Cross the finish line

A finish line

“Don’t tempt me with that delicious cake. I’m on a diet.”

“So what? You can always start over tomorrow.”

“But this is the fourth time this year.”

Something I wrote to make a point

It’s easy to start a task. People do it all the time. At the beginning of each year, people start writing novels only to give up after a few weeks. Some start exercising or dieting but lose their resolve after a few days and revert to their old habits. Building a new habit is just like a marathon. Many people will be at the starting line. Some will drop out after some time. A few will actually cross the finish line.

Most people make resolutions and plans in good faith. They actually want to improve their capacity or get more done. The problem lies in their mindset. They believe just wanting it should be enough. They make the plans and create the checklists. So far, so good. Now, if they could only actually start and keep doing it. It’s not easy to make a commitment to do every important task on your to-do list when due. There will be days when you encounter resistance.

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Don’t fall for the inspiration fallacy

A lightbulb in the rain

We have all heard about it. Something like the strike of thunder or a bird landing on your shoulders. The brain sees hidden patterns where none existed before. Words come to mind unbidden. You are seized with a violent work ethic and produce a great masterpiece in 24 hours. Some call it inspiration. Many wait for their muse to be the guide that will let them set words to paper. Let me provide some free advice: If you are still waiting for inspiration before you get started, there is a word for what you are doing. It’s called Procrastination.

“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”

– Stephen King

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Write your next task this way

A to-do list

Raise your hand if you use a to-do list. You’re my best friend if you do. To-do lists are a great way of capturing tasks you need to get done. The satisfaction of crossing off items on your list as they get done or the ding you hear after marking a task as completed on your digital list motivate you to start working on the next task so you can get another feel good hit as soon as it’s completed.

A to-do list. All the items have been checked
Just seeing this makes me feel good

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Start being intentional about how you spend your working hours

A man on a chair planning his calendar

Last week, I wrote about the pomodoro technique where you use a timer to focus on only one task for 25 minutes. The pomodoro technique is useful for getting past the mental block that keeps you getting started on an important task. It is possible to take this principle one step further. How do you normally plan your day? Do you block enough time for important tasks? Or do you spend your day putting out fires?

Everyone has 24 hours in a day. Some people who we call “productive” seem to have a way of getting more out of their 24 hours than the rest of the people who we label “unproductive (or lazy).” Most tasks can be broadly grouped into 2:

  1. The high value important tasks that add the most value to your goals. These are often the tasks that are not fun but necessary. They are also the tasks that most people delay getting started.
  2. The low value unimportant tasks that don’t always add value to your life but can be fun. An average person might spend a lot of their time doing these second group of tasks at the expense of the first.

A calendar with the word "Agenda" stamped in red across it
Which tasks take the bulk of your time: Important or trivial?

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What’s your excuse?

A street sign showing a straight path with "no excuses"

Why get it done today when you can do it tomorrow? At some point in time, we have all probably felt the urge to defer a task that should be done today till tomorrow. It seems such a small thing. Until you defer that task into next week. My Literature teacher in Secondary School was fond of telling us “Procrastination is a lazy man’s excuse.” Wise words I haven’t forgotten to this day even though they are not very helpful if you’re trying to kick the habit. To help you get started on that pesky task that has been on your mind since last year, here’s a simple framework:

Set clearly defined goals

The main reason why people procrastinate is a lack of clarity. It’s hard to find the zeal to start a task if you are not sure what the end result will look like. Set a goal with a clearly defined output, one you can easily measure. Also set a deadline for your goal so it can get done on time. If you’re gonna do it on Monday, write that clearly on your To-do list. If it’s not written down it’s a wish. A clearly written goal gives your task purpose and a well-defined output. It’s easy to keep postponing getting started on a task as long as the output is still just a vague idea in your head.

the word "goal" with a bullseye in place of the letter O
Where’s your bullseye?

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