It takes me a while to complete tasks. Like you are, probably, I’m a chronic procrastinator.
But one thing I learned to do that helped me do more, engage, and get my mind on the right track was this: start. Open the tab, website, or word document. Write the headline of an article.
Right now, in fact, I’m pulling up the website for an IEP (Individualized Education Program) I need to write for one of my students. I don’t have anything written.
I have started a glossary of acronyms for new teachers in Baltimore City for the Teacher’s Union — with a measly three acronyms.
And I consider both of those things substantial progress, despite barely having anything done.
For me, getting started was always the most difficult part of any assignment or task I wanted to do. But it was while researching for a Science and Literature class in my last year of college that I discovered the value of priming. In psychology, priming is the “phenomenon in which exposure to a stimulus, such as a word or image, influences how one responds to a subsequent, related stimulus.”
I didn’t think much of priming at first. I initially was just writing a paper and needed to have it done before too late, but the effect started to manifest itself in my life when I started doing things like just writing a headline to an article five minutes before I was out the door, or writing down an idea before going out for a run. Whenever I had something to do before that I put off for a long time, I always started with opening necessary tabs. In my classroom, priming is done through explaining the objective first, as that objective lets students know what they should be able to learn throughout the rest of the lesson.
Priming was a game-changer because it always made me start thinking about what I needed to do. If I started with writing a title or headline, that would get me thinking about the idea I needed. Priming, to me, was always a way of shifting the steering wheel to the direction I needed to go, or at least the direction my mind needed to go.
At the surface level, priming is limited to psychology experiments, but it is a way of jump-starting our engines to get ourselves on the right track. Doing the little first things are essential, even if it means we have to ditch those tasks for a while before we can come back. We finished the first step, and that is half the battle.
I was reminded recently of priming in the fact that I have largely struggled with tasks that require a monumental effort, especially the tasks like writing IEPs that takes days to complete. But taking the first step has been a big step to get me started to do the task, to get me thinking about ideas and what needs to be done.
So take the first step, and that’s the hardest part of completing whatever you need to do.
A version of this post was previously published on Medium and is republished here with permission from the author.
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