Monday Mornings with Madison

Beginnings and Endings – How to Handle the Hardest Parts of Most Endeavors – Part 1

Word Count: 1,698
Estimated Read Time: 6 ½ min.

Ready to begin a new assignment at work?  What are you waiting for?  You need to get on it, but have taken no steps to start.  Why?  Perhaps it is because the task is unwieldy?  Or maybe it is because the task is boring or tedious.  Sometimes it is because the work is outside your strengths.  Sometimes it is because you’re just tired and unmotivated.  Whatever the reason, getting started on an assignment or chore might feel daunting.   Just getting started on that work is likely to prove the hardest part of the entire job.  Why is that?   There can be a myriad of reasons for why people have a hard time starting new endeavors.

  1. Fear of Failure – This happens if a person feels incapable of achieving a task, and often when the task is connected to something that is very important.  It is easier not to start.  A person would rather have an unfilled dream with the potential of it working out, than take action and face disappointment or failure.
  1. Feeling Overwhelmed – Sometimes a task seems so overwhelming that it is hard to know where to start.
  1. Fear of Success – While this may sound ridiculous, it’s fairly common.  Fear of how a successful task might affect the trajectory of a person’s career is real.  A salesperson might not tackle going after a ‘big fish’ for fear that success landing that client might lead to a promotion into management.  For some, that kind of success is scary enough to short-circuit efforts to land the sale in the first place.
  1. Lack of Motivation – This happens when a task is outside of one’s gifts or comfort zone or interests.  If that’s the case, then it might be worth doing just as a growth exercise.  Or, if it is really going against a person’s key strengths, it may be time to consider work that is better aligned with the person’s strengths.
  1. Resistance to Change / Transitions – It turns out that our minds and bodies have an incredible capacity to adapt to just about anything.  An ability to adapt is what makes people resilient.  The hard part is not really ‘being in the new normal’ – whatever that job, task or situation may be.  The real challenge is in actually adjusting to the new normal.  The transition is the hard part.  Most people experience discomfort when starting any new endeavor.

Case in point. When Covid cases started rising in the U.S. in March 2020, businesses quickly had to pivot to new ways of doing business, if at all possible.  In many cases, employees were sent to work from home.  Equipment was delivered.  For those who had no dedicated office space, a new work area had to be crafted.  In many cases, that work area had to be shared by more than one person.  Home renovations projects flourished.  New processes had to be crated.  In the first weeks, staff felt overwhelmed and frazzled.  Those who had never telecommuted had a new-found respect for those who had been working remotely for years.  It turned out that working from home was a lot harder than it looked.

However, within a few months something started to happen.  People developed a routine.  They figured out work-arounds, short cuts, and ways to simplify the working arrangement.  Schedules were modified to accommodate unique situations.   Organizational tools were put in place.  They adjusted to the new normal.  The transition was over.  Suddenly, working from home was fine and people began to wonder if they could work from home permanently.  What had seemed daunting at first became nirvana.  That’s because once things got going, the task of “working from home” took shape and began moving at a steady pace.  That would explain why calling people back to the workplace would feel challenging.  It would once again require a transition and adjustment period.  And, it would be particularly frustrating if a need to then send everyone to work from home happened again in the near future.  Working in the office is fine.  Working from home is fine.  Transitioning from one to the other is the challenge.

The same is true of starting any new project or task.  The individual must go from working on one thing to working on something else.  It is the transition that can be daunting.  In most cases, the greatest struggle isn’t actually doing the task.  It is in getting started on doing the task.  Once the ball gets rolling, it usually gets easier.

How To Kickstart any Endeavor

Everyone knows the old joke.  How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.   For each person, the elephant is some task or job that looms large.  For the writer, it might be the blank page before starting a new novel.  For the forensic accountant, it might be starting the audit of a company’s books.  For the entrepreneur, it could be crafting the Business Plan.  For the attorney, it could be preparing an Appellate Brief.  Most professionals will face an elephant-sized task that is so enormous that it is hard to know how to start.  But, if we know that the hard part is in the transition, then really the skill that is needed is ability to transition quickly and smoothly.  Once the shift is made to doing the work, consistently and over time, proficiency comes.

