Just Start: How Doing Anything Can Help You Accomplish Everything


I was sitting in my desk rubbing my wrinkled forehead. I had a deadline to meet, but the only thing my brain was doing was cycling back through the same ideas. It was an extremely frustrating feeling.

So what should you do when you get stuck? Well, perhaps if you're asking "what" should you do, you're asking the wrong question.

My suggestion — do something. Do anything. Just start. (See also: But I Don't Want To! Secrets of Self-Motivation)

1. Do Something, and Allow Progress to Motivate You

Do you want to know what I did after rubbing my wrinkled forehead and feeling a growing amount of frustration? I went and fixed a broken light in the kitchen. It had nothing to do with my work project. However, when I sat back down, my mind started thinking about the problem in a fresh way, and the words effortlessly flowed into my finger tips.

How in the world did fixing a light help me accomplish more and reach a deadline?

I did something.

Doing something, even if it's not your main task, can give you confidence and provide a subtle reminder that you can accomplish tasks. Doing something is psychologically powerful. It is always the best solution when you're getting nowhere during a frustrating part of your day.

2. Try Starting Anything as an Indicator of What Needs to Be Done

Have you ever glanced down at the 12 items on your to-do list and felt stuck? What should you do first? If you're like me, you spend far too much time trying to decide what to do. This is the curse we perfectionists carry.

Slowly, I've started spending more time doing and less time predicting what should be done. I suggest you just start with any item on the list (if there isn't clearly something you should be working on).

You know what happens? Within moments of starting a task, you'll know if that's the logical thing to be doing. Perhaps you'll quickly find that one of the other tasks needs to be completed first. Still, you should remember that it was only by starting that you were able to make progress. Otherwise, you might still be stuck trying to figure out what to do.

Starting something is always the best indicator of what really needs to get done.

Interestingly, even if you start and finish the "wrong" job, you'll often still have the momentum needed to catch up with other tasks.

3. Finish the Task If Possible, But Know When to Move Along

Sometimes multitasking just means we're doing a little bit of everything and ultimately accomplishing very little.

Instead, when you start a project, complete it before moving along to another job. Two completed projects is better than ten barely started jobs. There are exceptions, of course: when you get stuck, when you're at a point where you need something else to complete the job, or when something more demanding comes up. Still, as a general rule, start and finish before moving along.

In addition, here are three quick tips for forcing yourself to get started.

Tackle Your Hardest Jobs Early in the Day

If you don't, those tasks are going to hang over you and may even subconsciously force you to slow down, so you'll be avoiding those jobs.

Use the Clock as an Ally

Limit the amount of time you'll give yourself to decide what to do next and the amount of time you'll limit yourself to work on a project when you get stuck.

Save Some Tasks With Quick and Easy Payoffs

When you do get stuck, you'll need to have things you can do quickly to get the momentum moving again.

What do you do to motivate yourself to get started on tasks?

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Guest's picture

Good article! Momentum is a great thing.

However, when momentum isn't coming of its own accord...

I break tasks down into mentally manageable chunks of time. Whether it's working out or cleaning a bedroom. I can physically tear myself off the couch for a quick 20-minute DVD workout. I can go into the bedroom and vacuum for only 10 minutes. I can bring myself to rearrange a cupboard for 15 minutes. I can work on a painting project for 10 minutes. Every time a TV commerical comes on, I go in and scrub the bathtub just a little bit. It's amazing how if you even do the tinest bit of anything every day, massive tasks can get done with very little effort. ...Especially those things that suck to do. It's when people think, "Man, if I start this now, it's going to take hours!!," that they really get stuck. "Be like the drop of water against the stone, Daniel-san."

Guest's picture

This is so true. A few months ago I had a head full of Ideas for a personal finance blog but no idea how to create one or if anyone would read it.

I got started on a free wordpress.com hosted blog but within days realised I needed to move to my own domain. Again I had no idea how to do this but the steady progress of the blog motivated me to do it. I'm really glad I did as things are going great!

Have confidence and take a leap and you really can accomplish anything!

Guest's picture

When I'm feeling lazy to write an article, I work on it paragraph by paragraph. First, I think of a topic and work on my title. I then stop and do something else, like watch TV or play a computer game. After 15-30mins, I come back to my article and start on my 1st paragraph. I stop again to do something else. As I progress with my article, I find myself standing less and less, which means that I have gained the momentum to finish it.

Donna Freedman's picture

Sheer terror is a good motivator... :-( But, like you, I just try to START, even if I don't know how I want to start. If I begin writing, the real lede will reveal itself a few paragraphs down. Then I just move it up to the top and keep going.
Sometimes it's a slog, but once I get going I generally think, "Why was I so worried? I have lots of good material!"

Guest's picture

I love this post. It is so true sometimes we say we want things but we don't move in the direction of getting them we just sit still or spin our wheels.

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