A cartoon of a man who broke a mirror and is trying to clean it up

Start cleaning up your M.E.S.S.

Procrastinating is a topic that gets lots of attention, because people blame their problems on an inability to get moving to get things done.

I get that it can be difficult to get things started, but instead of talking about procrastination, I prefer to think in terms of “inertia” and “momentum”.

Procrastination is more about “why”, whereas inertia and momentum are observable phenomena.


Physics Over Psychology

Maybe it’s because the “physics” side of things seems easier to grasp than the “psychology” of procrastination, which is about why we put things off.

Recently I was talking to a member of a family facing some complex inter-generation transition issues. It became clear that the enormity of what was in front of them was a significant stumbling block to mustering the courage to move forward.

It was while I was enumerating some of the ideas around ways to get started that I stumbled upon a mess.

Well, not a mess, but a M.E.S.S.


Start Moving 

The M in the mess is for Moving, as in “Start Moving”.

This is all about creating some action. Thinking and planning are great, but by themselves they are useless.

You need to introduce some action, even if you aren’t sure that you know the perfect first move. Sometimes you need to move backwards before going forward.

If you’ve ever had your car stuck in the snow, you know that rocking the car is the best way out, and that means back and forth, and once you’re unstuck, then you can figure out the best way to your destination.


Start Early

The E in the mess is for Early, as in “Start Early”.

I know that nobody has a rewind button, so we can’t actually start something yesterday, but if you could, that’s often what I would recommend. (see: There Is No “Rewind” Button)

Like any kind of planning that involves multiple generations in a family, getting an early start on things is usually a good idea.

How often do you hear about people who got into trouble and then said “if only we had started earlier”, compared to how seldom they lament starting too early?


Start Small

The first S in the mess is for Small, as in “Start Small”.

It often doesn’t take that big a move to undo the inertia that holds us back. We think in long term moves over months and years, but it is the small gestures that take only seconds or minutes that are the essence of those bigger moves.

If you want to run a marathon but have never even done a 5k, well maybe you need to be more realistic and start with an attainable goal.

If you haven’t had a productive conversation with your kids without it turning into a screaming match, then planning a weekend family retreat is probably not the step you should be aiming at.


Start Slowly

The second S in the mess is for Slowly, as in “Start Slowly”.

One of the problems with the “overcome procrastination” mindset is that once you get up the nerve to move, there is a tendency to want to go quickly.

That can backfire, because moving too quickly can result in injury, mistrust, and confusion.

When you decide to try to run 20k to train for that marathon right off the bat, you will probably get hurt. When you suddenly start talking about writing up a family constitution next weekend, after hardly allowing any family involvement in decisions, it will be met with skepticism and confusion.


Recognize that it’s YOUR Mess

If you continue to do nothing, you will have a mess to deal with and it will be YOUR mess. If you don’t accept responsibility for it, there won’t be much anyone else can do to help you.


Start cleaning up the M.E.S.S.

It’s your mess, so start cleaning it up. Get Moving, and do it as Early as possible. Start Small and Slowly. And keep going, so that you can gain momentum.

As you begin to move and clean it up, that movement and progress will attract others to join in and believe, and they will help you.

At the end of the day, getting the others involved in figuring things out is what you are really after, isn’t it?


Bottom Line: Start Moving, start Early, start Small, and start Slowly