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How Douglas Adams beat procrastination.

Rethinking what it means to “get started.”

Before he wrote A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglass Adams cleaned chicken sheds. It was not a glamorous way to make an income. But that’s the kind of job you get when you are a procrastinator.

Douglas Adams was such a procrastinator that a publisher locked him in a hotel room. The publisher gave him a typewriter and placed a supervisor in the room next door. It was all to make sure he met his deadlines.

But “I love deadlines!” He complained, “I like the whooshing sound they make as they go by.”

What Adams’s publisher knew was that all achievements have the same first step:

Put yourself in a situation to succeed. Find your starting block. Create an environment where success is a foregone conclusion.

Locked in the hotel room with nothing but a typewriter, Adams was pretty much guaranteed to write something, even if it was out of sheer boredom. (But boredom isn’t the reason this trick works.)

Writers like Douglas Adams knew that motivation comes from getting started (not the other way around). Your brain will get “in the zone” only when you feel as though you’re already working on something. You feel committed when you’ve put in time, money, or effort. Your mind will want to see your task through to the finish when you feel like you’ve already gotten started.

Adams wasn’t the first writer to try the hotel room trick. Victor Hugo took it so far that he gave his clothes to a hotel's staff and wrote in the nude. Even Demosthenes tried it — the ancient Greek philosopher even shaved his head so he couldn’t leave his room until his hair grew back.

For each of them, Step 1 to beating procrastination was to create an environment that would lead to success. It worked for two reasons:

  • It meant that, mentally, they had already gotten started, which gave them the motivation to continue.

  • Once started, they were in a situation they had aligned to their goals. When you’re naked in an office with a typewriter, you can’t not write a book.

The good news is that you don’t need to get a hotel room or buy a razor to use this trick yourself. You can use it all the time, from starting a blog to working out. Make step 1 preparing your situation — even if it’s making coffee and cleaning off your desk. Make sure that you mentally categorize it as “getting started.” It’s not something you’re doing before getting started. You are getting started.

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