photo: Jörg Reuter on flickr

photo: Jörg Reuter on flickr

How many times have you had this happen:

You start a brand new project. Maybe it’s a garden. Or a daily exercise routine. Or a rock opera about the lives of dyslexic mathematicians.

Whatever it is, you get off to a roaring start. In fact, you make tons of progress your first day. Then tons more your next day. This goes on for a few days, and then something happens.

A day passes with no work on the project at all. Then another day. Then another.

Before you know it, you’re no longer working on your project.

Your exercise shoes are collecting dust. The plants in your garden are shriveling with neglect. The dyslexic mathematicians are left to their own devices.

What happened? You were off to such a great start! How did everything fall apart so quickly?

photo: nasrul ekram on flickr

photo: nasrul ekram on flickr

I’ll tell you what happened. You failed to account for one of the most important ingredients in any project:

Momentum.

In my life as a writer, I’ve discovered a little trick to keep me moving forward from day to day.

Yes, discipline is important. And commitment. I’m not discounting the importance of those factors.

But here’s something else that’s essential:

Ending each work session with something unfinished.

I can hear you now:

That makes no sense! What about a feeling of accomplishment?! What about a sense of pride in my work?! If I leave something unfinished, I’ll feel incomplete. I’ll feel less than whole. I’ll feel like a piece of %&^#.

photo: Alexandra Bellink on flickr

photo: Alexandra Bellink on flickr

But you won’t!

If you’ve had a productive work session, you’ll feel great about it. And if you end the session in the middle of something, you’ll have lots of momentum to start again the next day.

Take exercise, for example.

Lots of people start up a new exercise routine and push themselves to the max. They think that’s the whole point – to whip themselves into shape.

But it’s actually counterproductive to finish so exhausted that you have no incentive to do it again.

Better to finish feeling like you could have done a little more. Better to finish feeling like you’re raring to get out and do it again the next day.

photo: Nicolas Alejandro on flickr

photo: Nicolas Alejandro on flickr

Same with working on a creative project.

When I was writing novels, I would always finish each day by starting a new section of the book. I’d do just a little bit of the new section – one sentence, for example – and then walk away.

This practice left me itching to start up again the next day.

Another variation of this theme is the timing of your project.

My writing session is always two hours a day. No less and – more importantly – no more.

It doesn’t matter what I’m doing at the end of two hours. Indeed, the more compelling the work is, the better. I know that the magnetism of the project will pull me back the next day.

I’ve been using this little momentum trick for years, in all kinds of projects, and it’s never steered me wrong.

photo: midwestnerd on flickr

photo: midwestnerd on flickr

Just the other day, a guy ran past me on my morning walk. He was a newbie, I could tell. It wasn’t just his brand-new running attire and squeaky-clean shoes. It was the fact that he was clearly pushing himself too hard: huffing and puffing like he was about to pass out.

I couldn’t help but design a better exercise program for him in my mind:

Start with brisk walking. Do less than you’re capable of. Then the next day, do a little more. After a few weeks of this, start alternating running and walking. Always finish your exercise session feeling like you could do more. Gradually build up to more and more running and less and less walking. Slowly build up your total distance. Always finish feeling like you could do more. Before long, you’ll be running long distances, with no excessive huffing or puffing at all!

I didn’t actually say my little plan to him out loud (that might not have gone so well), but the sight of him gave me the idea to write this post.

And now I’m using my words to pass along this little tip to all of you.

Get out there and start something! Make some progress, but not too much! Stop in the middle! Let the momentum catapult you into the next day, and the next, and the next!!

The dyslexic mathematicians are counting on you!

photo: Patricia Cerda on flickr

photo: Patricia Cerda on flickr

How do you work with the momentum factor? Share your comments below!

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