Why is it so Hard to Get Started? – And How to be Productive

I always start the day with great intentions.

Or, let’s backup a little further.

I always plan my next day with great ambitions.

At 11:00pm, right before I’m about to go to sleep I like to make a ‘to do’ list for the following day.

This is my type A, adult version of a goodnight story. It lulls me into a comfortable slumber.

The practice of dumping all of the things I need to remember from my head to a piece of paper allows my brain to finally slow down for the day.

My list usually starts out fairly reasonably:

  • Workout
  • Do laundry
  • Write blog post

Okay, that seems manageable, right?

But then I get a little over excited, a little too keen, a little overly ambitious about my future energy level and capacity to accomplish, and I keep going….

  • Bake sugarless muffins for toddler
  • Look into new life insurance provider
  • Find new freelancing client
  • Order diapers etc. on Amazon
  • Research different weekend programs and sign toddler up for said programs
  • Pick up a carpet cleaner and clean carpets
  • Pay bills

For some reason all of this still seems manageable the night before.

However, when morning comes reality hits, and it hits hard.

My ambitious intentions vs. my reality

Here’s what my day really ends up looking like at least 5 out of 7 days a week:

  1. Wake up after four hours of sleep…thanks to toddler
  2. Scramble to get self and toddler cleaned/dressed/fed and out the door….I am late
  3. Go to work…I am tired. Try to be productive and not fall asleep at desk
  4. Pick up toddler. I’ve been dying to see him all day and now he’s being such an a-hole.  I love him more than anything but he’s wearing on my patience
  5. Play with/cook for/clean up after/bath/read to/bottle/bed the toddler
  6. Clean up the kitchen….how is it even possible that such a small child can create such a mess?
  7. Put food in mouth
  8. Decide to sit on couch for just a minute….for just one second…then I will get up and do all the things.
  9. Sit on couch
  10. Game over

Why is it so easy to be ambitious and so hard to be productive?

A simple answer comes from the field of psychology. We put things off because it feels good in the short term.

“I want to finish this homework assignment.”

“I want to exercise.”

“I want to clean the kitchen.”

I know I’ll feel so good if I accomplish these things BUT, sitting on the couch and watching trash T.V. feels so much better in this moment.

And it’s so easy.

There are no barriers to sitting and passively absorbing entertainment.

The other tasks require a lot more effort.

Another interesting and somewhat surprising reason that you may continue to put off projects even though you really want to do them…..perfectionism.

Often people who identify/are labeled as perfectionists are major procrastinators.

The logic, it’s better to avoid a task all together then to risk failing at that task.

I can totally identify with this.

Throughout my life I have declined to participate in many things that I wanted to do because I was consumed by the thought of failure.

It’s easy to think about doing a project. It’s easy to think about being successful or wealthy in the future. It’s the doing that’s difficult.

So how do we overcome the barriers to be productive?

Become Aware

Have you ever been inhaling a bag of chips or candy when all of a sudden you notice the nutritional information.

With another handful of snacks on the way to your mouth you read “550 calories per serving”….and a serving is only half a cup???


This may or may not cause you to reassess that next handful.

I’ve been in this situation numerous times and sometimes this feedback will cause me to pause and pull my hand out of the snack bag…not always, but sometimes.

Awareness is key.

If we don’t have the appropriate information or feedback it’s difficult to adjust our behaviors accordingly.

So, when it comes to getting things done one thing you can do is….

Track your time.

This is an interesting exercise. Do you really even know how you’re currently spending your time?

It may surprise you.

Did you know that the average American spends 11 hours per day interacting with media (T.V., radio, smartphone etc)? Think how productive you could be with 11 hours of focused time.

Even just starting to track your time can lead to a change in behaviour.

When you become aware of the fact that you are spending 12 hours a week watching The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills/Orange County/New York etc.  then it’s harder to argue that you “don’t have time” to write, or workout or clean.

Become Active

Make the time.

Now that you’ve identified where you’re wasting your time, stop wasting your time!!

Oh man, if only it was that easy.

I know that I should cancel our cable and Netflix….but it’s so hard to do.

If there weren’t 100’s of channels always there and available to watch I’d be forced to spend my time in other, presumably more productive, ways.

Become Focused

Start Small.

Warren Buffett, top investor and philanthropist, has a three step strategy that he uses to maintain focus.

  1. Write down your top 25 goals
  2. Review the list and circle your top 5 goals. Now you are left with two lists, one with the top 5 items and one with the remaining 20
  3. The top 5 is your new “to do” list. The list with the 20 remaining items becomes your “NOT to do” list. These items get no attention until the top 5 things on your to do list have been completed.

This is a way of eliminating the clutter and determining what’s most important.

The idea is that you need to start small. If you have 25 things to do it’s too overwhelming. If you have 3-5 things to do it’s much more attainable.

Make Your Goals a Priority.

Now that you’ve identified your to do list make these items your priority. Try to eliminate distractors like social media and t.v.

Do this by scheduling the important things first.

If your goal is to work out five days a week then make sure you put it in your schedule. This not only frees up time but it also allows you to mentally prepare yourself.

If you’re a major procrastinator then schedule your workout for first thing in the morning.

If you aren’t a morning person then make sure you complete your workout before you allow yourself to sit down in front of the t.v. after work.

Also, try to remove any barriers that you see getting in the way of accomplishing your goals.

If t.v. or social media are your productivity kryptonite then consider cancelling your cable or blocking yourself from social media at certain times so you can remain productive.

There are tons of apps like Flipd and OffTime allow you to lock yourself out of social media for designated periods of time to eliminate the potential distraction.

Don’t strive for perfection.

Perfectionism can lead to inaction; it’s a productivity killer.

You can get so caught up in the details that you don’t make any progress.

Sometimes finished is better than perfect.

So focus on execution.

Want to write an article? Put pen to paper.

Want to start exercising? Get up and run. You can literally go for a run in your jeans. I mean, it’s not ideal, but it can be done.

One way to overcome crippling perfectionism is by following the Pareto principle a.k.a. the 80/20 rule.

This is the idea that 80% of results come from 20% effort.

The Pareto principle helps to break down the pretense that spending more time on something equates to a better product. This is not always the case.

Time is our most valuable resource. So, don’t waste it trying to perfect the extra 20% when it could be better spent working on additional projects or building/strengthening relationships with people.

To put this rule into practice pick one of your goals and give yourself a time limit to achieve it. Choose a timeframe that is realistic but will also push you to act now.

Don’t strive for perfection, strive for good enough and get it done before your deadline.

Become Consistent

Track your progress.

This comes back to awareness. If you see it, you believe it.

If you want to start exercising three times per week then start tracking your progress on a calendar.

Use a simple calendar to keep track of your progress

Record what you did and for how long. Or simply draw a checkmark on the days that you did a workout.

At then end of the week, or the end of the month, go back and see if you accomplished your goal.

Just seeing all of those check marks in your calendar can be extremely motivating.

On the other hand, seeing a lack of check marks will demonstrate that you haven’t met your goal and maybe it’s time to kick it into high gear or reassess your goal and how you can realistically achieve it.


I’d love to hear from you. Do you have any tips on how you motivate yourself to get started on a project? Or any hacks you use to be productive? 

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