How I Overcome Inertia
Nearly everybody deals with inertia at some point. The law of inertia says this: things at rest tend to stay at rest; things in motion tend to stay in motion. Nobody is immune to this law.
Maybe this is why whenever John Carlton writes a sales letter, he imagines his prospect as a fat slob sitting on a couch. He is watching television. And he is the type of person who’d probably not even bother to get up if his house was on fire.
While most folks aren’t quite as extreme as this imaginary prospect, we all have to fight the urge to “stay at rest.” With that in mind, here are three things I do on a regular basis to overcome inertia.
1. Write to-do lists by hand.
This may sound old-fashioned, but it works like magic. Simply get a spiral notebook, write the date at the top of the page, then list everything you need to do in a numbered list.
I’ve been using this technique for years. It has probably contributed to my productivity more than any other single activity.
Here are a few tricks I’ve learned along the way that can make your to-do lists even more effective.
First, write your list in order of urgency and importance. What needs to be done first, second, third, etc.?
Second, whenever you complete a task, cross it off the list. The more items you cross off, the more momentum you build… and the more eager you are to get more done.
Third, get in the habit of rewriting your to-do list. Once you’ve crossed off 30% to 50% of the items, rewrite the list. Any task that has not yet been completed will then be rewritten on the next list. You may add new items as well.
This process of rewriting goes to work on your brain in ways that I can’t even explain. Rewrite a certain task enough times and you’ll do it… just so you won’t have to rewrite it again!
In terms of timing, I find it’s best to rewrite my to-do list at the END of the day. This sets my subconscious mind in motion. I usually wake up in a state of intense focus, ready to tackle whatever is first on my list.
(Hat tip to Brian Tracy for teaching me these tricks. They really work!)
2. Work on short deadlines.
As a copywriter, I have the tendency to budget too much time for copy projects. But too much time can actually be a bad thing. Why? Because Parkinson’s Law says this: Work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion.
In real life, this means you’ll probably do most of the work required to complete a project immediately before the deadline. Remember cramming before a test? That’s Parkinson’s Law at work.
The fact is, you don’t need as much time as you think. So give yourself shorter deadlines. You’ll get more done faster, build momentum, and literally be amazed by how much you are able to do each day, week, and month.
3. Take time to rest.
This last one is counterintuitive. How can you get things done when you’re resting?
The answer is, you don’t. But you have to take time to rest to recharge your batteries. Otherwise, you may burn out and start to engage in avoidance behavior (like mindless surfing so you don’t have to start that project you’re dreading).
I view work as a series of sprints and rests. When you work, you work hard. When you rest, you rest hard. By working hard, you rest better. And by resting hard, you work better.
When you don’t allow this natural rhythm to run its course, bad things happen. Example: You ever meet a “muscle head”–one of those guys whose got to be in the gym lifting almost every day of the week?
Guys like this who are addicted to weight-lifting are actually hurting their bodies and reducing their potential muscle gain. They constantly rip their muscles, but never give their bodies time to rest and repair the muscle. This is a recipe for suboptimal performance and even injury.
True story: I saw one of these guys a couple weeks ago at my gym. His entire left arm was bound up in some weird-looking contraption. I overheard him explain the injury. His bicep had literally ripped off his arm and bunched up at his shoulder… a result of lifting too much weight and, I imagine, not allowing his body time to rebuild.
So the lesson is this: rest is critical to achieving peak performance and productivity.
In my own life, I like to start work early around 5:30 a.m. But if I feel my body needs rest, I’ll sleep in. That’s because I know I’m always more focused and productive when I’m fully rested. So I refuse to be dogmatic about getting up early. It’s simply counterproductive.
Of course, there’s much more you can do to maximize your productivity. But I’ve found these three things to be the most effective for me. Perhaps they will prove to be effective for you, too.
-Ryan M. Healy