Vanquishing the Getting Started Monster

We want to welcome guest author Alex Fayle, the writer and professional organizer behind the helpful anti-procrastination website Someday Syndrome. This is his first post of three in a series on fighting procrastination.

Has this ever happened to you?

You decide to get your bedroom, kitchen, garage, or whatever organized. You get a book and read about it. You watch an organizing show and take notes. You then plan out how you’re going to tackle the room and what you want it to look like afterward. You know all the steps that it’ll take to go from start to finish. You even know how long it will take and you have resources lined up to help you.

And yet you do nothing.

You know that the block comes from a combination of inertia and a fear of the unknown, failure, success, or whatever. You could probably talk for an hour about why you’re not starting.

And yet you still do nothing.

If you think this post will give you some trick, or little game to play with yourself, I’m sorry to disappoint. There’s only one thing to get yourself started – and that’s getting started.

Yeah, real helpful, I know. Unfortunately it’s the truth. If you aren’t willing take action, take even a small step toward your dreams, then there’s nothing I can do to help you.

Achieving your dreams requires work. Once you get into it you might not think of it as work because you enjoy it so much, but it’s hard work.

My passion is writing and yet every time I go to start a new project, I create a huge monster out of Getting Started and play at running away from it, doing everything but actually typing words into the computer. And then by simply opening up my computer and writing the first sentence the monster disappears and my passion for writing takes over again.

In the meantime, however, I’ve let the Getting Started Monster distract me for huge blocks of time.

Don’t let the Getting Started monster hold you back from your uncluttering projects (or any other project you haven’t got around to yet).

Fortunately it’s easy to beat the Getting Started Monster: simply write down each time you start something and keep a log of all the projects you’ve successfully started. Then post the log wherever you most procrastinate about not moving towards your goals. That might be the living room, the bedroom, the back deck, but I highly doubt it’s the office, so don’t post the log there.

This log celebrates the moments when you started taking action and serves as a reminder of the number of times in the past that you have started something so that when you feel the big scary Getting Started Monster creeping up behind you, you can look at your list of new starts and say “Ha! You don’t scare me! I start things all the time!”

By choosing to get started, you take active control of your life and you don’t let your fears or inertia keep you from achieving your goals.

So tell me – what version of the Getting Started Monster have you vanquished recently?

42 Comments for “Vanquishing the Getting Started Monster”

  1. posted by Anita on

    Great post! I used to face this monster pretty often, until I realised that the “prep work” was part of what held me back in the first place. I always rationalized that in order to tackle whatever task it was, I needed to be “prepared” for it and, of course, the more you learn about something, the less you feel you know about it. Reading a book about organizing, or looking it up on Google, or making lengthy and detailed task lists, were mostly procrastination devices (which some organizing sites make us thing we absolutely need) to put off the actual Getting Started while still tricking myself into thinking I’m being productive and that my project is advancing.

    Once I realised that, I became much more of an adept of “learning by doing”. Sure, I still have to do lists, and I read up on new concepts/projects/tasks before I attempt them, but I don’t let the prep work take up more time than the actual task would. Practice (not theory) makes perfect, after all. 🙂

  2. posted by Vicki K on

    There’s a rather huge GS Monster lurking in my linen closet – a long-time resident because I won’t have the perfect Martha organizational brass framed labels to snap things to order. (shouldn’t have read THAT issue) And some of my piles won’t be perfectly coordinated bedding sets. And what will I do with the doesn’t-fit-a-nice-to-photograph category?

    So my attack plan has started with putting sheet sets together and using twill tape to keep them bundled. And using those nice clear plastic zip bags to put the summer blankets in with my own hand written description labels so I don’t have to re-think which ones fit what blankets later.

    It’s starting to look less-cluttered and more organized…

  3. posted by Amanda on

    I hit this monster on the head last week with a paitn brush. My sister and my soon to be brother inlaw were coming to visit and I wanted my house to look awesome for them. This that was buggin me was the wall leading up the stair, I wanted to paint it before they arrived. So I made small steps, 1) painter’s tape applied at lunch hour, 2) majority of painting done before BF arrived to help 3) BF helps to paint. In the end there is a small section that wasn’t done when they got there, but it was in the corner. I’ll finish this weekend.

  4. posted by Kelly on

    The Getting Started monster and I go way back. It’s something I run into regularly both at home and at work. A while back, I got a fortune cookie with probably the best “fortune” I’ve ever had. It’s taped to my monitor at work. It says, “You’ll accomplish more if you start now.” It’s so true and can be applied to everything from work to organizing to getting in shape.

