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“I’ll get to it later” — Four ideas for getting started now

Hi there, Getting started can be hard. You can always think of a reason not to begin, when what you

Work in Progress

December 2 · Issue #11 · View online
The newsletter about work

Hi there,

Getting started can be hard. You can always think of a reason not to begin, when what you really need is to get going now. I kept putting off writing this newsletter because there’s lots of other things demanding my time and attention. Very Important Blogs to be read, YouTube videos that just have to be watched, Tweets you don’t want to miss, and of course ever-breaking news. It would be brilliant if we could just stop procrastinating once and for all.
But never postponing work again? That seems — at least for me — like an illusion. Fortunately, the opposite is also dubious. I talk to people all the time who say they have zero self-discipline, but that’s nonsense too. In reality, we all find ourselves somewhere between these two extremes.
How often do you manage to do the thing that you know you eventually want to do? Maybe 30% of the time? Or 70%? More? So we don’t have to debate whether you have self-discipline or not. The more relevant question is this: 
What can you do to win out over procrastination more often?

We’re all somewhere on this scale.
We’re all somewhere on this scale.
Four strategies for moving a little to the right.
Come up with splits. Sometimes it’s hard to get started because you still need to determine how to do the work. Trying to do both at once takes loads of energy. Work out a series of steps or splits first, and getting started suddenly gets much easier. If you have to draft a complex report, start with a plan of attack that’s split up into discrete steps. Make sure your first step is as small and easy as possible.
Switch from deep focus to a wider view. When I need to get started on a task, it helps to open up my view and broaden my attention. This is especially true with creative tasks. When I notice I’m putting off writing or doing research for instance, it helps if I look into alternatives first.
Sometimes I’ll read some unrelated articles I find inspiring. Other times I’ll brainstorm for completely different solutions — these may be outlandish answers I never carry out, but it gets me started. And that’s the point.
Adapt your work space. I moved to a new house a few weeks ago, so my home work space still feels new and different. Before that, I found that moving to another spot to work (sometimes just across the room) or choosing a different desk at the office made it easier to get started, at least for a while. 
You can make this novelty effect work for you. It’s not something to use when you’ve been stuck for just a few minutes. But if you’re having trouble starting up, it can help to sit somewhere else with your laptop. Or to switch between a laptop and a big monitor. Or to put music on. Or to put different music on. If you feel you’re losing focus, try to resist at least once and use the power of the novelty effect.
Pin down deadlines. It’s nice when you can set your own work tempo, of course. But sometimes that’s too much freedom. The work you do is important, so if it’s hard for you to get started or to stay concentrated under those conditions, ask someone to help. Often all you need is someone who’ll say: I want this job done by 2:00 pm this afternoon. 
Give a couple of these ideas a try. Let me know what works for you. Or maybe you do something else entirely to jumpstart your workday. I want to hear about it! (Just reply to this email.)
The more tools we’ve got in our toolbox, the easier it gets to get started. And that’s an essential skill in a time when many of us are expected to choose our own hours and set our own tempo for work.

Have a good week!

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