The early days of working on a project feel really busy

You’re scoping out all the ideas, figuring out the steps and different routes. Then comes the extra research, plus talking to loads of people and writing up the plans. And there’s all the new skills and tools you want to learn before you can get really stuck in. 🤓

It takes up a LOT of time and energy. And you enjoy diving deep, being thorough and feeling like you’re making progress. But in all this activity you don’t see that you’re putting off getting truly started. 

Activity v. Progress

Let’s run with a running metaphor:

  • Imagine you’re a marathon runner

  • You’re on the start line

  • The starting pistol fires

  • but instead of setting off on your 26.2 miles

  • you start energetically dancing on the spot

OK, I’ll accept that your solo routine is AMAZING and probably the crowd goes wild. 

But still, it’s not really what you’re there to do.

While you’re dancing on the start line, you’re using up your limited energy and precious time, and you’re not covering the distance you need to travel. 👣👣👣

This Isn’t Vanilla Avoidance

To be clear: research and planning is not a delaying tactic in the same way that falling down the scroll hole is. 📱 That’s pure and honest Avoidance: you’re clearly not engaging with your work. That’s more like rocking up at the marathon in your running shorts, then opening up a deckchair and settling down with a bag of crisps.

You Know How To Plan Effectively

And also to be clear: SOME research, planning and consultation with stakeholders will genuinely add value and improve the likelihood of good outcomes. But as a skilled and experienced professional, you can be sure that you do know when you have a good-enough plan.

The Sneakiest Procrastination Strategy

There’s a point where laying the foundations for your work turns into digging a bunker: your planning has turned into hiding.  It’s a delaying tactic disguised as productivity.  🕵️‍♂️

Dancing on the starting line is the most sneaky and damaging avoidance activity we do because it feels like we are soooo busy and productive while we’re doing it, but it robs us of the time and energy we need to complete our goals.

So how can I distinguish between Activity and Progress?

💃 Dancing on the Starting Line 💃

ACTIVITY

Research

“I’ll just check another article about this”

Research

“I’ll just check another article about this”

Unending or circular thinking

“If I start with blue then the reds will be upset but if I start with red, the blues won’t buy it. Maybe I will start with blue. Or red.”

Unending or circular thinking

“If I start with blue then the reds will be upset but if I start with red, the blues won’t buy it. Maybe I will start with blue. Or red.”

Planning the plan to plan

“I’m going to write up all the actions I wrote down yesterday but on this new page in my notebook and reorder them”

Planning the plan to plan

“I’m going to write up all the actions I wrote down yesterday but on this new page in my notebook and reorder them”

Asking around, polling for people’s opinions

“Hey (teenage son), what do you think of my new product for menopausal women?”

Asking around, polling for people’s opinions

“Hey (teenage son), what do you think of my new product for menopausal women?”

Getting more training or certificates

“I just need to do this course and then I’ll be ready to start”

Getting more training or certificates

“I just need to do this course and then I’ll be ready to start”

Reaching out to mentors or sponsors to guide you

“I won’t know how to tackle this best until I have their advice”

Reaching out to mentors or sponsors to guide you

“I won’t know how to tackle this best until I have their advice”

Polishing and perfecting

“I know I can make this better before I share it. There’s more to add”

Polishing and perfecting

“I know I can make this better before I share it. There’s more to add”

Talking about your work and then talking some more

“I need to talk through every possibility all the way to the end before I can start”

Talking about your work and then talking some more

“I need to talk through every possibility all the way to the end before I can start”

👟 Dancing on the Starting Line 👟

PROGRESS

Taking steps directly connected to your end goal

“I can join the event next week and show 3 photographers my camera idea”

Taking steps directly connected to your end goal

“I can join the event next week and show 3 photographers my camera idea”

Having real stakeholders or clients engage with the work

“I ran the test live with the client and recorded the results”

Having real stakeholders or clients engage with the work

“I ran the test live with the client and recorded the results”

Doing work on a task Even If

“I will send the request for an interview, even if it sends me into a cold sweat”