    But The Getting Started monster has a first cousin called the Never Finished demon. Sometime starting is the easy part. FINISHING is another story. I fight both equally and I think they both stem from a common problem – perfectionism. Letting perfect be the enemy of the good. This is something Gretchen Rubin over at The Happiness Project talks about regularly and carries over into all aspects of life.

  5. posted by Celeste on

    Oh, I can get started. I have way more trouble with the Finishing Monster.

  6. posted by Diane on

    Oddly, I have that problem even with things I enjoy doing, such as riding my bicycle. It’s such a struggle to get on it and out of the garage every morning, but once I’m underway, it’s lovely.

    I simply don’t understand why it continues to be difficult to get going.

  7. posted by Beste on

    Yes I agree with Celeste. I have problems with Keep Going and Finishing Monsters.

  8. posted by Heather on

    My mom has a saying, “The hardest part is getting started.” She used to repeat this whenever we had a big homework assignment or paper to do, when it was time to clean up a mess or do yard work, or whenever we were “lollygagging” on something.

    It’s so true. Now I find I say this to myself or my fiance when we are not motiviated to get up and work.

  9. posted by Looby on

    This post is very true and a great reminder to me to get going on my current avoidance task. But I have to know if there are any other British people out there who think that the Getting Started monster might hang out with Stoppit and Tidyup?

  10. posted by Ryan on

    I see a vicious cycle.

    – Have a mess.
    – Log when you fail to clean mess.
    – Log when you continue to fail to clean mess.
    – Log when you fail to log when you fail to clean mess.
    – Search for info on how to keep logs uncluttered.
    – Head explode.

    Perhaps planning smaller can eliminate GSM. But only if FSM approves. 🙂

  11. posted by Susie Fire on

    this compliments perfectly an email I received yesterday!
    “stop stewing and start doing”
    love it!

  12. posted by chacha1 on

    Not sure I see the point of keeping a log, but then I keep a perpetual to-do list, so what’s the diff? 🙂

    My Getting Started Monster has Being Ready stripes. As if I have to be set up for every stage of a project before I can start, which is idiotic.

    What I’m working on is giving myself permission to do things in stages. All I have to have “ready” is stage 1, and then it’s a lot easier to get started, not to mention easier to tidy away and then plan stage 2.

  13. posted by Sarah on

    I’m a writer, too. Do you find getting started on a home project sometimes helps you get started on your writing? Sometimes I find myself useless in front of the computer, but after some pantry reorganization, I become the Shakespeare of community journalism – er, or something.
    Recently, moved my “office” from a small bedroom to the entry hall (all that wasted hallway space!). The small bedroom will become a bedroom for my son. (He and his twin sister currently share a room).
    My next step is to corral all the cords a la

  14. posted by Michele on

    Recently I gave my daughter and myself a reward for completing a list of pre-vacation cleaning tasks. The big list item for me had been (ugh) washing the bathroom walls and ceiling.

    I got it done — admittedly with a lot of cursing and complaining and splashes of diluted ammonia solution in the face — and so we went out to that week’s Friday Free at Noon concert at a local NPR station. It was a neat, diverting reward after a week of being stuck inside with a lot of tedious de-cluttering and cleaning work.

  15. posted by Kell on

    The Never Finished Demon and the Getting Started Monster can both be swatted into oblivion by just doing 10-15 minutes on the task, often. Sometimes I don’t want to get started because the task is going to take me ages to do. But if I only plan to do a little bit of it, it’s not so daunting. Then having given myself permission to stop after 15 minutes or so, sometimes I’ll happily carry on till finished. Sometimes it won’t even take me that long to finish. And if not, I’ll shimmy by the Getting Started Monster a few hours or days later with another 15 minutes and before too long, that Never Finished Demon disappears altogether.

  16. posted by Another Deb on

    My Getting Started monster has haunted me for many years. Lesson planning is the worst. Anita’s post echoed part of the problem: there is never enough prep done. If I had more handout resources, if I had a better video link, if I could know more of the minutia of the content, if I could work in the 15 best motivational strategies plus a few great graphics…it leads to prep-burnout and many bookshelves full of resources that I never open!

    Now, because I feel like I must have the perfect lesson, I deny myself any down time in order to attempt to get the plans made. So weekends are spent staring at the calendar and the blank planbook, trying to catch up on grading, and nothing gets done, not even housework! At this point I am denying myself HOUSEWORK until I get the schoolwork done! No way do I get to have actual R&R! This means that my brain is tired and I am not able to focus, yet I feel too guilty to actually rest it by traveling, exercising, anything! Must…do… schoolwork!

