There are things which we have always wanted to do, but haven’t started yet.
Things like eating healthy, learning something new, writing a book, hitting the gym, meeting new people, spending more time with people we care about, starting a business or so on.
I know I have always wanted to write more. But writing is a grim affair, much like fixing a deep and dirty plumbing problem.
Writing isn’t a piece of cake. Nor is doing anything that’s important but requires persistence and discipline. No wonder people do so little of the things that matter most.
When I talk to people about their dreams and goals, at some point the conversation steer towards why they have’t started taking action yet. That’s when they mention one or more of these barriers holding them back.
I get it. At first, these reasons do appear valid. Even I have been guilty of using them at some occasions. But bring them under critical scrutiny, and they are sure to crumble.
Barrier 1. I don’t have the time
Only if you could find a big block of time hidden somewhere in your day or week, you would do more of that thing you’re putting off for so long. Right?
This particular excuse has been so common that it deserves to be put in the hall of fame of barriers. I am sure we have all caught ourselves uttering this. For some of us, it’s almost like a guiding principle set in stone.
But it’s actually no more true than the belief that people use only 10% of their brains in their lifetime. Like many false notions, this one has been popular because it’s so comforting.
How reassuring that it’s not you. The circumstances are there to get you.
Of course, your friends also understand when you say it in front of them because they are in the same boat. Not bad for social approval huh? How soothing to bathe collectively in the shower of frustration.
The falseness of this barrier reveals itself when you focus on the word “find.” What does that even mean – finding the time?
Do you do the other things you do because you “found” the time to do them? Did you find a special time first to watch as much TV as you do? Or to do your job? Or to check email and social media notifications?
You never seem to miss these things. And some of these aren’t even half as important as what you’ve been wanting to do. If you think your ideal time is buried somewhere in your schedule and will pop up by itself someday, you’re never going to get it.
And don’t expect anything different if you’re waiting for the weekend, spring break or summer vacation to start working on you-know-what. “Finding time” is a destructive way of not not just living the week, but your entire life.
Instead of “finding” time to write, I prefer allocating time to write. I make a schedule and stick to it as much as I can.
Of course, there will be distractions. Some are so important or urgent that I occasionally may have to break my schedule for the day. But the trick is not feeling guilty or giving up because of a few anomalies.
But that doesn’t mean you can stray away from your schedule a lot. The secret is in the overall regularity. Not a particular day or hours.
It’s up to you to strike the right balance between giving in to a few emergencies and sticking to your schedule no matter what.
Many people (and some you genuinely care about) may not like or respect this new time commitment of yours, especially when they had anytime access until now.
But don’t get carried away in justifying your actions except saying a polite no. If you feel bad about saying no, lie. Do anything but for god’s sake stick to the activity that you have scheduled.
Begin by scheduling a small amount first, like 4-5 hours week. As you gain momentum, increase the commitment as required.
I write about 3-4 hours every day, which is a mix of client work and my own. I wake up, get some tea and sit down to write. I don’t check email, take a shower, or do anything else until I have a significant output in terms of writing.
When I stick to a schedule, I no longer feel guilty about not writing, or indulge in fantasies about how much I would write over the summer. Instead, I write during the time I allocated, and then forget about it.
This doesn’t make life more complicated than it already is. I have better things to lose sleep over, like a big nose or whether I’ll ever win a round of argument with my spouse, but not finding the time to write isn’t one of them.
Setting a specific time is the secret to getting shit done. If you’re not going to do it, you can stop reading right now and go watch some senseless reality show on TV.
Barrier 2. I need to learn more
This barrier shows up in many forms.
I need to analyse. I need to do more research. I need to read more about it. And so forth.
It’s good to be a perfectionist, or an obsessive analyst. And it’s good to have a plan and preparation before you jump into something.
But take this instinct overboard and it becomes a crutch. It won’t help you get much done.
The trick is again to give a specific time frame. Decide how many and which hours you want to spend on research and analysis.
And once the allocated time is over, stop right there and start doing the actual stuff.
Barrier 3. I need some nice-to-haves
While the previous barrier was about gathering data, this one is about shiny things.
- To start a business, I need a spacious office.
- To start writing, I need a better computer, desk or chair.
- To start exercising, I need this or that special equipment.
- To start taking photos, I need this cutting edge camera.
Out of all the barriers, this one is the crappiest. I don’t understand how can someone even believe this, and not recognize what a mere excuse it is.
I have been running a digital agency for a couple years now, helping clients from every corner of the world with web design, writing and marketing. And to date, I have not rented or bought an office.
I turned one of the rooms in my house into an office. Got a couple desks, chairs and hires. And I was in operation.
And I started with nothing more than a laptop and internet connection I had for personal use anyway.
So excuse me if I am not sympathetic to such lazy excuses. Any equipment or gadget is only as good as the user. And the only way to get good is to practice.
I admit I love my laptop. And any serious tech professional should get a good one. But it’s not something I got to have to do my work. It’s simply good to have.
Equipment will never help you do more of something you want to do. Only setting a time and sticking to the schedule will.
Barrier 4: I am not in the right zone
I don’t feel like it. I am waiting to get in the mood. I need more inspiration or motivation.
This one’s funny. And irrational. I hear this a lot from people who are against setting a specific schedule.
“My best work happens only when I am inspired, or when I am in the right mood,” they say.
It’s like cigarette addicts claiming that it relaxes them, even though the truth is the tension they are relieving was caused by nicotine withdrawal in the first place.
If you think you should do something only when you feel like doing it, tell me: How well has that worked for you till now? Do you feel relieved, or stressed about not feeling in the zone as much as you’d expect?
Waiting for inspiration has never worked for any artist. Or anyone for that matter.
People who do something only when they feel like it, are no more productive than those who don’t do anything at all. Inspiration is highly overrated.
Moreover, some important things are just unpleasant. No matter you feel like doing them, or like them or not, you want to do them.
No one wakes up in the morning feeling like writing a grant proposal. No one feels like going to gym every scheduled day. Not everyone loves to do taxes, or stay on top of accounting numbers related to their business.
To successfully start and finish these things, you need more than just feeling or inspiration.
Successful writers, athletes, businessmen and more are that way because they practice their craft at a regular basis. They are not a slave to their feelings.
Over time, they found persistence to be a better friend than mood swings or inspiration.
So that was my cold, critical review on some common roadblocks to any journey you wish to take. I hope you have been enlightened to the glorious world of scheduling and sticking to it.
The only way to do a lot of what you want to do is do it regularly. No matter whether you feel like it or not. Or whether you know all that is to know or have all there is to have associated with what you want to do.