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Just Start. Optimize Later.

If you’re like most, you have a seemingly endless list of things you want to do and accomplish.

Perhaps you want to start a blog, change jobs, or finally register for an online fitness class. 

Also like most, you’ve likely been putting a large portion of that list off. Maybe you’re afraid of failing. Maybe you’re stuck in waiting for the perfect time. No matter the reason, overcoming inaction requires having a gameplan and pushing through the uncomfortable. 

In this article, we’ll share a few tips on how to get started and optimize your actions as you go.

Winning the battle with procrastination 

As Brian Tracy, motivational speaker and author notes in his book, Eat That Frog

Everyone procrastinates. The difference between high performers and low performers is largely determined by what they choose to procrastinate on.

Even the most successful people in the world put off their important tasks on occasion. The key then is building the habit of doing what needs to be done even when you may not feel up to it. If you procrastinate on doing an important work project, that could have some serious consequences. If on the other hand, you put off organizing your closet, it’s not the immediate end of the world. 

If you find yourself putting things off, it doesn’t mean you’re broken or lazy, it simply means you haven’t found the right approach for you. Only by trying different things will you be able to ultimately find the best path forward. At the same time, you can’t do that if you continue to sit on the sidelines.

Lower the stakes 

If you’ve wanted to do something for a while, but still haven’t made any progress, there’s a high chance you may benefit from lowering the stakes. 

Saying you want to write a book or lose 20lbs can be incredibly intimidating and make you prone to putting it off. 

Stephen Guise, author of Mini Habits, shares an excellent breakdown of the difference between high and low stakes: 

“High Stakes: “I must get in superb shape, the best of my life.”

Stakes aren’t always defined by negativity (Negative stakes: I’m going to get tasered if I don’t!). In this case, the desire is to do something very beneficial and life-changing. But the stakes are high because it would really hurt to fail. The higher the reward, the greater the pain of failure. That’s high stakes.

Low Stakes: “I’m going to do one push-up per day.”

This is a low-stakes aim. You’re not trying to transform yourself overnight. You would certainly like this to lead to better things, but given this goal, failure would merely mean that you didn’t do a single push-up. That doesn’t seem like a big deal, right? The truth is that it’s a very big deal (since habit-formation is life-changing), but it’s strategically presented as a low-stakes aim.” 

When possible, choose a goal or behavior where minor setbacks and failure aren’t the end of the world. Ask yourself what is the minimal amount of action you can take now, that will still bring you closer to your goals over time?

In the example above, doing one push up consistently may not seem like much, but over time, you’ll end up doing significantly more pushups than if you continue to do none at all. One is better than zero. 

Stop waiting for the perfect time 

James Clear tweet on starting now.

(Image source)

Another major reason we avoid taking action is we fall into the trap of thinking there is a perfect time.

“I’ll wait to quit smoking until I change jobs.”

“I’ll start my blog once things settle down.”

“I’ll eat better after my inlaws leave.”

We’ve all been there. 

But as you know, that perfect time doesn’t exist. Waiting for the perfect time is a convenient excuse. 

Take for example, author David Kadavy. He was originally hesitant to start his blog, but ultimately made the decision to give it a go. In his book, the Heart to Start, he shares his experience.

“I didn’t know how to get where I wanted to go, so I reached for the nearest hand-hold I could grab. I went to Blogger.com and opened an account. I couldn’t think of a name for my blog, so I just called it “David Kadavy’s Blog.”

He continues, noting how ‘bad’ his first article was.

“It’s the worst post I’ve ever written for obvious reasons: It’s a long, pointless paragraph. It has no useful information. It even has a misspelling. But it’s the best post I’ve ever written, because it got me started. Without this post, I never would have written the next post, or the post after that, or the post after that.”

Yet many years later, he has built a large following online and is a multiple time author.

Had he continued waiting until the ‘perfect’ time, he may have not have seen the success he has today. The hundreds of thousands of words he’s written since starting has been invaluable in him becoming a better writer and communicator. Taking action was the seed for his future growth. 

Taking action gives you feedback  

One of the biggest benefits of starting sooner than you feel ready is that by taking action you’ll receive valuable feedback on what’s working, and what can be improved. 

When it comes to your goals, a lot of what you think will happen is just a guess. Starting now, even just by taking small steps, allows you to test your assumptions and improve overtime.

Of course, basic planning is important, but a few weeks into taking action, you might discover the need to adjust. 

For example, if you’re hoping to experiment with a vegan diet for a month, you’ll want to know which foods you’ll like, bookmark some local places to buy from etc. 

But after a certain point, optimizing in such a way leads to diminishing returns. Until you’ve actually experienced eating vegan for a period of time, you won’t know the optimal diet. Once you’ve started eating vegan, you can change your diet as needed and continue to make progress overall. 

Stop obsessing over things that don’t matter 

In addition to getting feedback by taking action, starting now helps you get out of your head. 

As best selling author on finance and psychology Ramit Sethi notes

Minutiae-focused people try to focus on everything, rarely prioritizing. They obsess over their monthly spending as much as turning the oven light off, never understanding the futility of trying to trick human nature. They use phrases like “I just need to…” and “Yeah, I really should…” and “If I just try harder this month, I should be able to…”

True masters of human behavior understand our shortcomings, and use systems, automation, and a judicious use of our limited willpower to tackle the things that really matter — while ignoring the rest.

Take the goal of trying to save more. You could spend months trying to find the ‘perfect’ app to help you start saving, or you could just start putting aside a small amount of your salary each month. Searching for an app may make you feel productive, but the act of saving is the lever that makes the difference. 

If you’re wanting to start a business, waiting to have the perfect business card or logo before working on your idea is likely an excuse. 

If you’re wanting to apply for jobs, stop obsessing over your resume’s font. 

Ultimately by taking action now, you’ll be in a better position to readjust and build on the momentum you’ve built. 

As Nike is famous for saying, “Just do it.” 

Now is the time to put in the work.