How to get out of your own way and do the work

I’ve mentioned before that I’m three months into a yearlong creativity course: the Raise Your Hand Say Yes Inner Circle with Tiffany Han. Our group discussion the other day turned to how to push past self-created drama to actually do the work. I shared some thoughts in our private group on Mighty Networks, but wanted to share them here as well. Here are three ways to shake off doubt, fear, anxiety, whatever to get your work done:

1. Make your first step as small as possible

If I’m having trouble getting started, I break things down into tiny tasks and focus on one at a time. If you can, pretend none of the other things on your list exist. Your only goal is to accomplish this single task. Make it laughably small — so tiny you can’t believe you’re putting it on your to-do list.

For example: A friend was panicking about a big, important project recently. It was a spec script for a TV show. I suggested she write a single line of dialogue. Just one. That was her only task. It could be as simple as “John: Hi Jane.” The important thing — the only thing, really — is to get over the hurdle of not having started. Once you’ve done that, identify another tiny step you can take. And keep going.

2. Do a productivity sprint

I’ve started using productivity sprints to maximize the amount of work I can get done in a short period of time.

Set a timer for 20 or even just 10 minutes. Give yourself no time to create internal drama about whether an idea is good or not (I’m the queen of this!). When the timer starts, so do you. Your only task is to do the work for a set amount of time. It doesn’t have to be good. Make the process an end in and of itself. The goal is to do the thing. It’s not to sell the thing, get an award for the thing, make people love you because you can do the thing. It’s just to do. the. thing. (I say this as a person who spent a lot of time in therapy dealing with my lifelong orientation around external achievement.) Are you doing the thing? That’s the only success metric here.

3. Detach from outcomes

I’ll say it again: Detach from outcomes. Focus instead on what you can control. Feeling in control is powerful. It pays dividends. What you cannot control: external response to your work. What you can control: whether the work exists at all. As I wrote to a friend recently, detachment from outcomes is where the magic happens.

I made this sign that says “I am not afraid to make bad art.” (Which is kind of meta and self-evident since it itself is an example of bad art!) I believe firmly that bad art is better than no art.

I wrote a novel last year. It’s bad! But you know what that process taught me how to do? Write a novel. I started another novel on January 1, and I’m already better at it. Being bad at things is the path to being great at things.

As I write this, it’s January 20. To date in 2019, I’ve written 100 pages of a novel, written six blog posts, and recorded two podcast episodes. I could not have done any of this even one year ago. Getting out of my own way is one of the most important things I’ve done for myself. I hope you can get there, too.

3 thoughts on “How to get out of your own way and do the work

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