How to Get Started (On Anything!)
When I find myself in a rut, choosing what to do first, whether it comes to completing tasks on my To Do list or getting started on a project, can be difficult. Despite doing my best to approach every task chronologically and methodically, it would be to no avail. Now, you would think that this systematic approach would be somewhat idilic; imagine me sitting in a pristine office, working through everything in controlled and calm manner… But I can’t say this quite translated into how I felt whilst trying to actually get stuff done.
Hitting all sorts of apprehension and disinterest roadblocks - with tiding and sorting expenses being the main culprits - I’ve found that throwing logic out of the window boosts my productivity far more than working in any sort of linear fashion ever has, and today I’m going to share my tips to getting started (on any and all kinds of tasks) with you…
Set a 10 Minute Timer (or Playlist) Running
PERFECT FOR: Housework, chores you aren’t totally pumped about doing, or pulling yourself out of a creative slump.
When I was in my final year of Junior School, my teacher would ask us to tidy the classroom at the end of every school day. Rather than make it a loathsome chore, they would pop on Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now, and make it a challenge for us to put everything away and sit in a semi-circle, or behind our chairs, by the time the track was over.
As you can imagine, the opening notes would send us kids absolutely flying. Collecting up pens to pop into pots, storing worksheets in neat piles in our drawers, and stowing pencil cases safely in our bags. All whilst navigating tables, chairs and other bustling classmates as we rushed towards home time. I think there may have also been some running with scissors, but we’ll gloss over that part for health and safety’s sake...
But because of this, whenever I pop on 10 minute timer or playlist, it’s like someone’s set a fire under my ass. I go from lacklustre and uninterested, to blasting 7 Rings and becoming a whoosh of ginger hair and mustard clothing as I dash about. This is occasionally followed by a power stance or two and fist pumping, but always a sense of pride in what I’ve managed to achieve within that time. It’s quite surprising how much you can do in 10 minutes, and how jazzed you feel about continuing with a task way after the timer has rang out.
DO WHAT YOU WANT TO FIRST
PERFECT FOR: Days when you need to go with the flow of your mood, and work on what you feel like working on.
When I give myself a To Do list that consists of a bunch of fiddly, boring and overwhelming tasks, I will either:
Continuously get distracted, or
Avoid doing everything on the list in its entirety.
I find it so hard to make myself do things that I don’t want to do. In my case, I think this comes from living with depression and anxiety. These cunning illnesses like to put up a wall, that is completely transparent but convincingly unbreakable, which can lead to unfinished tasks despite my best intentions.
When I mix things up by starting on a piece of work or a project wherever I fancy or feel like in that moment, I feel far more driven. The more progress I then make, the more fulfilled I feel, and the more likely I am to get a heck of a lot more done. If I start a day off feeling productive, I will likely carry this through to the end of the day (and the days following) and even move onto the tasks I initially put off, because bookending them with things I enjoy has provided me with the energy to tackle them.
Don’t be scared to work on the part of project or job you want to, if you feel a draw towards doing it. It needs to be done at some point, and there’s no harm in doing it first - especially if you’re approaching it with passion.
OR EAT THE ELEPHANT
PERFECT FOR: Getting a task you’ve been procrastinating on out of the way.
Sometimes there’s a task I need to do that's entirely avoidable. It can be a piece of work with a deadline, or something I’ve put off for so long that I just need to crack on with, before it stays on my To Do list forever. It’s time to eat the elephant! (But, y’know, not literally though, sheesh.)
Eating the elephant is essentially completing the biggest task you need to do, before working on anything else. I find it’s usually best to do this at the start of the day when my energy is at its highest, and then plan light tasks for the rest of the day - or take it off in the spirit of self care.
The biggest thing to remember is that you can’t eat an elephant all in one go - so don’t try to. You need to break it down into manageable chunks, and if you end up with the most basic step-by-step guide to follow, that’s more than okay. If that’s what you need to get it done, do it. Because that’s the most important thing at the end of the day; it doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to get done.
WRITE DETAILED NOTES
PERFECT FOR: Any kind of written project. I used it to write this very post!
Even though I love writing, particularly for my blog, I find the biggest barrier to doing so is initially putting fingers to keyboard. I’m not sure if I experience fear over the bright, blank page staring back at me, the cursor’s expectant flashing, or in relation to how impossible any task can feel until it’s completed... I’m guessing the fear comes from a mix of all three.
When it comes to writing, I’ve found that putting an idea down as the most detailed notes possible, is the most helpful exercise to get started. Through transferring ideas from my brain to out in front of me, I’ll already be defining the focus of a piece and exactly what I’d like to include. Whether intentional or not, I’ll be creating sections, subheadings and, sometimes, even a beginning, middle and end to work with; which is the part I would normally get stuck on when trying to write everything in order, and in one go. Getting started anywhere sets words tumbling out.
Once everything is out of my brain, I’ll then revisit each note and flesh them out. This is also when I begin swapping and arranging segments so they are coherent. Lines turn into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, and right in front of my very eyes, I’ll be well on my way to writing a first draft. At this point I usually wonder why I put it off for so long and didn’t just start writing sooner!
If you are struggling, another tip I have is to write the notes on paper, then save reordering and fleshing them out for when you type them up. Doodles are accommodated for, and no more scary, blank documents for you! Win/win.
SAY YES TO FEAR
PERFECT FOR: Trying new things and chasing dreams.
In order to get a handle on the way social anxiety impacted my life, I had to face all of the activities it made me frightened of. At my wits end with spending day after day feeling trapped, I compiled a mental list of the things I wanted to overcome.
I started off small; building my confidence to leave the house everyday and steadily increasing the duration I was out over time. Then I started arranging to meet up with friends. Then old friends I’d lost contact with. Then making new friends online. Then meeting up with people I’d met online, alongside others I hadn’t yet. Then I booked a solo trip to America, that involved flying there alone and travelling around the states with a bunch of strangers.
If we don’t face our fears, we become complacent and stagnate. We become so wrapped up in the “what ifs” that we don’t pursue the things we would love to do, because we feel like we can’t, or that we’re not good enough to. I found that working my way through the list caused a knock-on effect. As the challenges got harder, I didn’t shy away or become reluctant, but increasingly more eager to succeed. My confidence grew with every step, I felt able to climb the next rung on the ladder, and the what ifs just stop mattering somewhere along the line.
If you feel stuck in any way, I encourage you to make a list of all the things holding you back, break them down into smaller steps and then say yes to fear - celebrating all achievements and reassessing the steps as you go. It will be difficult at first, but the more you do, the more you will find the gravity of your fears to lift, and the stronger you will become.