How to get started on that big project you’ve been procrastinating on

I woke up this morning, went into my office and realized I didn’t actually feel like working. Thus our topic today. Watch the video below or scroll down for the written summary. Exciting highlights:

  • Thinkers vs Doers (which are you?)
  • How I managed to get my book done
  • 3 Tips for Taking Action

OK. So I might possibly be the least qualified person in the world to give advice about overcoming procrastination. Then again, perhaps I might be exactly the right person…if you happen to be wired like me!

I’ve observed that some people are naturally drawn towards taking action. They make a list – or even start without one – and just get stuff done. Let’s call these people “doers.”

Others are more inclined to think, reflect and plan. They come up with ideas, formulate plans and strive to get their ducks in a row. We’ll call these folks “thinkers.”

[click_to_tweet tweet=”Doers default to taking action. Thinkers prefer reflecting. Each need to approach productivity in a way that suits their preferred strength.” quote=”Thinkers and doers need to approach productivity in a way that suits their own preferred strength.”]

Neither trait is better than the other – and we need both if we want to be effective.

A terrific strategy is to brainstorm ideas, pick one, make a plan to accomplish it, then do the things on the plan. A nice combination of thinking followed by action.

If only it were so easy.

When your strength become a weakness

I’m doing all of the things. But I’m not reaching my goals.

Doing is a strength.

So is thinking.

The problems start when we favour one and avoid the other. Used to extremes, both of these traits become weaknesses.

When over-doing becomes a problem

Over-doers run into problems with all action and no reflection.

They may engage in “random acts of marketing” that don’t work to bring in clients.

They might get a lot accomplished, complete their daily lists – but not actually move forward with their goals.

When over-thinking becomes a problem

We over-thinkers run into problems due to lack of implementation.

We have lots of ideas, lots of plans, maybe some outlines – but when it comes to the actual detail-level implementation – we fall apart.

I have amazing ideas. But I never actually implement them.

Procrastination. Paralysis by analysis. Shiny object syndrome.

Tend towards over-thinking? You’re in good company!

If you’re an extreme doer, you’re probably not reading this – you’re out doing stuff. 🙂

If you relate to being an over-thinker, you’re in good company.

Hello, I’m Patty and I over-think too.

My talents lie in generating ideas and possibilities, solving problems, developing strategies and explaining stuff.

Nowhere on the list is “implementation” or “taking action.”

I do my absolute best work with clients who are action-oriented doers. We generate ideas together, they pick one, we make a list of what needs to be done, they do it.

I’m terrific at coming up with plans for other people.

I’m also good at coming up with plans for myself.

Unlike my action-taking clients, however, I suck at getting the individual tasks done.

What over-thinking looks like: an embarrassing look at how I “work”

Actual MRI scan of my brain from 2009

Let’s look at my book as an example.

Writing the book has been an idea since 2009. It’s been on my active project list for at least 3 of those 9 years.

I finally hit the publish button 10 days ago. (You can buy it here: buy my book!)

Despite “working on it” for close to 3 years – I did 80% of the work required to finish it in January and February of this year.

As an over-thinker – book ideas are easy. Outlining is easy. Give me 10 minutes and I’ll come up with a new book idea and a table of contents.

Settling down to type 40,000 words? That’s where I struggle.

I don’t wanna do this

Pretty sure this is the kind of “marketing dog” I would be!

I sit down to write Chapter 1, stare at the blank page and immediately think: “I don’t wanna write this.”

Then…my brain goes to completely unhelpful places like:

  • Maybe what I have as Chapter 1 should actually come at the end…ooo…I think I’ll re-organize the table of contents
  • Oh wait…maybe I should write an entirely DIFFERENT book…maybe more of a memoirish thing instead of a “how to” – or a picture book! Yeah! A picture book for grownups. That would be fun.
  • Oh look! A free webinar on “how to market a book” or a book about “how to publish on Amazon” or a quiz to find out “what kind of marketing dog I am” – I should do THAT before I start writing! (The quiz especially…I really want to know! Pretty sure I’m not a border collie…they have a pretty good work ethic. What’s the laziest kind of dog? That would be me…)

If you can relate to any of that, the following worked for me – and may work for you.

(Completely related aside: I started Googling “laziest dog breed” in the middle of writing this article.)

3 tips for getting started on that big project you’ve been putting off

1. Start anywhere: it all needs to get done eventually

Starting anywhere can sometimes feel like “eating dessert first” – who says productivity can’t be delicious?

I have this written on the sign above my desk.

This advice goes against our well-thought-out plans that list all of the tasks in priority order.

It goes against productivity advice (even my own) that says do the most important things first.

It’s also what got me through actually typing all of the words that needed to go in my book.

Instead of trying to force myself to start at Chapter 1, I just worked on whatever piece felt the most interesting. If I felt like writing the story about the time that guy gave me “feedback” about my cartoons or the story about the time my partner dragged me out on a sales call – that’s where I started.

Sometimes I went with what was the easiest: Hey…I already have a handout for the sales conversation outline – I could just pop that in.

Over time, it all added up and the book got finished. Everything I did was progress – and it all had to be done eventually.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”Having trouble starting a big project? Begin with the easy part. Or the fun part. Start anywhere. It all needs to get done eventually.” quote=”Start anywhere. Begin with the easy part. Or the fun part. It all needs to get done eventually.”]

2. Leave something unfinished

I think I’ll leave this part for tomorrow.

I learned this trick when I worked as a software developer. I often worked on big projects that took months to complete – and somehow I managed to stay productive day in and day out.

(A great coaching question to ask yourself: “Have you ever done anything like this successfully in the past? How did you do it?”)

How? Early on in my career, I accidentally discovered a trick for getting started each day. (Starting for me is the hardest part – once I get going, I tend to keep moving.)

A large computer program is made up of hundreds of individual modules. Each module would have a long list of tasks to complete – sort of like mini-projects. When I first started programming, I would endeavour to complete a module by the end of the day – I figured that if I was on a roll, I should keep going.

One day I was forced to quit before finishing. The next morning, instead of procrastinating like I usually did, I immediately picked up where I left off.

Completing the previous module acted as a “warm up” – and I was ready to dive into the more challenging task of starting a new module right at my best time of the day. From that day forward, I always left the final few tasks for the next day because it made getting started so much easier.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”Big projects require re-starting every day. Leave something unfinished from the day before to make it easy to jump in. ” quote=”Big projects require re-starting every day. Leave something unfinished from the day before to make it easy to jump in. “]

For my book, unless I was feeling particularly inspired (which was rare) I started my work by editing something that I had written previously. This felt a lot easier than facing a new blank page. Once I got into the motion of “working on the book” new words would start to flow. And if they didn’t? The old words became better…and hey: it all needs to get done eventually!

Of course, this breaks the big rule for writing which says: “never mix writing and editing.” Which brings me to my third tip.

3. Ignore the advice. (Including mine!) Do what works for you.

I refuse to put first things first, eat the frog or create a tickle file.

Most productivity advice is written for doers and by doers. Tips like “make a list” or “begin with your most important task” are exactly what doers need in order to be productive instead of just busy.

We over-thinkers are built differently.

The “list” might seem overwhelming (all those things!) or the “most important task” might feel too hard.

These things don’t stop the doers, they simply blast through. But to us over-thinkers? This perfectly good advice may make the situation worse instead of better. We’re so adverse to action, any little obstacle can stop us – so find a way that feels easy for you.

Hear some advice you think might work? Try it!

If it works, keep doing it.

If it doesn’t, toss it and try something else.