How to Start

There are no productivity silver bullets. There are no magical task management apps or personal organization systems that take all the hard work out of managing and scheduling meaningful goals, projects, and actions.

That being said, the closest thing to a productivity silver bullet that I’ve ever seen is this: Just get started.

Once you get a little bit of forward motion on a task you will build momentum, and that momentum will propel you forward. But even if you don’t make much initial progress, your brain now has hands-on experience and context to ruminate on. You’d be surprised how much problem-solving and subconscious planning you can do just by getting a little forward motion.

But “just get started” is easy to say and quite often very hard to do. When I have trouble working on a task I know I need to do, there’s a mental dialog playing out in my head; I am debating with myself whether or not I feel like working on the task.

Victory in the mental debate almost always comes down to finding the hook—the smallest possible action—to get yourself making forward progress.

To illustrate the point, I’ll share a couple of hooks that I currently use.

Working out

When I used to travel to a gym to work out, my hook was to put on my workout clothes, get in the car, and start driving. That ended the internal debate pretty quickly. Now that I work from home and have a garage gym, just putting on workout clothes isn’t enough; I’m still in the comfort of my own home.

My current hook is to have a dead-simple warm-up routine that is planned out ahead of time and doesn’t require any thinking (for example, four minutes on my Echo Bike). I’ve lowered the bar for getting started, allowing me to tap into advantage of momentum to carry me through the rest of the workout automatically.

Cleaning/organizing

An easy hook to get started on that giant organization project is the question, “What’s the smallest thing I could do to make this room more organized?” In this case, your goal for the entire day might be to simply gather all papers in the room and form a single stack for future sorting. Once that’s complete, you will consider it a win for the day.

Takeaway

Set the bar for victory in the initial task low. It should be so low that it would be ridiculous to not complete it. If you don’t know what your small first step is, your first step is to figure out your first step.

When you only commit yourself to a small win, you drastically cut resistance to getting started. And once you get started, you may find that you have too much momentum to stop.