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Getting Started

Over the years, I’ve found that the hardest step in any endeavor is getting started. Even if it’s something I want to do, the energy and effort required to get started far exceeds what it takes to continue forward. Take for instance me building this website. is something that I’ve wanted for as long as I can remember but months went by and nothing materialized. Then, one day I finally put forth the effort to get started, simply creating the project within source control, and in just a few weeks I had a test site live on the web. It’s not that I’m lazy or even procrastinating, it’s that getting started on anything is hard. I’m going to share with you some tips that have helped me get started and try to distill just why it’s so hard to take the initial step.

  1. Set a Deadline

    For whatever reason, some people thrive when working under the gun. I remember in school, we’d often start a difficult homework set the night before it was due then end up spending the entire night in the computer lab. All of that energy expended in order to solve the problem only minutes before the homework was due. The deadline created a sense of urgency that temporarily raised creativity levels because there was no other choice but to move forward. Deadlines are set because they are effective in creating progress. Sure, deadlines are sometimes made to be broken, but by setting on a concrete time by which to start working on your project, you’ve given your mind a goal to aim for. Sometimes this is all it takes.

  2. No X Until I Do Y

    This trick feeds off of our self-control which can be an amazing catalyst for kick starting any task. Let’s say you love Dr. Pepper, but you’re struggling to put pen to paper on an article you've been meaning to write. Using this tool, you’d give yourself an ultimatum, “No Dr. Pepper until I write 500 words of my article.” Then 30 minutes and 500 words later, you’re welcome to the Dr. Pepper you've been craving. The soda became a reward for the hard work of writing the article. This trick can work with tasks of any size, but it often works best for completing small tasks for little rewards. The minor work items accomplish just enough to hook you into your work.

  3. Create and Listen to a "Getting Things Done" Soundtrack

    This largely depends on your mood and how you prefer to work, but sometimes listening to music or some other ambiance is helpful in getting me started. The best sounds I’ve found for getting started is through using coffitivity. It’s a website that provides the ambiance of being at a coffee shop through my speakers or headphones without actually going there. Research has shown that right noise can even help raise creativity levels. Coffitivity can be paired with your favorite music to create the perfect soundtrack for really focusing on what needs to get done. For music, I like to use Rdio but Spotify, Pandora, and 8tracks are all great.

  4. Just Start

    It’s not glorious, it’s not romantic either, but just starting is probably the most effective method for getting started. As soon as the idea strikes, act on it. Sure, it might be daunting to start working, but there’s no reason not to see what you can deliver. Most things in life can be achieved by merely showing up, so why not get started and create something? I’m not saying that just by starting working on something you’ll be able to release a product, but getting the ball rolling gets you moving in the right direction. This forward progress of starting builds momentum and, in turn, the momentum grows into a completed work over a long enough period of time.

Those are some tips that have worked for me in the past. With the right mindset, or with enough motivation, it gets easier to start working on anything. True, there are days that are harder than others, but I know that if I put in 15 minutes of focused effort, enough to get me started, nothing is going to pull me away until I finish the piece that I’ve decided to work on. Just by getting started, I’ve already won the biggest battle I’m going to have to face.

So why is getting started hard? A lot of it comes down to the sheer number of things that are out there fighting for our attention. Chief among the things that keep us from getting started are internet time sinks like YouTube, Netflix, and Hulu. Think about this, if you start the TV series Lost on Netflix with the intention to complete it, you’ve just signed away almost 87 hours that could have been spent learning or creating. Personally, I’m guilty of watching all 87 hours of Lost on Netflix, once I started watching them, I couldn’t stop. I could have probably started three or four blogs in that time! By cutting down on consumption of unproductive habits, the problem of getting started becomes markedly easier.

Published on 8/29/2013 1:20:00 AM

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