowing that she/he will “suffer” no more than three minutes. What happens in 90% of the cases, though, is that once you start working on a task you will keep going until you complete the entire task or a significant part of it.

Why does it happen? Because of Newton’s Law of Motion that states that: “A body at rest will remain at rest, and a body in motion will remain in motion…” If we are not taking an action (staying at rest) no amount of reasoning or positive thinking can get us physically started. However, once we start doing real work, no matter how simple the first steps are (getting in motion), we will keep going. Once started, moving on is so much easier.  

The rule works because you retain the control over the process. When your brain agrees to get into the work for only several minutes, the pain and fear associated with the task vanish. You also have an option to stop it after the time elapses. The important part of this technique though, is to start doing something substantial over the three-minute span.

Let’s say you need to start developing a business plan. You broke this project down to several pieces and need to start with the title page and executive summary. Instead of tackling the title page and playing around with multiple page design, jump into the executive summary and write it non-stop for three minutes. It will get you into the flow and, more likely than not, you will find yourself working on the task without any pressure far beyond a 3-minute span.   

Fear of Failure

Having a clear understanding of the results of the failure to start the task is a powerful motivator.  While having a reward picture in mind is nice and pleasant, I found the fear of punishment to be a much stronger motivator for action. Inaction leads to a failure of getting something (usually great and wonderful) done. What’s at stake and left behind by not taking the appropriate actions right now? Do you let your family down by not doing this task on time? Are you putting your reputation in jeopardy because of the missing deadlines? Whatever is the answer, grasp it entirely.

Read an article about disqualified executives who ended up in jail for not taking their duties seriously. Or, a company that went bust as the founders became complacent and lazy. If it sounds too dramatic, you are right. People are afraid to fail more than they want to succeed.

Fear of failure and punishment often gets in the way and sabotages success. But, remember that the fear of failure is a tremendous force. If you know how to use it to your advantage, that force can be diverted into a productivity path. Not wanting to fall flat and get punished will propel you to get started and keep going. 

Simplicity

If you can make any task ridiculously simple to start, the odds of taking the first actionable step and getting it done will increase dramatically. It goes without saying that every task should be broken down to manageable chunks. To get it one notch further, you need to detail every step of the first action. As Leo Babauta teaches through his Zen Habit blog: “Start as simply as humanly possible.” Make it so easy to start that you can’t not refuse it.

If you need to write down every motion and action that leads to start, do it. Clarity and simplicity are keys for allowing this rule to work in action. For instance, to develop an agenda for your next meeting, articulate each step as precisely as possible: 1) open a Word document; 2) write down four items to be discussed; 3) allocate time to each item; 4) and so on.

The 40% Rule

Getting work started and completed is often delayed because we feel like “we are done” at that moment. Are you feeling too tired, exhausted or stressed? I have the good news for you. You have 60% energy left that you can use to start and complete multiple tasks. The 40% rule states that “…when your mind is telling you that you’re done, you’re really only 40 percent done”.

So, next time when you  procrastinate, remind yourself of the proven rule of 40% and know that you haven’t nearly used up a half of your mental and physical resources. Start the task; you will not crash from hard work and exhaustion!   

Practice the rules discussed in this article and get ahead of the crowd by mastering the art of starting any task on time. 

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