Motivation

A Thousand First Steps – The Only Way for Getting Started With Anything

productivity getting started

A very common idea which is hardly related to design, but it helps me so often with what I do that it’s worth writing about it again.

I am very lazy. It is difficult for me to start working (especially after a hefty meal) and being given a new task I never know how to approach it.

This pain in the neck hangs heavy on me and I am constantly trying to come up with an idea to help me fight my intolerable laziness. There are times when I lie down on the sofa and for an hour or so try to find a way to cleverly wrestle it down once and for all. Sometimes on the way to my possible triumph I fall asleep.

The bottom line

I found my own way which in most of cases lets me hit the ground running  – I just make some first step. I am so lazy that accomplishing a task all in full is a dead lift, even if it’s a five-minute challenge. But making the first step is not that difficult, even if you are forcing yourself.

The bottom line is that the first step makes the brain work and think about the task whereas I am not much of a thinker myself. Well, when I take this first step, the grey fluid starts bubbling in my head (I heard that some people have the ‘grey matter’ inside their heads, but it’s not my case), grabs the project and mulls over the next step, the thought starts to ramify and yield fruit, and at any moment I may find myself plunged into the project designing at a rapid-fire pace or writing something like this article.

The first step works even better if it is easy to implement, and the brain understands at once what direction you should take your first, second and third step in. It is for this reason that I try  to make the first step imply further steps. It does not work out right off hand, some tricks come with practice i.e.  perfected first steps to take in familiar situations.

What really matters is that you shouldn’t stop believing that if the first step has not been followed by the next one, a task may be ditched, a project deleted, a PC battered and an office doused with gasoline and set on fire. Or, at least, you can put this task on ice for an uncertain period.

Examples

New project

Let’s say, the first step in starting a new project is to open up a new Google Doc and type in ‘The goal of a business’. That is not to define the goal itself, but to write down the above-mentioned phrase. A very simple step. And the trick behind it is the following: the  goal of any business is always as clear as day – money making.  And when I am writing down these simple words ‘The goal of a business’, there is a small dude jumping in my head swinging arms and shouting: «I know! I do! Ask me! Cash! Business needs cash! Hey, write it down, man! Profit! Note it down!».

So, of course, I start writing. While I am writing, many other thoughts inhabit my mind: «What other objectives might be there except money?», «What other user’s challenges does the product deal with?», «Why would a user employ the product?», «What target audience does a product aim at?», «Why and how the product is better than those of the competitors?» and the like. Actually, while I am writing, there are some interface solutions coming to my head and so on. The process is already under way, the pistons are being pushed up and down the cylinder, the design vehicle is moving forward.   

Coming Back to Work

It happens sometimes that you have to come back to work after an enjoyable lunch, postprandial walk or a coffee-break. When I sit down in front of a computer my usual first step is to move some object in my mock-up or a prototype.

I tend to leave my work in such a shape that something very simple would be underdone.

For example, a line of text which falls beyond the grid. Sometimes I move some block aside for it to be brought back thereafter. I move the tab bar in a mobile application left or up or else. When I come back to my work I see the tab bar out of place, move it to where it belongs, and this works out as the first step, and the head starts thinking as to what else I can put the finishing touches to and I go ahead with it.

Writing an Article

The most questionable example is my approach to writing articles. You can see by yourselves that I don’t have many articles published on Medium.com/@Rosberry. The first step is to note down the main thought of the article in a single sentence. For example, for this very article I wrote down “tell about the first step principle”.  It is very useful to do so, lest you should forget the idea even if the article is destined to be unpublished. I opened up a new Google Doc (love Google Docs), noted down the idea and started to expand it. The principle did its work, the text started to take its shape.

But then I was distracted, I gave up the thought and the article was left unfinished. For three months in a row 🙂 Incompleteness seems ok because you can come back to work as with the mockups or prototypes described earlier. But if the work is the work, the mockup is on the computer screen, and it is easy to come back to it, the article will be written out of hours and coming back to it will be far more difficult.

Well, as a matter of fact, I have a couple of dozen of articles I started writing this way. Hopefully, my new trick will help me post at least five of them.

So today lying around on the sofa it occurred to me that one of these articles was worth being done and that the best first step would be to read the last paragraph of any of them.   

I checked and found that the article as to the first steps had not been finished and only a couple of things stood behind to be finally added. The plan to describe one more example arouse in no time – how to write an article. I finished the plan, then crammed some conclusion into it at the end, added a wise saying to the point as in cool motivational FB and LinkedIn posts and – ta da – the article is ready for launch!  

Conclusion

The first step is a good way to get started. I take dozens of steps every day completing tons of different tasks. But this trick is valid only if you like your job as such. For example, when you like design as a trade, but you are not excited over some certain tasks in a big way.

Well, of course, there are times when the first step is not operational even with interesting assignments. You have already opened up a design software tool and have put certain blocks in place and have even changed the heading , but the brain won’t start, the grey fluid won’t bubble. In such cases you have no choice but to go and lie down on a sofa and craft a new plan.

But the fact that this technique might not be operational on an ongoing basis does not mean that it does not have the right to life. It is as workable as the Pomodoro Technique (love Pomodoro timers), making a list of tasks (I am obsessed with lists), agile  (Rosberry, the agency I work at follows Scrum), GTD (I don’t even know what the letters stand for) and other types of self-deceit.

So, the bottom line is that you have to try, maybe it will work well for you.

And here is a corny quote:

«A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step» — Laozi

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