Can't Get To That Summer Project? 10 Tips For Gettin' It Done

Love, Self

Whether it is dating, exercise, or a creative pursuit, getting started can be an uphill struggle.

I admit it.  All winter, when I was busy and cooped up, I dreamed of summer and how I was going to finally have time to not only relax, but get to those “to-do’s” that eluded me all winter.  Clean out the hall closet.  Eat healthier.  Finally do some of that blogging and creative writing that has been nagging at me.  And today, summer is here, the sun is shining, it’s Saturday, my kids are out of town, I have no scheduled obligations, and I struggle to sit and write.  I have eaten several snacks, caught up on email,  spent plenty of time online and my writing is only just beginning as I write what you are now reading.

Why can it be so hard to do what we really want?  I mean, as Nike tells us, “just do it!”  Whether it is dating, exercise, or a creative pursuit, starting something new can be an uphill struggle.  Sometimes the obstacles are mental,  sometimes they have more to do with organization or competing priorities.   How can I get going on projects that really matter to me?  Here is what I’ve figured out so far:

1) Try to figure it out.  A little pattern recognition never hurt anyone. When I step back, I can see that when I resolve to  get  up an  hour early and write every day,  the result is only  guilt-ridden slaps at the snooze bar.  This suggests that early a.m. may not be a realistic time for my writing discipline.  But stepping back,  I also notice that my creative ideas flow while I’m at the gym. That  gives me the idea to bring my laptop with me and write at the coffee shop on my way home for half an hour.

2) Break some habits.  “But I can’t write on the way home because I’m used to going straight home and making my coffee.”  Oh, the comforts of a routine, and the concern about messing with  tried and true habits that have helped me to get stuff done.  Or not.  It’s hard to make something new without disrupting something that was already there.

3) Make some habits.  I can create new patterns if I choose limited changes that make sense for my life demands.  “I won’t need as much time at home if I drink my coffee out and make my lunch the night before.  I can still make it to work on time.”

4) Challenge objections. “ I’ve been trying to save money.  Getting coffee out is going to add up”.  Okay, that may be true, but how much did I pay for that creative writing class I took a year ago?  Or the books about writing that I just ordered?  4 cups of coffee a week  that help me work toward a life goal may not be that much to pay.

5) Rebalance priorities. “But the kids need me then.”  Wait, they are teenagers now.  When I am there they ignore me.  Are these 30 minutes really going to impact my parenting?

6) Notice negative thoughts.  “I can’t do this.” “I’m not good enough.”  “I’m going to remember every time I failed at something and why.”  Obvious non-starters, these fear-related thoughts can lead to paralysis. Recognizing them and subjecting them to the light of day, including evidence of exceptions to these beliefs, can reduce their power over us.  “I may feel like I can’t do this, but in fact, I used to write a newsletter every month that was very well-received.”

7) Make the resistance into a friend.  Look at me, I’ve already written a bunch, by making friends with the shame of not being able to get started.  Talking about what I want to do and what’s getting in the way decreases avoidance and  starts to get the ball rolling.

8) Set targets.  If I know that I want to write for 3 hours this week, I’m more likely to fit it in then just having a vague feeling of “I should write.” 

9) Go with the flow.  For better and for worse, I’m not a great structure person.  My focus ebbs and flows during the day, and not consistently from day to day.  I also rebel when I feel forced to do stuff.  So I like to know what my intentions are, what my targets are, and then notice when I have the right energy and alertness to do those things.  As long as they get done during the week, I can be flexible and enjoy the freedom to choose.

10) Accountability.  Letting someone else know what my intentions are holds me to greater accountability then just keeping it to myself.  Telling my friend or my spouse that I plan to write a few times a week, and then checking in with them later, makes me aware of my habits and keeps me honest with myself.

If I've tried all these and still can't get going, its time to revisit either how much this project matters to me, or if I need more help then I thought. If not getting started is a longstanding pattern, it could be a sign of executive functioning deficits such as ADHD, or an underlying difficulty with anxiety, or depression. In those cases, talking to a skilled therapist with a good diagnostic abililty could be a helpful step.   In this case, I am pleased to say I have completed my first Your Tango article, a goal I set for myself this summer.  And my future accountability is stating here that I plan to post again within two weeks.  Gettin’ it done feels good!