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Here’s a Trick to Keep You Moving Forward on Any Project

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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10 Responses to Here’s a Trick to Keep You Moving Forward on Any Project

  1. Kat August 26, 2014 at 9:27 am #

    LOVE this advice…setting a time limit on how long you write, and starting with sentence for the next chapter. It engages you to continue even before you get started! I often leave a chapter unfinished when I write so I can be open to the many possibilities that come to me throughout the day in relation to finishing it off. Keeps it fresh for me, and I am eager to get my ideas on paper, actually in the computer, the next day!

    Bountiful Blessings,
    Kat

    • Z Egloff August 26, 2014 at 12:41 pm #

      Hi Kat,

      I love the point you make that having a set time to stop for the day allows the creative energy to keep working on it, even though we’re officially “off the job.” The universe never stops creating, and allowing for a pause in our active part of the equation allows all those possibilities to accumulate and be accessed by us the next day. Yes! It’s so much fun! :)

      XOZ

      • Kat August 27, 2014 at 7:20 am #

        Hi Z,

        Another thought that came to me yesterday was that I jot down words, phrases, and sentences that resonate with me throughout my day, then put them on a word document to use as ideas for my writing.

        I save the date, and often make a note of where it came from to remind me of the context. Then on days when I finish off one piece of writing, I have ideas on paper/computer that I can turn to for inspiration.

        I see these ideas as Spirit keeping me engaged with my writing, which I greatly appreciate!

        Happy writing!
        Kat

        • Z Egloff August 28, 2014 at 12:37 pm #

          Hi Kat,

          I do a similar thing. I have little pieces of paper in all kinds of places – by my bed, in the car, in the kitchen. That way I, like you, can jot down words and phrases that pop into my head. I’ve also found, like you, that I might need to add an extra note to remind me of the context. Otherwise, my chicken scratch might make no sense when I look at it later. I also love having a document where I store my ideas, as it’s always wonderful to revisit the document when I need ideas for the next blog post/rap/talk.

          Thank you for sharing your process! :)

          XOZ

  2. Karen August 26, 2014 at 6:10 pm #

    Yes, wonderful advice. I recently read an article about 3 prolific women novelists, and one of them said something similar to you, Z — she always ends her writing for the day in the middle of a scene. That gives her momentum to continue on the next day.

    The best approach I’ve found with regard to getting anything done on a consistent basis is to break it down into small, bite size pieces and then, like you say, schedule it, do it, and don’t try to overdo it. Slow and steady wins the race, as the old saying goes.

    Hopefully the huffing-and-puffing runner fellow will learn to pace himself. Keep us posted. :)

    • Z Egloff August 28, 2014 at 12:32 pm #

      Hi Karen,

      I like what you say about slow and steady. I’ve always loved the tortoise and the hare story. I’ve been both animals in my life, and I’m always happier when I’m the tortoise!

      It’s funny, I haven’t seen the huffing and puffing runner since that first time. Hopefully he didn’t get lost in the woods. Or maybe he just needed to go home and rest. . .

      XOZ

  3. Jill Shinn August 26, 2014 at 10:11 pm #

    Hi Z, this is very interesting, and I definitely see your point, but I am one of those people who gets tripped up by undone things. I could spend ten hours on a project, and make a little mess in the process, and the mess would make me feel like I didn’t get anything done. If I finish something, neat and tidy, then I’m proud of myself, and more likely to jump into another project. It’s a funny personality thing…..so, for me, it’s all about tying a bow on it and feeling in control. Interesting, huh? Anyway, thanks for another thought-provoking blog. Love to you!

    • Z Egloff August 28, 2014 at 12:34 pm #

      Hi Jill,

      This is a great thing to point out – leaving things “undone” doesn’t work for everyone! I like the image of the neat-and-tidy bow. Even though I leave my projects with the bows not-all-the-way-tied, the tidy part of me likes the image. :)

      XOZ

  4. Rose November 5, 2014 at 12:22 pm #

    Hi Z,

    I just got directed to your blog by our mutual friend Steve and was drawn to this article, which is so perfect for me right now as I come upon the end of my gap year down here in San Diego and Being with what my Creative Expression is to be of contribution to the World. What has been coming to me is as an Inspirational/Motivational Speaker. So I joined Toastmasters and have been receiving the Best ……….Ribbons for every role I play, plus such wonderful feedback of having Inspired people, which validates I was hearing correctly when the Universe was letting me know what I am here to Create. Now my affirmation is that: I Allow myself to be a Sought After Speaker. So now I have to shift gears into actually taking that role on and that as I start on this journey with the absolute trust that the opportunities will present themselves, in reading your article, it has inspired me to show up as that Speaker each day and do something no matter how small to support Being that. I really like the idea of ending something in the middle so there is more to do the next day and I also love setting a certain amount of time aside each day to do that, no more or no less. That will tweek the Organizer in me, yet as I am already breaking habit patterns here is just one more. It is all part of recreating life to be Alive, Joyful, Fun, Prosperous and at times even Outrageous. I am excited to see all the personas that come out as I prepare for Speeches that are Inspiring, Uplifting, Humourous and Life changing for people starting with myself just in the creation of them.

    Thanks Z for sharing your wisdom and humour.

    • Z Egloff November 11, 2014 at 9:22 am #

      Hi Rose!

      Great to see you here. :)

      I love Toastmasters! I’m glad that you found a group and that you are experiencing such success. I was in a TM group here in Santa Rosa for a while and the feedback I received there was invaluable.

      I love that you are receiving validation there for the intuitive guidance that you are getting. That is a wonderful combination – the inner guidance and then acting in the “outer” world. Inspired action – it can’t be beat!

      I wish you continued Joyful, Prosperous Fun as you move forward in your journey as a Sought After Speaker! :)

      XOZ

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