Many of us struggle with overwhelm, especially when we are trying to accomplish a major project or goal in our lives. Often we’ll tell ourselves, “I’ll start it tomorrow when I’ll have more time and energy” or we’ll leave it for the next week. Interestingly, we are not simply avoiding our work; we are saying these things with good intentions. Given the nature of our time and state these days, that we’re almost always running out of time or energy, we dream of those moments of having total clarity and a sense of well-being to get things done (especially the hardest tasks). We suspect that we’ll get them done faster when we feel better and have more energy. While that’s probably true, the “I’ll have more time later” rationale is a vicious cycle; we can end up constantly putting things off and not making progress on the goals or dreams that we would like to realize — because those moments of “more time and energy” rarely appear.
(As a side note — I do discuss some nuances of how to optimize your time and energy to get things done faster in my upcoming book Optimize Your Productivity, but it’s a step beyond this article, where we’ll focus on a specific system to get more done* in twenty-four hours. Stay tuned because you will have a chance to download the kindle version for free in April if you follow my blog/subscribe).
So what is one to do? Often people will give advice and say “Take baby steps.” But then the question becomes, “What does that mean? What exactly is that first baby step?”
Here is a breakdown of how you can approach that first step and why it works:
- Break the task down into the absolute smallest steps possible (if you don’t already have a plan).
Write an outline, do a mind map, or write anything that comes to mind as a possible step (even if it’s the last step of the process). The idea is that you just want to get the ideas and concepts flowing. Later, you can edit the order.
If you absolutely don’t know where to begin, start with what you know. If you are trying to write a blog post, write out titles of other posts you did already. If you’re trying to get a research paper done, start googling ideas or looking up research articles on the topic. Find anything that is related to your topic, just to get going.
If you’re staring at a blank paper or cursor, do something completely different and open up google docs. Recently google docs added a “speak to type” feature. Just start talking about whatever is on your mind and gravitate toward the project you’re working on. Suddenly you’ll find that you start coming out with golden nuggets of information that can help you assemble the skeleton of your project.
In fact, this tool helped me get this post started. My time is extremely limited right now with everything going on, so I decided to start speaking the post out. Before I knew it, I was editing what I spoke initially and then typing/building out the rest of the post! Note that I did start with an outline.
By taking a small action, you “open the door” for the ideas to start flowing in. Be confident in the process and take that small action.
- Edit and re-order your structure of the project. This is an evergreen process because as you assimilate new information of your project, the structure and order can change. If you’re starting from scratch and you just mind-mapped a bunch of ideas for the topic, now try to convert everything into an organized outline.
One note of caution is not to have “project creep.” My old friends from industry will smile when they read this part; project creep — where we get away from the originally defined scope of the project — is a common problem and something we have to be vigilant about. This post does not cover project management in-depth, but it is simply intended to help you take action steps to start feeling better and more comfortable about moving forward. The assumption for this article is that you know exactly what the project is and will stick to the original scope of it!
- Make a micro-commitment to spend at least five or ten minutes on the next task that you have to do for that project. While it may seem like too small of a commitment, you’ll find that once you start, it will be easy to spend another few minutes on it. And if not, five or ten minutes on something is better than nothing.
Some time is better than no time on something, especially because time spent on the project, no matter how small, will kickstart the momentum of it.
To boost your gain on implementing this step, create a log in google, Excel or simply on paper. Make sure you log how much time you spend on the project every day, even if you only keep to the original few minutes.
This is more powerful than you realize! I discussed this concept a lot more in-depth, especially how it was the key to completing my Ph.D. research and dissertation (especially as an exhausted, bleary-eyed new mom), in Optimize for Victory. In fact, there are lots of studies on this topic. I read a great book last year called Mini Habits that explored this technique in-depth; it distilled a lot of the research for the public and even applied it to exercise/weight-loss.
Hopefully this framework will help you, especially if you’re struggling with tackling a big goal or dream. There is much more we can explore with this topic, but this is a good starting point! Feel free to share and comment below!
*”get more done” can mean an individual personally accomplishing the required tasks, or it can mean ensuring the required tasks get accomplished, even if not done personally — or a combination of both.
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Lisa Kardos, Ph.D. blogs about how we can optimize our lives for the better! (achieve happiness, success, and what we hold in our hearts!) She enjoys helping people overcome challenges to achieve their dreams.
Dr. Lisa Kardos has experience in chemical engineering, management, higher education, public speaking, and career development. She is the Founder of the Lisa Kardos School of Excellence and the Amazon Bestselling Author of Optimize for Victory: A Simple Approach to Overcome Challenges and Achieve Your Dreams.