Four Bars

We’ve all faced the problem of being unable — or unwilling — to get started with something we’ve been putting off. It’s even worse if you’ve already started, but it’s been a while since you worked on whatever it is, and now you face the challenge of getting back into it. Procrastination and rationalisation kick in almost immediately.

Almost no-one can look at a to-do item like Write a song, or Build an app, or Write a novel without feeling dread and powerlessness. Suddenly the vacuum cleaner starts to look very enticing. It’s because those goals are too large; amorphous and overwhelming. Expressing them in that way is a sure-fire way to never finish.

Instead, try doing this:

  1. Choose a particular date and time to work on the thing. Put in the calendar. This step is vital.
  2. When that time comes, go to wherever you like to work, and write just four more bars of music.

At 100 bpm and with four beats per bar, you’ll be writing ten seconds worth of song. At 120 bpm, it’s eight seconds. Can you make progress with that in about ten or twenty minutes? I bet you can. And if you’re not writing music, adapt accordingly.

If you’re working on your task list, do one task, and then check it off.

If you’re writing something, write another hundred words (that’s less than the first two paragraphs of this article). And so on.

When I’m writing a novel, I’ve found that I work best when I create an outline first, before I start writing. The outline part is fun, because there are no consequences, and I can just think at a high level about what happens, shuffling stuff around without a care in the world. It’s exciting. I can lose hours doing it. But when it comes time to actually write, well, then the living room carpet has never been cleaner.

So, I set myself the goal of handling just one bullet-point of my outline. Just that one scene, or conversation, or event, or whatever the point refers to.

I can’t deal with Write a novel, but I can definitely get myself into my chair for ten minutes to handle a single bullet-point. This kind of approach is how I’ve managed to write one hundred mini-stories in one hundred weeks.

Pick a time, set aside ten or twenty minutes, and write just four more bars of music. Four bars. Then see what happens.