I thought about writing this blog post for, I am not exaggerating, weeks until I decided to take my own advice on how to get started with any project or task, large or small.
Too often I read advice columns that profess the magic of starting something. Starting is the hardest part. Just do it. The well-kept secret to getting something done is to get started, but how to get started is the gossip no one is spreading. Here’s a practical guide:
Why do you want to finish?
Before you think about getting started, ask yourself why it needs to be done. Think about how you’ll feel when you finish that essay, when you’re lying on your yoga mat sweaty and accomplished, when you cross the final item off your to-do list. Focus on the result you’re looking for and getting started will feel less like a chore and more like a means to an end.
Establish a routine
So you know that you want to get that blog post done, you can see the final product, there’s a cookie waiting for you in the freezer once you hit “Publish.” But you just don’t wanna. My advice? Don’t.
Don’t get started on the dreaded task, get started on something else that feels easy, manageable, and maybe even fun. Turn it into a routine that eventually leads into the thing you’re avoiding. Next time you go to start, don’t think about the difficult task that you will eventually get to. Just consider the first step in your routine.
How I do this
Before I begin a blog post, I brew a cup of coffee or tea, turn on classical music, and open my computer. I’ll light a candle if I’m at home. It sounds elaborate, but it helps me get started on the thing no matter how badly I don’t want to do it. I say to myself- “You’re not about to write a blog post, you’re just turning on the music.” That literally sounds a whole lot nicer.
Once I’ve got the coffee steaming, the music playing, and my computer open, I have nothing left to do but write. I become face-to-face with the task rather than holding it as a loathsome idea. The only way to get out of it is to start.
How to do this in the kitchen
Since you’re here, I assume you enjoy cooking to some degree. And if you know how to love cooking, you probably know how to hate it. The thought of getting started on a task that will lead to piles of dishes and probably take longer than a bowl of cereal feels daunting to even the most obsessive home cooks (ahem).
A pre-cooking routine can help with that. I like to get into comfortable clothes, put my hair back, and turn on upbeat music. If there’s a bottle already open I’ll pour a glass of wine. After that, there’s nothing left to do but cook.
Commit to the task for a certain amount of time
After you’ve established your warm-up routine, set a timer. The only thing that will stop you from finishing your task at this point is a distraction. Commit to the work for as little or as long as you honestly think you can handle it- whether that’s 20 minutes or 2 hours.
When I’m writing, I usually give myself 45 minutes to an hour. You don’t actually have to finish the task in that time (unless the essay is due at midnight, in which case you need advice on beating procrastination). Chances are, if you focus for a given amount of time you’ll get a good chunk of the work done and it will feel more manageable the next time you get started.
What to do right now
I’m not going to tell you to go and get started. I’m asking you to go and brew that cup of coffee, or tie your hair back, or light a candle. Don’t get started- visualize the end result, then go do something simple and easy that might get you closer to beginning your task. If you happen to get started after that, you might just finish.