Take the First StepAUTHOR: Francisco Sáez
“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” ~ Arthur Ashe
Actions are the engine that drives your productivity. Without actions nothing happens, or worse, things that you have no control over will happen taking you to no place in particular. Probably a place you don’t like to be in.
There are times when you don’t have a clear idea of the result you want or need to achieve, and that makes you constantly procrastinate the problem. Other times you are clear about what you should achieve, but there are so many things to do that you don’t know where to start. In these situations, where you are stuck, the best solution is simply to take the first step.
You have to do something, anything, to start. Taking the first step is the result of thinking that something is possible. The first step is the hardest, but when you do it a very important resistance is broken, and you start to see things that before seemed inaccessible, in a different way.
According to Robert Maurer, director of behavioral sciences at UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica, the challenge of taking the first step has to do with fear. When you are faced with a new challenge, it means you have to leave the safety of your routine behind. Your brain’s amygdala, which likes calm, clarity and predictability (because they’re good for survival) sets off an alarm, and a blockage appears.
“Every object remains in a state of rest or uniform motion unless it is acted upon by an external unbalanced force.” ~ Newton’s First Law.
How can you overcome that blockage and take that first step? How can you deal with something you don’t quite know how to handle?
- Start by defining the desired outcome. If the goal is too big or too complicated, first define a smaller goal that is easier to achieve. By doing this you prevent your brain from triggering the alarm. Write it down. An accessible and clearly defined goal has a much better chance of being achieved.
- You have already defined the problem—understanding the problem as a discrepancy between the real state of things and the desired one—. Now, what’s the first action you can take to achieve the goal? What might be the first step to take? Several things will come to mind, but only one is the true next step on which you must focus. That’s your next action. Write down the rest of the things on a list that you’ll put on hold, so that you’re not distracted by them.
- Now you’ve started, you’re on the move. It’s the moment to take advantage of the inertia. Once the action is completed, retrieve that list of tasks and unresolved issues that you had parked, and choose your next action (or define a new “next action” if none of the ones you see is the right one).
You have already unlocked the inaction. One by one, go through the tasks that will lead you to achieve the desired outcome. The end of the project is near.
If you are a GTD practitioner, you have this behavior so internalized that you don’t even realize you’re doing it. The dynamics of the methodology itself pushes you to constantly deduce What’s next? You do it every day, every time. There are no blocks. You don’t procrastinate. Everything flows.