Have you ever been known to say, “I do fine… once I get started” when asked about your work habits? I hear people say this all the time. You think your problem is “getting started.” You say that you have a starting problem, but I think you have a stopping problem.
I have no doubt that once you get started, you actually get work done. I bet you get that work done so quickly, though, because you’ve started it at the last minute and you need every millisecond to meet a deadline. So yes, you are “fine” once you get going, if fine means being in a cold sweat, hoping you can save your backside and get the project out the door before anyone notices it’s not already in the hopper. Is this “fine,” truly?
Your brain knows about your work habits, too. It knows that as soon as you start a project, there will be no fun. Once you get going, there will be no Facebook, no texting, perhaps no food. Even bathroom breaks will be minimal. And, of course, there will be no sleep and, let’s be real, no life.
Right. Let’s be honest. Who would willingly sign up for that experience? No one, including you. So you put the project off. You wait until the last minute to get started, because you know that once you begin to work you will have to just plug away until the project’s done. You do all those things—Facebook, text, bathroom, nap, clean, bathroom again, and chat with friends—because YOU know once YOU get going YOU don’t stop. Therefore, your clever brain figures it’s best to get the fingernails clipped, the Tweets out, and the web surfed before ever sitting down at your desk and getting down to business.
Are you happy with this all-or-nothing syndrome? Loving the stressful procrastination? I didn’t think so.
There is a better way. As with many things, it will take practice. You will have to develop some trust in yourself, which can be challenging.
Imagine you did something to jeopardize your best friend’s trust. The only way to regain her full trust in you is to be consistent in your trustworthy behavior. Consistency in behavior is also exactly what you must do to learn to trust yourself. How else will you learn to trust yourself to do what you commit to doing?
If you really, really, really do what I’m about to suggest, your “starting problem” will very likely completely go away.
How to Fix the Stopping Problem
Decide on an amount of time you will work on a specific project. Start with a tiny number, maybe 10 minutes at the beginning. Give your project your full and complete attention during the allotted time. When those 10 minutes are up, STOP!
Did you hear that? After 10 minutes, STOP.
Do not do “just one more thing.” No. Stop. Take your hands off the table. Get up, if you have to. Remember, you’re in training to learn to trust your own actions. You began here not trusting yourself to stop once you start; you have to completely stop as an exercise in trustworthiness. Do these exercises a couple of times a day. The most important thing to do is to stop at the very second that bell dings. And look at you, stopping and everything! I knew you could do it!
Soon, you’ll be able to work like “other” people do. You’ll be able to start a project easily and stop doing it at a reasonable time. You’ll have time for a social life and for your work! And those “I’m too old for this” all-nighters will become a thing of the past.
The goal here is to be able to tell yourself, “I’ll just start and do an hour of this.” In fact, you will start—and do—an hour of work. And it will feel sweet. How does this sound to you?