“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
Lao Tzu, at the dawn of China’s history as a great imperial power, inspired action and perseverance with those words, and the truth behind them stands. Neil Armstrong said more or less the same thing in 1969, and his “small step for man” was a giant leap for mankind.
The fact is, putting something off makes it an even bigger chore than it already is. It goes from being “that thing you’re doing” to being “that chore you have to drop everything to tackle some day.”
Procrastination fills your schedule with fear and anxiety instead of accomplishments and satisfaction. Jobs that should take an hour take weeks. Planning what you’re going to cook for dinner starts to feel like you’re planning the Allied invasion at Normandy.
Procrastination is like a pair of uncomfortable shoes. You won’t take very many steps if you’re hobbled by a tendency to put the journey off. Slow and unsure? Just take a step. Even if it’s a misstep, you’ll learn something and your recovery will be quick and self-assured.
Here are four single steps you can take when your 1,000-mile journey seems too daunting to begin.
- Create accountability. You may like to think of yourself as independent, but the simple fact is, many of us could use a little kick in the derriere from time to time. It’s human nature to want to look good to others, so make promises that you can keep. Tell whoever is waiting for your work exactly when you’ll complete it (even if they didn’t originally set a deadline for you). If you know someone is expecting something from you, you’re more likely to get it done.
- Eliminate distractions. It’s easy to procrastinate when there are countless things competing for your time. It’s time to put the blinders on and focus. Online distractions (Facebook is the biggest these days) make great rewards if you allow yourself a few minutes after steadily working for an hour or so. But if “a few minutes” always turns into the better part of your work day, think about unplugging from the social network entirely. If you work at home, turn off the TV. Do whatever it takes to get in “the zone” and focus on the task at hand.
- Eliminate the fluff. Don’t know where to start? It might be a good idea to list everything you have to do, then come back and decide which items are the most important. If you ignore the extraneous stuff for a while, you’ll be able to clear your plate of the bigger items. All too often, we’re swamped with tasks. But if we really take a long hard look at each of them, there may be only a few big tasks lurking in the insurmountable pile of small tasks.
- Embrace imperfection. Perfectionism often stems from an expectation that your work is a performance that will be judged. A better way to see your work is as an experiment to try and learn from. Perfect is great, but rough drafts are better than nothing. That’s why they say “Perfection is the enemy of the good.” If you let fear and intimidation of failure stop you from getting started, then you’ve already failed.