Podcast 123: More baby steps

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This is podcast 123 and because of the July 4th holiday, it’s a rerun of one of my favorites: Baby Steps.

Today’s podcast is based on Simple Way #21 in my book. It’s about taking baby steps to advance whatever project you’re working on. When you’re procrastinating on something, this is an excellent way to get over the hump of fear or intimidation or worry about starting. Because you’re just taking one tiny step forward.

Here’s how it works: If you can’t get started on your project (or back into it after a break), chop it up into little parts that you can do one at a time. You’ll be surprised at how small those bits can be. And how effective it is to focus your attention only on the very next small task you have to do.

What’s important is getting into motion and continuing to move forward. If your progress slows or comes to a stop, make the steps even smaller until you can find a way back in. Strive to keep moving because when you stop, it’s much easier to be seduced by distractions. That danger can exist between steps too, so as you work, start thinking ahead to what the next logical task will be so you can smoothly segue into it.

Years ago, I read advice about this from SARK, an inspirational writer. She wrote that if your project is to organize your closet and you just aren’t getting to it, maybe it’s because you feel overwhelmed. If so, let your first step be simply to open the closet door and look inside. That’s all! Then you can stop and make a cup of tea. Come back to the project on another day and take the next small step.

I love this because it acknowledged that some projects are daunting, but that’s okay because you don’t have to do them all at once. In fact, you can’t. This is why you must never put projects on your to do list. Projects are not do-able. To do’s and tasks are do-able.

This is important because you might be feeling bad about how little you get done from your list, when it’s not actually your fault. The problem is that you’ve but a big project on the list instead of the very next small step that advances the project.

Write that step down on your to do list using action verbs. Instead of writing “closet organizing” you’ll write “sort through the box of shoes.” It’s specific and it’s also telling you what the physical action is.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you think of your entire project, or how much work you need to do to get done. Remember that you can only do one thing at a time. That means your project has to get done one step at a time. This is a law of physics, my friends! Don’t let it get you down.

Here’s more wisdom about that from writer Anne Lamott:

“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'”

You do need to know where you’re trying to go with your project, what the end result you want is, such as an organized closet. However, it doesn’t matter if you don’t know upfront all the parts that need to be done. You only need to know the very next step so that you can keep moving forward.

You don’t have to plan out each step in advance. Do that if you prefer to work that way, but remember that plans can change as your project evolves, so don’t be too attached to that plan. You’ll discover more information as you move forward and you’ll make new decisions based on that information, information that you just don’t have yet so it can’t be accounted for.

For a project like organizing a closet, capitalize on the natural hierarchy of steps. You won’t be able to get to the boxes at the back until you deal with the ones in front. Let the process flow naturally.

As long as you are taking baby steps with that goal in mind, you are getting closer to it.

When you narrow your focus simply to the next task you need to do, you can make progress without being distracted. Every project is a series of steps.

Right now:

Find a project you’re having trouble with and see if you can figure out one thing to do on it.