Once Begun Is Half Done

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Most of us should remember hearing this phrase at one point or another, at the very least from Mary Poppins. There seems to be a lot of truth to the idea that once something is started, half the work is done. How many times do we tell ourselves that one day we are going to do something. It could even be a simple problem of procrastination. Tomorrow, I’ll do that. Then tomorrow becomes today and once again we find ourselves making excuses for today and saying we’ll try again tomorrow, or next week, or next year. Starting on a goal seems to be one of the hardest steps to take. Finishing seems so much easier if we could only get past the first step; starting.

This week I’ve been listening to a group of successful authors and bloggers sharing their tips on writing a first book or growing an email audience. Many of their tips are useful for any goal though, not just writing. James Clear is an author who recommended a few ideas I’d like to share because they may be useful for getting over this initial hurdle of simply starting to work on your goals. For starters, Mr. Clear says he has an ideas folder. He puts titles, subjects, thoughts, paragraph summaries or stories he’s heard into this folder for possible expansion into a blog, article or book later. This idea is great because it can clarify your goals. Make a place for your ideas and desires. What things do you really want to accomplish in your life. Make short term goals and long term goals and write them down, put them in a folder or safe place and make sure they are easy to see and remind yourself so that you can remember what you are working toward.

Next, I would recommend something I heard from another successful author named Lise Cartwright. She uses a method called, “Mind Mapping” to organize her ideas. She says she writes an idea or goal in the center of a page and then in bubbles or sections around it she breaks down the idea or goal into subtopics, steps or descriptions about what it looks like, what it means, what is involved, how to get there, etc. She uses different colors and creative expressions in this process. When I heard her idea of Mind Mapping, the first thing that came to my mind was an online program that operates very similarly called, “Coggle.” I use Coggle the same way she described, but I haven’t been very active with it, so after her recommendation, I will probably expand my use of this program. It does essentially the same thing, it provides a center space for a main thought or topic and then you can add different colored branches to subtopics, descriptions or ideas related to that main topic. It is completely free to use and quite helpful. It also has printing, saving and sharing options so multiple people can contribute to the same mind map or brainstorming Coggle sheet.

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James Clear as well as other authors also emphasized consistency. He says there is something powerful about simply “showing up” regularly to work on something. When you work on a new idea or goal, or a new writing project, etc. the first few ideas or attempts that you make might not work out so well. That is part of the process. He says that the bad ideas or failed attempts are not a reason to avoid starting or trying again. It’s all the more reason to start faster and do more because you have to get through the bad ideas and attempts in order to get to the good ones. As he put it, you can’t skip straight to year ten of a career. You have to go through years one through nine first and put in the necessary time in the learning curve before reaching a stable handle on things. If you are trying to write, you can’t skip to book four before you write books one through three. It’s a learning process, so the faster you start the learning process, the sooner you’ll become a master. The longer you wait, the longer it will take to reach your goal. Just get started!

To help with consistency once you start, Mr. Clear recommended making it part of your regular scheduled routine throughout the week. People who put in the effort to schedule a committed time and place to do something have a much higher rate of sticking to it and getting it done. Scheduling something in advance and consistently makes it a priority and eliminates the decision making process. You no longer rely on your mood or whether you feel like doing it or not. It is in your schedule of required appointments, so you show up regardless of whether you feel like it or not. It’s like scheduling time to work out and get fit. If you leave it up to the whim of how you feel when your alarm goes off in the morning, you’ll probably just go back to sleep. But if you commit to a scheduled fitness regime, then you rule out your mood and just show up, which yields the benefits you seek. Know that working on your goal is something that you are going to do at this scheduled time and simply expect that and comply with that demand as if it is part of your job.

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Also, give yourself a deadline. Having a final completion date in mind creates focused attention on the goal in order to reach the desired result within the time frame you set. Make it reasonable and don’t kill yourself. Remember that quality is better than quantity. In writing, if you can only write 3 good sentences, then just write 3 good sentences. If they give a good strong message, that is better than writing five pages that are weak or beat around the bush too much. Make your time count. If you feel like you don’t have time to work on your goal, then make it a very small amount of time to start. James Clear also gave these suggestions:

  • If it takes less than 2 minutes, do it immediately.

  • Make your initial goal so small that it doesn’t take much motivation to do it. If you can work on it daily, that’s great, but if you can’t, then pick once or twice a week to work on it.

  • If you are really overwhelmed, then just commit to working on your goal for just two minutes. If it’s writing, then commit to write for only two minutes, or if nothing is on your mind, just stare at your page for two minutes. What Mr. Clear discovered when he made himself do this is that during his two minutes of just starting to write something, whatever came to mind, before the two minutes were up, he stopped paying attention to the timer because he was now on a roll with whatever thoughts started coming just from committing to those first two minutes.

The bottom line is that small improvements, slow or average speed, and tiny gains can add up to amazing achievements. Slow progression is better than standing still. Wonderful pieces of work and accomplishments can come from simply showing up often and consistently.

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One thought on “Once Begun Is Half Done

  1. There are so many great suggestions here for taking those first steps. I do whole heartedly agree that usually the biggest hurdle in taking on a task is actually starting it. “A journey of a 1000 miles begins with the first step” this is very true, but it always seems like that first step is the hardest one. You have given some great examples of how to take that first step. We each have different ways of doing it. We can start at the beginning and jump right in, or we can start to organize things, or plan things. We might even do some research. But the point is that we do actually start.
    The next biggest thing, and I think you did a great job of including it, is consistency. Once you start, you have to keep going. It does no good to take the first step and never take another. Every step you take is one step closer to your goal, so keep making them. If you just focus on taking that next step, then you will be there before you know it.
    Thank you once again for your wonderful insight and encouragement!