I bet I’m not the only one who shares the sentiment “I really should get around to ____ someday”. That feeling, knowing there is much to do and yet struggling to initiate any proactive action, always finding an excuse or something more important needing attention.
It can be overwhelming to simply even think about the complexity and energy required to complete a personal project. There’s no getting around it though, if you’re planning on doing anything, it will require effort. But you shouldn’t allow this to become a paralysing source of inaction and anxiety either.
To give a real world take on this, recently I’ve been focused on setting up a new piece of equipment for the workshop. I’ll do a detailed write-up about this machine in the coming few weeks, but for now will simply say that it’s cheap and nasty but exceeding expectations.
However, getting it to this functional stage proved the difficulty of starting new projects. The forementioned machine sat in a box, under a bench, in the workshop for over a year waiting for the right time to come out and be commissioned. Part of the delay was due to a busy personal schedule, and other critical projects bumping it down the list of priorities.
In hindsight, I should have approached it differently to move the project along. Eventually, I did move this project along, having found the right mental framing tricks to finally get works underway.
From this recent experience, here are a few tips I used to finally get the project started.
Tip One: Keep it in sight, don’t hide it away.
This is a psychological trick: the things you think about the most will have greater perceived importance in your mind. In other words, if you are actually looking at the thing long enough and on a frequent enough basis, you will place greater importance on it and therefore your brain will give it a higher priority.
I’d hazard a guess that part of the reason why it took over a year for me to set up this new piece of equipment was the fact it was hidden under a work bench and out of sight. Hypothetically, if the box was on top of the work bench, as opposed to under it, most likely it would have been operational much sooner.
With that in mind, put your project somewhere where it’s impossible to ignore, on a table or work bench for example. If it’s too big for that or not practical to do so, substitute it with a note, a reminder, an item on a to-do list, whatever way is effective at keeping it on your mind. Remember, with constant reminders, the more importance it is perceived to have.
Tip Two: Get all the bits together
After putting the deferred project in a place so that it becomes an obstructive reminder with an image burnt onto your brain, make sure to organise everything required to complete the project before you start. If you need parts or services or labour, be sure to have it on hand ready to go.
A few of my prior projects have ended up back under the work bench or in the cupboard from my own lack of organising what was needed for the task. By the time parts and/or services were arranged, other priorities had arose.
By not having all the parts you need right there and then, it makes it too easy to simply move the project back into a state of limbo… the opposite of what you want.
Tip Three: Allocate time.
There will always be something more important and more urgent that keeps popping up. But only if you allow it to. There must be a point where you say NEIN and dedicate time towards your project and only that project. Otherwise, it will keep getting shoved out the way by something else and never get started.
This was the strategy I used for starting work on my new machine. In my mind, “This afternoon, I will work on the new machine” was on repeat, simply to emphasise when I was to work on it and not allow anything else to take the time slot.
Book time in for yourself. You could make it an afternoon like I did, a whole day, weekend, whatever suits. So long as you give a period that you are to be working towards starting your project and nothing else.
Tip Four: Break up the project into little bits, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant.
These little bits or mini tasks are meant to shift the perspective from being “there’s so much to do” to a more manageable “I can easily get that done right now”.
This is how I got the ball rolling with the new machine. I took it out of the box, put it on the work bench, and continued from that point.
Even if it’s as simple as taking it out of the box, it’s an excellent first step for any project because one, you can’t start anything without first taking it out of the box and two, it’s easy. It’s such an easy step to complete there’s no excuses not to. Take it out of the box. First step done and one step closer to completion.
Tip Five: Ask – what next?
Having broken up the project into mini tasks that are clearly defined and reasonable to achieve, it’s possible to treat each as their own independent job and make a start for each sequentially.
After I took the machine out of the box, I hooked it up to the power. Then downloaded and installed the software. Then calibrated it. And so on until it was operational. I treated each of these mini tasks as their own little job, being ticked off the list one at a time.
There’s always something else that can be done, it’s just a matter of determining what is the next actionable mini task that can be done with the allocated time. Keep repeating as long as you can or as long as you are willing to.
From my own personal experience, the start of any project is often the most difficult part to overcome. But if this initial obstacle can be conquered the momentum and energy from this will fuel further successes, becoming a self-perpetuating system that builds upon itself.
It’s a bit like jump starting a car with a flat battery. Initially, there isn’t enough charge in the battery to turn the engine over, but once jump started and running it can charge off the alternator and have enough energy to start up again and again.Believe me, there are days where I can’t be arsed to do anything, but these few tips have been most effective for getting a project going. It’s a series of small tasks adding up to something much bigger. After all, little strokes topple great Oaks.
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