How to Stop Procrastinating and Get Started

You’re sitting in front of a keyboard, but the words aren’t coming out.

You’re trying to begin that project, but there’s no clear starting point.

The cause may be a lack of motivation, creativity, or even just urgency. Some people call it resistance. It’s frustrating—debilitating even. And as time passes, the only thing that seems to change is the hour on the clock.

We’ve all been there, and although it can seem innocent to procrastinate, there are usually consequences. We often get behind on our duties, and sometimes sacrifice the quality of our work just to get it done on time.

I’ve personally been there. I try to write every day, but sometimes I get stuck staring at my computer screen with nothing typed out.

I finally decided to take some old advice I’d written down as a reminder for myself in situations like this:

When you’re stuck, do more.

The Problem With Inspiration

People often assume that in order to act, they need inspiration—whether it be in the form of excitement, their imagination, or a sign from above, like the old story of how a falling apple led Newton to discover gravity. The truth is, it’s the opposite: Action’s what forces inspiration.

The more you do, the more you can do, and the further you go, the easier it becomes. The only thing you actually need to do is start.

Of course, that’s precisely the problem. In my situation, I knew that inspiration wasn’t going to solve my writer’s block, but I still wasn’t doing anything about it. That’s where the “doing more” part comes in.

The Beauty of Doing More

Rather than trying to halfheartedly nudge myself to write, I just let it go.

Instead, I took a look at my to-do list and picked something else to do—something small and unimportant, like answering emails. After that, I moved on to the next thing. And then the next thing.

Eventually, these small actions, although largely inconsequential and non-urgent by themselves, built on one another and gave me enough momentum to force myself to attack the only thing left to do—write.

Basically, I let myself quit, and then take a more comfortable path to the same end.

How This Works

In chemistry, there’s a concept known as activation energy. This is the base amount of energy required for a reaction in a mixture to move forward.

You can think of the threshold of action for any task in the same way. When I’m trying and failing to write, it’s because the activation energy required for me to act is too high. It’s much harder for me to force it. On the other hand, the activation energy it takes to answer emails is low.

However, as I do more and more of the smaller tasks, the actions compound and my momentum builds up.

It’s also helped by the fact that relativity starts to work in my favor. In my mind, I already have the “win” of having done more, so completing one last task—the one I initially dreaded—seems less intimidating.

Give yourself some breathing room in your to-do list by having other options in place—a.k.a., smaller, more menial tasks. Once they’re taken care of, you’ll be more motivated to tackle the assignment you’ve been so worried about.

Getting stuck is fine—staying stuck isn’t. So, do something.

This article was originally published on Medium. It has been republished here with permission.

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About Richard Moy

Richard Moy
Richard Moy is a Content Marketing Writer at Stack Overflow. He has spent the majority of his career in talent management, including a stint as a full-cycle recruiter and hiring manager. In addition to the career advice he contributes to The Muse, he also writes test prep and higher education marketing content for The Economist. Say hi on Twitter @rich_moy.

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