Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

How to Just Start When it Comes to Writing

There’s nothing more frustrating than the bright, white glow of an empty screen and the constant, blinking reminder from your cursor that you’re not making any progress.

How to Just Start When it Comes to Writing

Writing a strong piece – one that’s valuable to your readers and that you feel great about – isn’t easy.

But what if I told you there’s a simple formula you can follow to get more writing done in a single day than you did all last week?

A simple formula for real progress

You already know the toughest part about writing is getting started. If you can get the first sentence down, then the rest will follow.

Of course you’ll do re-writes, have edits to make, and you might even go back and add a thing or two. But doesn’t it feel incredible to just start?

Just starting the writing process is progress in and of itself, not to mention what follows: strong momentum, or what some refer to as “the flow”.

This simple formula for real progress is made up of two parts and will help you just start every time you use it.

The two parts are: “Focus Time” and “Refresh Time”.

If you’re familiar with the Pomodoro Technique, then you probably know where I’m headed with this. The idea is that you give yourself a specific amount of time to accomplish X, start a timer to hold yourself accountable, and FOCUS on X until your timer runs out.

Once your Focus Time is over, you’ll get some well-deserved Refresh Time.

Let’s say you’re working on writing a book, and you’re in the very beginning stages. You might choose “research publishing options” as your X, start a timer for 30 minutes, and FOCUS on researching publishing options until your 30 minutes is up.

Once your 30 minute Focus Time is over, you might give yourself 10 minutes of Refresh Time, and then start a new session to repeat the formula for another task on your list.

This formula is so powerful because it’s backed up by Parkinson’s Law:

Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

Give yourself a time limit, and you’ll get more writing done in a single day than you did all last week.

Seems simple, right?

Simple, but not easy. Let’s dig a bit deeper…

What comes with this simple formula

While this simple formula will help you make real progress, there’s more to it: what comes with this formula is required, but it’s typically left out.

In order for this formula to work, you must:

  • Plan ahead
  • Practice productivity, discipline and focus

Plan ahead

When I say plan ahead, I don’t mean that you have to plan weeks or months in advance; I mean plan the night before to help set yourself up for success tomorrow.

I like to call this “Win Tomorrow Today”.

It’s very easy to do, and all it requires is that before you shut down for the day, you take out a piece of paper or a sticky note, and write down the ONE thing you will accomplish tomorrow.

As an example, you might write down on your sticky note: “Write the table of contents for my book”.

Ever hear the saying from Brian Tracy “Eat That Frog”? Sounds pretty disgusting, but what he’s referring to is your one most important task of the day. Eat That Frog means you’re not going to procrastinate or make excuses as to why you can’t do it – instead, you’re going to sit down and do it.

Be sure to put that piece of paper or sticky note on your computer so it’s the first thing you see in the morning.

Practice productivity

Productivity means accomplishing tasks that matter to you and your business in an efficient manner. Now that you know exactly what you’re going to focus on first thanks to planning ahead, you’ve already started practicing productivity.

Planning ahead is critical for productivity, even if it means having a single task or a smaller goal you want to accomplish written down. This will take the guesswork out of what you should focus on first, which is what many people waste their time doing with the most precious hours of the day.

When you sit down at your computer and see your sticky note that says “Write the table of contents for my book”, all that’s left to do is set a timer and start your Focus Time.

When you practice productivity, you’ll be using the most effective hours of your day to make progress on a task or goal that matters to you and your business instead of getting stuck on other people’s agenda.

Practice discipline

Discipline means setting and sticking to a plan of action, and it’s often the case that even though you have the one thing you want to focus on written down and stuck to your computer so it’s the first thing you see, you get distracted before you start.

In order to practice discipline, start by breaking your ONE goal for the day down into smaller steps.

A lot of times what can hold you back from getting started, or what can distract you from focusing on the task at hand, is not knowing what your first step is.

This is an excuse you’re making to not start.

If your one goal for the day is to write your table of contents for your book, then breaking that down into smaller steps might look like this:

  1. Figure out what a table of contents includes
  2. Refer to my outline for consistency
  3. Edit

If it’s an involved task or goal you’re working on and you’re not sure what steps four, five and six are, don’t get caught up stressing about it. Focus on figuring out what your first step is, and the subsequent step will reveal itself.

“You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

When you practice discipline, you’ll be eliminating the excuses that have been holding you back from making any real progress.

Practice focus

Focus means following one course until success and remaining distraction-free in the process. This is where we circle back to our simple formula for real progress.

You’ve planned ahead so you know what the ONE goal you will accomplish is, and in doing so you’ve already started practicing productivity.

By breaking down your ONE goal into smaller steps, you’ve removed any excuses you could possibly use to not take your first step.

Now all that’s left to do is set your Focus Time and just start.

In order to eliminate any distractions that might come up during your Focus Time, make sure you’re in a work environment you feel comfortable in and that you’ve turned off any notifications or pop ups that might break your focus.

Also, it’s helpful to have a piece of paper next to you. That way, if you think of an idea during your Focus Time you’re afraid you’ll forget about, or you remember another task you have to get done that day, you can write it down on your piece of paper and immediately get back on task.

When you practice focus, you’ll start making real progress on the tasks that matter to you and your business.

Start making real progress

Not feeling like you’re making any progress is no fun. In addition, it can spiral quickly and turn into things like a lack of motivation and a lot of frustration.

The good news is, you get to choose.

By using the simple formula above, planning ahead, and practicing productivity, discipline and focus, you’re choosing progress.

Stop the constant, blinking reminder from your cursor – all you have to do is just start.

If you’re ready to just start, I have the perfect guide to help you with this formula. It’s called The Mastery Journal: Master Productivity, Discipline and Focus in 100 Days.

The Mastery Journal walks you step-by-step through setting up four sessions of your Focus Time and your Refresh Time on a daily basis; provides motivational quotes and daily gratitude reminders; helps you develop a morning routine; and reminds you to plan ahead every night so you can Win Tomorrow Today.

Head over to TheMasteryJournal.com to grab your Mastery Journal today!

What are your biggest hurdles to just starting? What is ONE task you want to accomplish today? Share in the comments.

About John Lee Dumas

John Lee Dumas is the founder & host of Entrepreneur On Fire, an award-winning Podcast where he interviews today’s most inspiring entrepreneurs 7-days a week!

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  • Good points to begin putting into practice…right now. Turning off distractions and writing with focus is my one thing this morning.
    Thanks for a good reminder.

  • So true!! Sometimes all it takes is the simple reminder that we get to choose. If we want to publish a book, write a blog post, craft a landing or sales page – it starts with a single step. Thank you for this, Jeff & John!

    • You bet, Kate! And I’m a big fan of you and your work. Hope PR is treating you well. 🙂

  • Love this! Thank you

  • Nehemiah ML

    I’ll try this!

  • Very quality tips) I totally agree with you. The most difficult thing is to use it in practice. We always have to work on yourself.
    Thank you =)

  • shyam

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  • Kirbie Earley

    This is a great post with some very helpful tips! I lack focus unless I set a time limit – sadly, I don’t do that often enough. This is definitely encouragement and tools to do better!

  • As my professon once said, you have to put all unrelevant thought away and just concentrate on the topic you are going to write. This always works well for me.