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How to Get Started on Reaching That Big Goal

Starting is always the hardest part. Here's a supersimple trick to power you over the hump.
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How many good intentions founder on the difficulty of simply getting started?

Your resolution to start exercising more regularly or your vow to keep up your company’s blog are laudable goals. But each morning when the alarm clock rings, your intentions are good, but your will is weak, and another day passes without you making progress toward your goal. How do you overcome this inertia?

Some experts offer elaborate systems. Others prescribe deep soul searching and intensive visualization. But David Kadavy, author of  Design for Hackers: Reverse-Engineering Beauty, has a simpler solution, and  it takes only 10 minutes a day, so you can’t possibly offer the excuse that you don’t have time for it. 

Ten Minutes to a New Habit

He described the technique on his blog: "Each day, after I wake up, as soon as is possible--before eating, before showering, before checking email, (but not before meditating)--I pick one task, set my iPhone timer for 10 minutes, and work on that one thing non-stop." Sounds incredibly doable, right? But how effective could something so head-slappingly simple actually be?

Very, according to Kadavy. "Sometimes, the 10 minutes seems like an eternity. I’m just waiting for it to end so I can eat something or go to the gym," he admits, "but often--actually, usually--I don’t stop after 10 minutes. 10 minutes turns into 45 minutes, an hour, two hours, of non-stop work on one project." Whether the 10 minutes launches further productivity or is simply torture doesn’t really matter. "The point is, you get started," he says.

Two Reasons Why It Works

And simply starting, even if your first steps are shaky at best, is incredibly powerful for a couple of reasons. The first is that when you are doing, it’s hard to be doubting. Or as Kadavy puts it, "Once you get started, the trail has been carved. The rigidity of hesitation gives way to the fluidity of being in a project. Whatever second-guesses that had to be quelled to get started are knocked down by the possibilities introduced by being in motion.”

Second, 10 minutes is too few for excuses. By setting yourself such a modest goal, you really leave yourself no option but to actually accomplish it. And, hey, as we already noted, you can always do more if inspiration strikes.

So what sort of habits does this technique work for? Kadavy suggests the usual health-related changes such as hitting the gym or stretching each morning but also suggests it’s a good way to get started with meditation.

What habit would you like to establish with the 10-minute hack?



IMAGE: Getty Images
Last updated: Jun 16, 2014

JESSICA STILLMAN | Columnist

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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