When you’re facing a big project, starting is the key to finishing.
Sounds easy, right? “Just get started.”
But you and I know there is a stone wall between here and there. A tall stone wall. The other side of that wall is called “Doing the Project,” but this side of the wall is called, “Nah.”
If we fan the flames of our sense of responsibility, summon our reluctant determination, overcome our dread, and find the grit to climb that wall, we can tumble down the other side, land in an unhappy heap with a bad attitude and then “power through” until we are done, right?
Wait a second… there is a door in that wall. I never noticed it because I was always looking upward at that towering immensity of ugly stone, but there it is! A door through which I can easily pass back and forth between “Doing the Project” and “Nah.” I no longer have to keep working until I am finished. I can give it five good minutes, then quit if I want, and go back to “Nah.”
But I will have started.
“I’m not going to mow the yard right now. I’m just going to fill the gas can, so I’ll have gas for the mower when I’m ready to start mowing.”
Am I tricking myself into mowing the lawn? Nope. I’m just filling the gas can.
Maybe I’ll go ahead and see if the mower will start, maybe not. And if it starts, maybe I’ll mow that little part of the yard you can see from the street. Maybe not. But regardless of what else I do – or don’t do – after I fill the gas can, I will at least have gas for the mower.
I filled the gas can then went inside to watch some YouTube videos. I didn’t feel like mowing right now but I am extremely proud of that full can of gas. I’m making progress!
Before I started writing this Monday Morning Memo to you, I began heating some water to make a cup of tea. Water heats quickly, so instead of sitting down to write, I began emptying the clean dishes from the dishwasher and putting them in the cabinet. Pennie usually does that, but she is still asleep and it always makes her happy when she wakes up to see that I helped with the dishes.
By the time the water was hot, I was halfway finished emptying the dishwasher. I stopped, poured the hot water over the tea, set the timer for 3 minutes, then went back to emptying the dishwasher. I have no plan for doing more.
It has been six minutes since I wrote that last sentence. I wanted another cup of tea, so I walked away, unsure if I was going to come back and keep writing or do something else instead, but while I was making that second cup of tea, two-thirds of the dirty dishes somehow got loaded into the dishwasher.
Did I keep stacking dirty dishes in the dishwasher while my tea got cold? Of course not. I hate tepid tea. I am happily drinking a second cup of hot tea while I type this to you.
See how self-indulgent I am?
If Pennie wakes up while I am writing this, she will see that all the clean dishes have been put away and that two-thirds of the dirty dishes are already in the dishwasher. If I decide to take another break from writing, or if I decide on a third cup of tea, or if I decide I just want to go ahead and finish the dishes, then Pennie will wake up to a clean kitchen and I will be awesome.
It has been six minutes since I wrote that last sentence. Do you know what I’ve been doing?
Nope. Instead of finishing the dishes, I decided to open five boxes that arrived from Amazon yesterday afternoon, unwrap the contents, flatten the boxes and put them in the recycle bin in the garage. I am now enjoying my third cup of hot tea.
And now you know how slowly I write. When I am writing quickly, I’ll get perhaps four paragraphs written during the time it takes me to sip a cup of tea from top to bottom.
Screw it. I’m going to take a break from writing and go put those last few dishes in the dishwasher. Why? Because that’s what I feel like doing, and I am impulsive and self-indulgent. I do exactly what I feel like doing, and right now I feel like seeing Pennie smile when she wakes up to a clean kitchen.
It’s easy to get started when you give yourself advance permission to quit when you’re no longer in the mood.
It has been thirty-four minutes since I wrote that last sentence.
I finished the dishes and started heating the water for more tea, but one of those boxes from Amazon contained the rubber floormats I ordered from the factory for my new truck and I decided to install them even though it is the middle of the night. When I came back inside, the water for the tea was cold and I decided I didn’t want tea anyway, so I re-heated the water and made myself a cup of Mud Water with a big glub of Bailey’s added.
MUD\WTR is a real thing. It doesn’t taste like coffee or tea or anything else you’ve ever had, but it has 1/7 the caffeine of coffee and it tastes amazing with a glub of Bailey’s. You won’t like it the first two times you try it, but you’ll drink it a third time because you’ll remember how much you paid for it and you don’t want to waste all that money so you’ll impulsively go buy some Bailey’s Irish Cream and live happily ever after.
When something pops into your head, work on it immediately. When you want to quit, then quit. Just move the ball a tiny little bit toward the goal line. Make a difference.
That’s how impulsive, self-indulgent procrastinators get big things done.
That’s how you harness the power of Exponential Little Bits.
Occasionally you’ll get started on something and not want to quit. Okay, do what you feel; keep working. But if you get close to the finish line and lose the mood, then quit and come back when you feel like it. Forcing yourself to continue will erase your ability to harness the magic of Exponential Little Bits.
You do not want to erase that magic.
I built houses back in the early 70s before nail guns became popular. When I wore a tool bag, three-and-a-half-inch, 16-penny nails were driven through the plate into the end of the stud with a hammer; two nails through the top plate and two through the bottom plate into every wall stud. It was a mark of manhood to set each nail with a light tap and then sink the head deep into the wood with a single, mighty blow.
But I never felt the need to do that. I believe the doctrine of overwhelming force should be employed only in times of war. Building a house is not war. Writing an ad is not war. Mowing the lawn, doing dishes, opening Amazon boxes; none of these is war. I always set the nail and drive it through the plate like a bird eating birdseed. Peck-peck-peck-peck-peck. Done.
Pecking is the Power behind Exponential Little Bits.
Obligations are the handcuffs that keep you from swinging the hammer.
Sometimes you’ll get started on something and not want to quit. Okay, do what you feel. Keep working. Be self-indulgent.
Roy H. Williams
NOTE FROM INDY BEAGLE: Knowing the wizard does NOT believe in multitasking, I asked him to explain to me the difference between multitasking and pecking. “Multitasking is forcing yourself to work on several things at once.” he said. “There is no ‘forcing yourself’ in pecking. You just do what you feel until you feel like doing something else. There is no plan, no obligation to come back and finish. Not only is pecking NOT multitasking, it’s not even ‘tasking.’ But pecking won’t work for lazy people. If you are not a driven and productive person, pecking will just accelerate your laziness.”