This method one of the most effective and commonly used tools in my toolbox.
Getting started is often the most difficult part of doing the work.
Here’s a time-tested solution that has worked well for me and for many others. I didn’t invent it and you’ve maybe already heard of it. If you’re having trouble getting started I implore you to try it out. Really. It works.
The things we can’t sit down for are often because the goals, approach, or purpose isn’t clear. Or we’re afraid of what might happen. Or it just seems way way too daunting.
Here’s the trick: Just work 5 minutes on it. The work doesn’t have to be good. It can be total shit. All you need to do is commit to just 5 minutes of working on this project, with no concern for the result of that five minutes. That’s it.
For me, if I can’t sit down for 5 minutes of doing whatever I want to as long as I’m working on it, I need to really rethink if I’m that interested in the project or if it has any real meaning for me.
Here’s the process that works for me.
1) I find a block of two hours on my schedule. I do NOT have any obligation whatsoever to work these two hours. I make the 2 hour appointment with myself and call it “5 Minutes working on <whatever the project name is>”. Preferably the time is during the time of day when I work best.
2) When the time comes, I sit down and work on the project for 5 minutes. Then I stop. (Again, if I can’t work even five minutes on your project than I really should consider if the project is important to me.)
3) The 5 minutes is up. I’m done. I can now go do whatever I want for the next hour and fifty-five minutes. 100% guilt free. I did what you said I’d do. I can reap the reward. Seriously. I have no further commitments.
What I and others nearly always find using this method is that once you’re started you just want to keep going with the project.
In fact, I often don’t even know when the 5 minutes is up. Once I sit down and crack open the laptop/book/pad/whatever and start… my whole view changes. I am energized. I can see the possibilities. i enjoy the work. I want to make my project a reality.
The work is rarely the “problem” for me. Lack of inertia is the problem.
A project at rest looks dull, boring, hard, impossible, daunting and screams all kinds of “NO”.
But a project in motion is energizing, fun, flow-ful, challenging in your favorite kinds of ways and all kinds of “YES”. Inertia helps you remember why you wanted to do the project in the first place.
You Are Invited
Imagine you have been invited to an incredible meal. You show up and find yourself staring at the dining room’s closed door. Hanging on the door you see a picture of the grossest meal you could ever imagine. It is completely disgusting. You and your stomach are having second thoughts.
Instead of focusing on the picture just focus on getting the door open. You didn’t come here for the what’s on the door. You came here for what’s in the room. Your only job right now is to get through the door.
It takes less than 5 minutes to get through the door.
Those 5 minutes are the equivalent of saying “I’m going to trust that this horrible picture on the door is an illusion. I’m going to focus on opening the door.”
When you get inside, if you want to eat you may eat. If you want to leave you may leave.
But don’t starve in the hallway.
Sometimes It Really Is Just Five Minutes
Yes, there are those rare times when 5 minutes comes and I don’t feel like going further. They are rare, but I think it’s important to let yourself step away at those times. It’s more important in the long run to show yourself that you keep your word.
A Word of Caution
I’ve found that if I start being successful at something using this method, to keep it at five minutes. Even if I regularly go an hour or two, it’s better to block that time out the keep the contract with yourself at 5 minutes instead of upping it to, say, 30 minutes. This is because you will eventually have a day where you don’t feel like doing it and 30 minutes will seem like a mountain. This gives the Resistance a way to weasel in and break your habit: “Oh god! 30 minutes. Ugh! I can’t keep this up. I need a day off.” And then it’s over.
Unless you’re doing something where the goal is to specifically build up stamina (swimming, running, etc), then just stick with 5 minutes. Your streak will stay alive!