    Yet the plans do not get made and it’s always very late on Sunday night and I am rushing to type out the perfect test, or write the most encouraging comments on papers being graded. Day after day I am walking into my classroom with only the barest sketch of what I will be doing for six classloads of kids. Since I have been teaching the material for many years, I pull it together every time, but at what cost? It is just unacceptable stress!

    The cycle of sleep deprivation and procrastination stress makes August- May a very difficult time for me and my teaching spouse with his own self-imposed proctastination/perfectionism issues.

    The best words of advice I try to follow is “Done is better than perfect”

  17. posted by WilliamB on

    I know why the Getting Started Monster haunts my life. I tend toward inertia – re both starting and stopping – and the longer I put something off, the worse I feel once I’ve start and therefore thing “Why was I such an idiot to wait so long?” Not starting means I feel like an idiot. This is recognizably an irrational outlook.

    I think your giving the problem a name may help me deal with it. Maybe I’ll name a stuffed animal “Getting Started Monster” and throw it across the room and then stomp on it to vanquish it, rather like Weight Watchers’ monster Hungry.

  18. posted by julia on

    Thanks for the article. I came home from work tonight, sorted a box of loose paperwork with cr*p going back nearly 10 years, and shredded a good half of it – a pile a few inches thick. Also sorted a box of books left over from the last move.

    The rest is stacked on the desk in file folders.

    I really don’t care about finishing at this point; just getting started is a huge step forward. Another box of papers and another box of books (or two) and the room will be usable again. I’ll have at least two boxes of books for the used bookstore.

    Thanks for the push!

  19. posted by Chris Edgar | Purpose Power Coaching on

    Thanks for this. One technique I find useful for dealing with apprehension about getting started is to really get acquainted with how that desire to avoid starting feels — for me it’s a tension in my shoulders, and if I breathe into that part of my body and let it relax starting no longer seems like so much of a big deal.

  20. posted by Caroline on

    Alex – I very heartily disagree with aspects of you article. Yes, we all struggle with the getting started monster at one time or the other. But I do not see it as a moral failing on my part that my “closet” is not uncluttered. There is so much in our lives these days – and I don’t even know what people do when they have kids to take care of. Assigning priorities are the key.

    BTW I am a Professional Organizer for highly sensitive, creative, ADD and elderly people.

    I have tricks that do work for myself and others. And I do not tell my clients that they have a personal failing for not being able to do their “closets”.

    Neither I nor the populations I work with would keep a log.

    I look forward to reading your website tho. I am sure you have much to offer.

  21. posted by Mary on

    Thanks to Kelly for “You’ll accomplish more if you start now.” This really hit home with me. I copied it yesterday and placed it on my bathroom mirror as a gentle reminder/persuasion. Nice to see first thing this morning!

  22. posted by Dory on

    I have been battling the GSM for far too long. However, since I have to work to live, and in order to work I have to battle the GSM, yesterday was a milestone day for me. I finally got a domain name, now working on a business card for the website page, AND laid the flowerbed edging with the patio bricks left over from 6 years ago, which have been cluttering up the garage for all that time. I have no idea what got me started, except I have to report for work on Monday and continue until Christmas. But perhaps it’s because the Unclutterer website and the Someday Syndrome rang true – and the time I spent on my backside reading these blogs wasn’t wasted time after all!!! Thanks guys!!

  23. posted by Barbara on

    I liked WilliamB’s idea of getting a stuffed animal – and then I could talk to it about my procrastination. You never know what will work and I have tried everything else that I know of. Even if I do get something started, very few things get completely finished. I always tell myself I will get back to it, very rarely do I ever.

  24. posted by Soochi on

    I have an awful time with GSM, mostly when I’m not sure exactly how to do something. So I’ll look up info and then, yes, break it down into 15 minute segments as Kell said. That works the best for me. In my case, it’s the apprehension and the fear.

  25. posted by Jenny on

    My house has been cluttered for years, but especially the attic, which has everything from childhood drawings to extra flotsam from combining households 20 years ago. What finally made me move was a disgust so deep that I got angry. Angry with myself for not being able to start, to make progress, to recapture the space for something productive (home office, yoga studio). So I called someone who I thought could help– a professional organizer. I just realized that I could not do this by myself, for whatever reason. Like a personal trainer makes exercise something for which you are accountable, a professional organizer does the same thing with decluttering. Did it cost money? yes it did. By the time I’m through with this project, I probably will have paid her over $1000 for a number of sessions over several months. But it’s worth it, both in terms of mental, emotional and physical decluttering (finally getting this done after all these years!) and also gaining hundreds of square feet of space back in my house. It’s almost like we built an addition! So if you really can’t do it on your own, call a professional.

