Getting started is the hardest part

The secret of getting ahead is getting started – Mark Twain

As a freelancer and somebody who usually works from home (or, more accurately, the coffee shop), battling with productivity, focus, and procrastination is a battle I constantly find myself fighting. The temptation to look around, read some news, or do anything else aside from work is always there, and staying focused takes discipline and motivation.

However, getting started really is the hardest part (as it was with this blog). Whether it’s an article, work, a student assignment, exercise – literally anything – motivating yourself to take that first step really is the hardest part. The rest just flows.

Let me tell you a quick story that may change your mind on procrastination.

There once was a man who had a lot of good ideas.

His family would often ask him what he was doing, to which he’d reply, “Thinking of the perfect idea.” He’d say the same thing every day, because he believed that if he didn’t have a perfect, refined idea and plan, things wouldn’t work out for him.

On the other hand, a friend, notably less intelligent than the man, had some ideas too. If you were to compare these ideas, you’d be inclined to think that the friend’s ideas were significantly worse than the man’s, but nevertheless the friend believed in his ideas. He sketched them down, but never over-thought them – no extensive planning, no worrying about the future – he just wrote them down roughly and got on with them, learning along the way. He believed that unless you were a multi-million dollar CEO, or make a decision that would have a life or death effect on thousands of people’s livelihoods, you should just get started, learn along the way, and not worry about perfecting ideas or perfect planning.

While the first man was constantly refining his ideas, waiting for the perfect flash of inspiration, his friend just got on with it. The second man failed again and again, but believed that if he kept persevering, success and realization of his dreams would eventually come.

Who do you think eventually got to where they wanted to be?

The moral is just to take action. Getting started is the hardest part. It doesn’t matter how much planning you do, how refined and perfect your idea is, or how intelligent you are – without action, you have nothing.

Even if you want to start a project, or a business, just getting started is without a doubt the greatest battle you’ll fight. The will to carry on comes after, but it’s much easier to keep going if you’ve already started.

During my procrastination, I think I’ve narrowed the cause of it down to three options.

The first is fear of failure – Will this work be good enough? Will this article have enough readers? Will I have wasted time if everything doesn’t go accordingly?

The second is being distracted (or perhaps not being motivated enough) – I wonder what’s on the front page of today’s newspaper? I wonder where this coffee I’m drinking comes from?

Lastly is, shamefully, laziness – How about I stay in bed for another five minutes? Why don’t I just have another hour of doing nothing? What if I just wait until tomorrow to start?

In my quest to defeat procrastination, and become a more focused, productive person, I’ve think I’ve found the answers to overcome these three reasons.

Fear of failure – By just getting started, fear of failure quickly fades. If you make mistakes, so what? If you use an hour, a day, a week, a month, and eventually fail, but learn a lesson on the way, you can do it better next time, right? Thus, even if you ‘fail’, at least you’re getting more done and learning more than you would by not doing anything at all. Overcoming fear of failure is as simple as just getting started

Distractions – Try to minimize distractions. If you work from home, or you’re a student working on a project, minimize anything that has the possibility to distract you. Turn off the TV, switch off the internet (if you’re writing offline), and clean your workspace. Noise is a personal preference – some research suggests that the noise inside a coffee shop can make you more focused, so take the time to find out what works best for you. I used to think that complete silence was what made me work the best, but after moving my office from my lounge to a nearby coffee shop – that plays classical music at an audible level – I find myself so much more productive and focused. Take a week to move around different places – the library, a local public house, the coffee shop, a rented office, or even a co-working space.

Laziness – This one takes a bit more than just a change of scenery, but all you have to bear in mind is that getting started really is the hardest part. I find that being around other productive people, who are focused and working, really helps me to focus and work hard. Perhaps that’s my competitive side coming out – if somebody is working hard, I want to work harder and better than them. Thus, find out where the freelancers or business owners in your area go to work, such as the coffee shop, and you’ll soon find that your laziness disappears (if it doesn’t, order the triple shot espresso!)

Your reasons may be different – next time you find yourself procrastinating, how about having a think about what the reason for your procrastination is? Write down the 3 reasons you put things off, and let me know.

However, if you’re procrastinating about thinking about the reasons for your procrastinating, causing you to procrastinate even more, you might need some outside help…

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