Getting Stuff Done


deskFor the last week I’ve been avoiding my office as though it inhabits walkers. This is because my desk looks like Chernobyl shortly after their “unplanned radiation experiment.” A few days ago, I peeked in and appraised the disaster area. Clothes. Papers. Books. Pens. Wires. Coffee mugs. You name it, it was cluttering my desk. So, like anyone else, I ran back into the living room, downloaded an episode of Morse and made a frozen pizza.

But then, finally, when I knew I couldn’t put it off any longer, I rolled up my sleeves and Googled: How to organize your desk.

As a composition teacher, I spend a lot of time helping students manage time, outline, or organize their work. But this post is about getting things done, not preparing. So as I sit here writing this post, instead of organizing my desk, I don’t feel like a composition teacher. In fact, my advice is going to come off as counterintuitive to almost anything I teach.

The first step to getting things done is to not do research. Often, research is a way of pretending you’re doing something without really doing it. Case in point: How to organize your desk. Oh sure, sometimes you need to research before doing something. For example, I wouldn’t replace a blown fuse without reading how to do it without killing myself. I wouldn’t put a nail into a wall if I wasn’t sure how to locate the posts and not water pipes.

But you can’t let ‘research’ become screwing around and reading something in lieu of actually doing it. So if you want to organize your desk, just do it and look up tips later. If you want to write a novel you could spend a month writing every day before reading how to do it. Reading and learning about something after you’ve put some work towards it is research. Reading and learning about something before you’ve done anything at all can be a procrastination tool and sort of hollow to boot.

Another step is to do things before you’re ready. I had a friend once who wanted to quit smoking and decided to cut out one cigarette a week from her daily twenty cigarettes. So the first week she smoked nineteen cigarettes a day, the second week eighteen a day, and so on. About the time she got to five a day, she gave up on her goal of quitting. Her excuse, “I wasn’t ready to quit cold turkey.”

It’s far, far easier to ready yourself to do something than it is to actually do it. This is double for something you really don’t want to do, like quitting smoking or starting jogging. And if your hemming and hawing routine is anything like mine, then it includes a whole juicy array of rationales and excuses. And in there somewhere always seems to be the “I can’t” argument or the “I’m not ready to do this yet” rationale.

But here’s the thing: you can. Even if you aren’t ready yet in your mind, I bet you are more ready than you think you are. You’re simply being held back by the scariest bit of doing something: starting. Putting yourself into a scenario where you do rather than prepare to do will boost your confidence and make you see that this scary thing isn’t so scary anymore.

OK, a caveat. Use your head. If you have never gone scuba diving, you should NOT grab your friend’s equipment and waddle into the nearest body of water. But you can sign up for lessons rather than fret over not being ready. If you want to start jogging, don’t make your first run ten miles long. Set yourself an appropriate, reasonable goal.

Even if you only run a hundred yards you will have already started running instead of sitting inside planning when to start running. And this is a step in the right direction.

We all do these things, folks, so don’t feel bad if they sound painfully familiar. We all do it. It’s just that some people buckle down and get their shit done. And let’s be honest, a lot more people talk about doing something, plan how to do it, read about how to do it, discuss with others how to do it, and then never actually do it.

If it’s a long-term goal, then after you start putting things in motion, you can then figure out the best way for you to continue and improve. Obviously, marathon training and novel writing will demand schedules. Cleaning a desk shouldn’t take too much planning and scheduling.

In theory.

I sound like an awful teacher. Don’t research. Don’t plan. Don’t get yourself ready. These tips are meant to get you off your butt and doing something. And since I am being such a bad teacher, I’ll throw in some circular reasoning as well. Circular reasoning is when the support for an argument adds nothing at all to an argument. For example, mafia films are popular because people like mafia films. Or My desk will never get clean because I am never going to clean it.

The best way to get stuff done is to just do it.

  1. #1 by greg galeone on September 1, 2014 - 2:45 pm

    Nice read Damo.

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