  26. posted by Mary on

    I think this is my favorite blog. Thanks for all the help!

  27. posted by Klyla on

    I don’t know where I first heard this but the phrase “good enough” has helped me a lot. It probably shouldn’t be applied to people who really don’t care, but I’ve found my problem is that I care too much. There is a perfectionism in me that probably stemmed from so much performance-based judgments on me over the course of my life. (After all, we had to get a 100 on our spelling test, right?) Anyway, I’m learning to go ahead with many projects with a “good enough” goal rather than a “perfect” goal. Example, I’ve been putting off some touchup painting around the house. I finally went to get matching paint and the matching paint isn’t “perfect”. I decided that means the walls will get “good enough” touchups instead of none at all.

  28. posted by Weekly Roundup [13-09-09] « Organisation for Students on

    […] Vanquishing the getting started monster [unclutterer] […]

  29. posted by Alex Fayle | Someday Syndrome on

    Yes, while prep work is necessary, too often it can become a procrastination tool. In my former hands-on organizing business I was hugely guilty of planning my marketing instead of actually marketing. 😉 Now I pick a few things to repeat and like you learn as I do them.

    @Vicki K
    The fear of not being perfect holds a lot of people back from starting, myself included sometimes. I love your attack plan – it’s simple, doesn’t require a lot of prep and easy to maintain. Wel done!

    Good for you for the painting! I often use deadlines like that for getting things started (and finished). In my last house, I would have parties every 3 months for that exact reason.

    Great fortune cookie – much better than the usual ones. As for the Never Finishing monster – that’s the last monster I tackle in the series. Perfectionism is so hard to combat but yes Gretchen does an amazing job helping us get over our perfectionist selves.

    @Celeste & @Beste
    You too will enjoy the rest of the series then (today’s post is the No Momentum Monster – which many people forget about).

    You’d think that things we enjoy doing we’d start and continue with joy, but I think human beings are inherently lazy so it’s difficult to find the motivation, even when we love an activity.

    Richard Wiseman talks about this in his book 59 Seconds – there are studies that show that once we start something, even for a moment, we’re more apt to finish it due to some brain chemistry thingy happening.

    Sounds like a wonderful odd series. Thanks for the link!

    Yeah, I’m not a big fan of writing down when we don’t start things for that very reason – it turns into a procrastination tool. The only cure for procrastination is action.

    That’s a good one – and much more refined than the usual “s**t or get off the pot!” 😉

    A log celebrates what you have done while a to-do list focuses on what you haven’t done yet. It all depends on what motivates ou more. I’m a big fan of breaking projects down as well do that I only need to focus on the immediate step while ignoring the rest.

    A lot of writers find that very useful way to get writing. For me that kind of thing is another procrastination tool and the best way to ensure I’m writing is to schedule into my day as if it’s another simple chore on my list (like doing the dishes).

    Sometimes with particularly onerous tasks (like washing walls and ceilings) I too reward myself. Even with things I love I reward myself (like a week off of writing after finishing the first draft of a novel).

    Well done! I do that with my running if I’m feeling tired. I start saying that I can stop whenever I like after 15 minutes and usually I continue for over an hour, but sometimes if I’m truly tired (or my allergies are bad) then I will stop and not feel bad about it.

    @Another Deb
    “Done is better than perfect” is a great line! I also teach English to adults and I’ve learned it’s okay to go into class feeling slightly unprepared – it keeps me on my toes and allows for a more organic feeling learning space – but then again I don’t need to follow a strict curriculum. 😉

    I love the stuffed animal idea! Sounds like you’re a very visual and tactile person, so by having something physical to vanquish you’ll then feel motivated (and maybe even eager!) to get started.

    My pleasure! What a great start – huge progress! And I agree – at this point don’t worry about finishing. That’s later sometime in the future and therefore not worth stressing about. Better to focus in the progress of the moment.

    @Chris Edgar
    I tend to start wandering about and get the urge to snack even though I’m not hungry. I use these feelings a trigger to tell me that I’m procrastinating and use it to focus on getting started.

  30. posted by Barbara Tako/ on

    Excellent post. I like that the suggestion focuses on the positive (past accomplishments) rather than the negative (failure to start). I tend to dwell on “should haves” rather than celebrate what I have done and use it to motivate me to begin new successes. Thank you!

  31. posted by Alex Fayle | Someday Syndrome on

    I’m sorry you got the impression that it’s a moral or personal failing to be cluttered – if that were the case then I’d be a moral and personal disaster.

    You should see my storage space right now! It’s a disaster because it’s a low priorty (although it’s getting to the point that it’s bugging me enough to rise up the priority ladder).

