5 (very unscientific) tips for getting things started

As many of you know, I work from home. Oh, I work for a real company--RightSpot Media--but we've run a virtual office as long as I've been with them.

Generally, I'd say the challenges of virtual work--isolation, lack of accountability, distraction, loneliness--are more than offset by the financial, environmental and personal benefits I get from not commuting. At least, they were until six months ago. For the very first time, I'm starting to find the difficulties are actually outweighing the benefits.

The big problem? I simply can't seem to get things done.

Sure, I meet my deadlines. I do decent work, or so I'm told. But boy, oh boy, more than ever these days I've turned into a serious deadline junkie, unable to even start things until THE VERY LAST MINUTE, relying on adrenaline to carry me through and, most crushing to my sense of professionalism, seldom doing my very, very best work. 

I'm pretty sure I'm not the only person who struggles with getting stuff done--hell, not just getting stuff done, getting stuff started in the first place.

Today has been a better day, frankly, so I thought I'd share some of my (very, very personal, very unscientific) techniques for getting off the procrastination adrenaline train. I wish I could say these worked all the time...
  1. Write the first three words. This is actually written on a sheet of paper and posted on the wall above above my computer. I find that if I can get past the first three words, the rest start to flow--but even if they don't, at least I've written something. I can trick myself into starting by saying "I'll write the first three words--then I'll make some tea." More often than not, the tea gets forgotten. This applies to other stuff, of course--if you can't muster up the energy to get out and run, well, just put your shoes on. (Yeah, I've done that too.) And along those lines...
  2. Never mind chunks. Break your tasks into slivers. I'm serious about this. If I have to rewrite an article, for example, I approach the steps in painfully minuscule detail. First, I need to minimize my browser window. Next, I need to locate the article folder. Next, I need to open it. Next, I need to open a new document... Well, you get the picture. If a task seems insurmountable (and never mind whether it actually is, it's the perception that's important) break it down, break it down, break it down to the point of ridiculousness.
  3. Turn off the radio. Turn off the TV. Shut the cat in the bedroom. Whatever. Minimize distractions. I'm a CBC junkie but, realizing that the definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over again and expecting different results (thank you, Einstein), I thought I'd try something different today: total silence. It worked.
  4. Turn on the radio. Turn on the TV. Play with the cat. And then sometimes you just have to trick yourself into working. When I was in journalism school, I had what seemed like piles of articles to write. (It probably wasn't that many, compared to a real working journalist. Remember, though, it's the perception that counts.) The only way I seemed to be able to get the words to flow was to sit on the couch with my laptop, throw in one of the five Harry Potter movies I had on the shelf and pretend I wasn't actually working. After all, my reasoning went, it wasn't really work if there was a movie on. More often than not, lo and behold, the article got finished before Voldemort made an appearance. In the same vein, music can make even the worst drudgery enjoyable--just ask anyone who has a playlist on their iPod specifically for working out.
  5. Take a shower. Well, showers work for me. If I can't get something started because I'm grappling with a problem--the structure of an article, for example, or a lede, or the headline--I'll take a shower. Or I'll go for a drive. Or a walk. Or a run. Doing this seems to allow the cognitive, analytical, language-oriented part of my brain a chance to work in peace and quiet without any interference from me.
That's my wisdom for the day. This stuff works for me, sometimes. It may not work for you--but I'd love to hear what does...


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