So how do we become good at transitions?  It takes three steps to improve the ability to transition.

Step 1 – Tap into Resolve

The first step is to rely on one’s resolve.  While willpower is not reliable long-term (as people lose their willpower in the face of temptations and over time), it works as the spark to get things going.  What is needed is just enough resolve to get started, even if it is a small start.  So when looking at the “elephant”, don’t think “I need to eat an entire elephant.”  Instead think “Right now, I only need to eat the elephant’s tail.  The tail is not that big.  I am just going to eat the tail and stop. I can do that.”  There is only a need to have enough determination to get through a single moment of taking that first bite.

Step 2 – Seek Familiarity

If the first step is to use one’s resolve to take the proverbial first bite, then the next step is to tap into one’s resilience to keep replicating that first step.  That’s the “one bite at a time” part.  Repetition is key to getting to the place where the work feels familiar and routine.   It is important to commit to repetition until it becomes habitual.

That is why the military, fire fighters and police will rehearse and practice emergency situations and maneuvers over and over and over.  By repeating those exercises again and again, it becomes second nature for a fire fighter to run into a burning building instead of in the other direction with everyone else.  It becomes routine for a police officer to go into potentially risky situations.  On September 11, 2001, when thousands of people were running down the staircases of World Trade Center towers, countless firefighters and police were running upstairs.  Yes, that took incredible courage.  But it was made somewhat easier because they had trained for hundreds of hours on how to do that exact scenario.  To the civilians in the building, it was the first time experiencing such an extraordinary situation, but for the rescue workers, there was a certain degree of familiarity in those tasks that allowed them to transition from “safe work” to “dangerous work” at a moment’s notice.

Step 3 – Accept and Adapt

Adapting to the new normal is crucial.  That marks the end of the transition.  Rather than continuing to fight the job or task, embrace it.  That is the psychological challenge.   For those who reject new projects or assignments, complain constantly about it, and continue to resist, it will be harder to adapt.  For them, the transition will take longer.  The longer it takes to transition, the worse it is.  The key to making any new endeavor easier is to adapt.  Being flexible and having the right attitude is key to getting to the moment of adapting and the end of the transition.  Some call this a ‘go with the flow’ attitude.

Give it a Try

What does this look like in reality?  Start by identifying an important project that needs action, but for some reason it is stuck.   Say, for example, that the new task is to write a Progress Report for the boss on a new campaign.   Start by identifying what are the steps to take to take that first bite.  The first step might be to review the notes from everyone working on the campaign.  Or, it might be to sit at the computer and create a new document in Word with a header titled “Progress Report”.   Or, it might be to meet with the team to discuss what belongs in the Progress Report.

Once it is clear what the first step is, decide to go ahead with that step.  Resolve to move through the “first bite” without stopping.  Set a time and place to meet with the team.  Or prepare the cover page on the report.   Or review the notes.  Feelings of discomfort, fear, self-sabotage and insecurity could potentially disrupt at this point.  So get pumped up about taking the first step, in order to counteract the feelings that could bubble up when starting anything new.  Follow through without stopping.  While it is impossible to stop the noise inside one’s head that says “do it later”, resolve to move forward anyway.

Then repeat a “moving forward” step in the endeavor daily.  It doesn’t have to be the exact same step.  Just take a step to keep going with that task.  If there is any hesitation, just keep moving anyway.  Remember that these feelings will disappear once the transition from one task to the other is complete.  It is short-lived.  Eventually, working on the project will become normal and even routine.

Next week, we will look at what derails the other end of the process of wrapping up a job or task.  Stay tuned.

Quote of the Week

“Do not wait.  The time will never be ‘just right.’  Start where you stand, and work with whatever tools you may have at your command.  Better tools will be found as you go along.”
Napoleon Hill

© 2020, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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