Years ago, I was grumbling to another coach about how much time a project was taking and, in the course of the grumbling, I said something like ‘It’s prep stuff that really annoys me. I don’t mind spending time at the ‘real’ work, I hate all the gathering of information and sorting of papers.’
After empathizing with me a bit, she then offered up an important piece of wisdom that has stuck with me to this day:
The preparation is part of the work.
I had never thought about it in those terms before.
Obviously, since the prep work had to be done before the ‘real’ work could begin, the prep work was real work, too.
It was step one of the real work, not some foolishness to get out of the way first.
I thought of that fact when I was writing my post for yesterday and considering how to comment on the common fear of starting with the wrong thing – the fear of ‘wasting time’ on something that wasn’t the ‘real’ work.
To go back to my driveway-shovelling analogy from yesterday, it’s kind of easy to see that tasks like putting on warm clothes, getting a water bottle, and selecting a shovel could be considered part of the real work – necessary prerequisites to shovelling.
However, if you have your warm clothes on, your shovel in hand, and you are standing in your snowy driveway not knowing where to start, you might have trouble seeing that as part of the work.
And if you just start anywhere in the middle and then realize that it actually makes sense to start by the steps, you might feel like you wasted time with those first shovelfuls.
However, I’m starting to see those kinds of things as just another part of the work.
Pausing to survey the landscape in order to develop a plan *or* just getting started until a plan reveals itself are both methods of starting the work.
They are both first steps to getting the driveway shovelled – or to building a habit.
And we don’t have to be hard on ourselves about either of those methods…they will both bring us toward the key tasks that will form the most tangible parts of the work.
And, surveying the landscape/starting anywhere will both give us further information for the next part of the project.
In the driveway, they will tell us where the snow has drifted, how heavy it is, whether we have the right shovel, and if we will need to call in reinforcements.
In our habit-building, either of those methods will tell us what feels easy and what feels hard, what we enjoy and what we dislike. They’ll tell us if we need more information or if we haven’t been clear on our plans. They’ll let us tune in with our bodies and brains to see what we need and what works for us in certain situations.
But they won’t be a waste of time or effort, they are part of the work and they will shape and inform our next steps.
Sure, with enough abstract contemplation and research about your habit you *might* hit on the perfect way to start and the perfect method to proceed.
But you might also find yourself weeks later overthinking and with nothing started at all. (Go on, ask me how I know this. Sigh.)
However, if you do enough prep work to safely get yourself into the middle of things, survey the landscape up-close, and get started wherever makes sense* at the moment, you will make progress and you will bring yourself to the point where the most tangible part of your work can begin.
Because, like we talked about above, the preparation is part of the work – a necessary and vital part of the work – and it makes sense to spend time doing it.
Today, I’m offering you a whole spiralled string of gold stars to celebrate your efforts.
If you like, you can think of the stars in the spiral as celebrating all of the different types of work you put into building your habit – thinking work, prep work, and the most tangible, recognizable tasks that make you feel like you are really getting somewhere now.
Be kind to yourself about the whole process, Team. Your efforts matter, no matter what size and shape they are. 💚
*Any arbitrary definition of ‘makes sense’ works here – choose based on knowledge, on the colour of someone’s shirt, on what feels easiest/closest/doable, on your whim at the moment. It’s all good for getting started.