Doing work on a task Even If

“I will send the request for an interview, even if it sends me into a cold sweat”

Practising Good Enough

“I have rewritten this plan twice now. It’s good enough to work with”

Practising Good Enough

“I have rewritten this plan twice now. It’s good enough to work with”

Moving ahead with one tiny thing daily

“I will write at least one line of my book every day, to keep it alive”

Moving ahead with one tiny thing daily

“I will write at least one line of my book every day, to keep it alive”

Reviewing your progress to choose your next step

“Last week, it took me hours to wrangle the email. This week, I’ll use a template but add personalisation.”

Reviewing your progress to choose your next step

“Last week, it took me hours to wrangle the email. This week, I’ll use a template but add personalisation.”

Making the passing of milestones visible and celebrated

“We had a phase 2 wrap party on Zoom! The team know we’re in phase 3 now”

Making the passing of milestones visible and celebrated

“We had a phase 2 wrap party on Zoom! The team know we’re in phase 3 now”

💭 Questions for Reflection 💭

 💃 What is your go-to delaying Activity?

Which one(s) feel the most familiar or habitual to you? 

👟 How do you usually make Progress?

Where do you have a strength in making progress?

But I really want to DO this project! I really CARE about it! Why would I put it off?

Um, because you really want to do this project and you really care about it. That makes it very high stakes. Given you’re embarking on a valuable new journey of work, it’s going to stretch you. The start-line dancing is a way of doing something interesting and fun that soothes you and protects from the discomfort of the marathon ahead. 🙈

Notice the differences in vibe when you’re engaged in Activity compared to Progress:

💃 ACTIVITY 👟 PROGRESS
Before starting, it feels…. Interesting, attractive Scary, resistance
At the start it feels….. Fun, engaging Uncomfortable, stretching
In the middle it feels…. Confusing, disconnected Focused, relevant
At the end it feels….. Unsatisfying, incomplete Rewarding, energising

Questions for Reflection

It’s an inconvenient truth that making progress always feels uncomfortable because you’re LEARNING while you do it.

 💃 How do you feel when you are in Activity?

… Before starting?

…. At the start? 

… In the middle?

… At the end?

👟 How do you feel when you are in Progress?

… Before starting?

…. At the start? 

… In the middle?

… At the end?

💡 Bonus Idea 💡

Turn your favourite Activity into a reward for Progress. e.g. If you really love to talk through your work with friends, do that AFTER you’ve heard back from your stakeholders (maybe share the stakeholder feedback with them?)

Conclusion: Choose Uncomfortable Progress Over Soothing Activity

The sooner you can start interpreting the uncomfortable feeling of running the marathon as a sign you’re on the right track, the sooner you will start choosing Progress over Activity, and so reach your goals faster.  

Then you really will be dancing. 👏💖🍾👡⭐

Fast Flow

How To Stop Dancing on the Starting Line So You Can Start Your Marathon

💃 1. Learn how it feels for you to be engaged in an activity that’s disguised as productivity

👟 2. Get to know (and eventually, learn to love) the discomfort that comes up when you are running your marathon. It’s a sign you are making genuine progress. 

📈 3. Make a specific plan to swap Activity for Progress when you notice you’re dancing on the starting line.

The recipe for Replacing Activity With Progress (RAWP) is:

Replacing Activity With Progress Example RAWP
If I am  __ACTIVITY__

then I will  __SIMPLE WAY OF BRINGING IT TO A CLOSE__

and  __SIMPLE PROGRESS ACTION STEP__.

If I am spending longer than an hour researching a choice, then I will set a timer to spend max 5m picking the “good-enough” one and use it for a week as a test.

Soon you’ll be celebrating your milestones: another important part of making progress!

👏💖🍾👡⭐

If you’d like to ringfence time each week for your progress, then join me for Activation Hour (2pm every Tues). It’s free virtual co-working where you’ll join like minded people who want to quietly focus on their most important work for an hour. 

Register for Activation Hour Here