    When I worked hands-on organizing, the biggest lesson I would teach my clients was that good enough was just that – good enough.

    Thanks for pointing out that a log such as I suggest won’t work for everyone. While the log may not work, I still stand by my statement that the only way to beat the Getting Started Monster is to take some sort of action – and that applies to everyone no matter what segment of the population they fall into. The log is a way to provide proof that they’ve managed to start other projects. For you clients, some other sort of proof would probably work better.

    Yay to having a mantra! I’m not one for personal affirmations, but I’m all for gentle (or not so gentle) reminders to take action.

    Glad to help! And it’s amazing what a deadline such as going back to work will do to light a fire under our butts, eh?

    For many things the not-finishing is a matter of lack of passion – we start something then discover it’s not as interesting as we thought it would be, or we discover that it’s a lot more work than we imagined. The last article in this series talks about not-finishing – so stay tuned!

    Well done on breaking things down. When the first step is small enough suddenly all the fear and apprehension disappear because why be afraid of something so small?

    Thanks for this comment – you have summarized all the reasons for hiring a professional organizer. What you’ve lost in your bank account you’ve gained in emotional and physical freedom. Definitely worth the trade off I’d say!

    Unclutterer is one of my favourite blogs as well – Erin and her team do such an amazing job with it!

  32. posted by Banishing the No Momentum Monster | Productivity Hacks on

    […] is a follow-up to his previous post here. This is a good read if you are having trouble keeping going on a project that you have […]

  33. posted by prannygoose on

    This post is spot-on. I have a neverending battle with inertia (or my lack of). I still do not know what ‘fears’ I may have causing this inability to start…just start. My Getting Started Monster has always been in the office. I prep for hours and do other stuff first (such as reading this post and posting a comment) and end up rushing the piled up work at the end of the day. Talk about inefficiency! Yet when I work from home, I wake up earlier and the work just flows effortlessly.

  34. posted by JuliaW on

    @Caroline: I can understand your idea that logs don’t work for everyone, but it’s a log (list!) like one I’ve never seen before — a list of victories. Some of us need that desperately. When you’ve failed to start so many times that you begin to believe that you’re missing a vital part of your engine, a list of victories is crucial. And I’m not sure where you got the “moral failing” thing. It’s a shame that you seem to have taken his lighthearted but spot-on assessment of the difficulties of starting so personally.

    Personally, I find this to be painfully apt on so many counts, and I completely identify with the posters who said that they have difficulty starting things that they love. I love to walk. Love! It improves everything about me — my physical shape, my mood, my outlook, my energy — but it’s like trying to drag an ornery 800-pound gorilla to the front door every time. And the times are getting fewer.

    It’s not just walking, but so many other things I love. My main problem is that I took on a new job that is very physically strenuous, and I’ve allowed that daily effort to undercut my personal choices. The voice in the back of my head that whines about how I need to just kick my feet up and relax because of how much effort I’ve already expended clearly hasn’t noticed the weeds or the dishes (or my waistline). I’m losing my lifelong battle with the Getting Started Monster. I’m really not far from waving the white flag.

    I think it’s time for a list.

  35. posted by Erika on

    This post exactly describes my relationship with swimming.

    I love swimming. I swam in highschool and college, usually as a class (to get me down there). And every day – every single day! – I would stand on the edge of the pool, staring at the (cold) water, and saying “I don’t want to get in there!” And every single day I would get in anyway (sometimes pushed in by the coach, when I was lingering too long…), and swim, and be glad I did.

    It’s a great reminder for me of just jumping in, no matter how cold the water, and getting started.

    I’m always glad I did.

  36. posted by Johnny 0neiric on

    Great advice. Starting the actual work is often the hardest part. To put it another way:

    Success breeds success!

    Once you have started a project and achieved some early progress, it’s much easier to keep going.

    Specifically with mental jobs (like writing projects, engineering work, etc), it’s hard to get re-started after a long break of days or weeks. Working fluidly requires holding the whole project in the mind at once. Getting RE-started usually requires re-reading all the research and writing that has been done up to that point.

    Letting a project moulder on the back burner actually increases the amount of work that will eventually be required to finish it. Once you start working, hold on to that momentum!

  37. posted by Peter on

    There is nothing more motivating than getting started on something.

    I feel that once you have started working away at a project it then becomes hard to actually stop. If though it is still hard to continue even after starting, I think it’s time to reconsider if it’s worth doing.

    You can force feed yourself something that is not a passion.

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  41. posted by saoirse on

    My little helper for this one is any old Irish saying: “Tús maith, leath na hoibre.” or “A good start is is half the work” 🙂

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