Inertia Can Help You Stay Productive

When the Going Gets Tough, Get Going!

The hardest part of the day for me is dragging myself out of bed first thing in the morning. It’s hard to make that first step and get going, but once I do, it’s a lot easier to keep going.

Newton defined the Law of Inertia in 1687 as it relates to the motion of physical bodies. It also applies to productivity and growth.

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/butsaya

The Law of Inertia, also known as Newton’s first law, has two elements:

  1. An object that isn’t moving won’t move until something pushes it.
  2. An object that’s moving will keep moving until something stops it.

Newton was describing the behavior of inanimate objects, but we’re very similar. We aren’t going to get out of bed until our willpower, children, dog, or alarm clock forces us to. Dinner doesn’t cook itself. Our goals aren’t suddenly achieved. We have to make a conscious choice to start moving if anything is going to get done. (Sometimes, that choice is made ahead of time—we have kids, get a dog, or set an alarm knowing that we’ll have to get up earlier.)

Once you start, you have momentum on your side. Just as resistance is always there, trying to stop you, slow you down, or push you off-course, momentum will be there to help keep you going. It won’t do the work for you, but it will be a friend by your side.

Jerry Seinfeld’s advice to aspiring writers was simple: Don’t break the chain. Mark a calendar with a large red X if you write that day. After a few days, you’ll have a chain of large red Xs. Your friend momentum wants you to keep that chain going. Consistent effort will help you build momentum and increase your speed.

Momentum has another interesting effect: It smooths out bumps in the road. Have you ever driven on a washboard road? At low speeds, the road causes the car to go up and down with each bump, like driving over a thousand little speed bumps. At moderate speeds, the ride becomes absolutely obnoxious and you bounce all over the place. But if you go fast enough (don’t ask me why I know this), your momentum keeps you on top of the corrugation and you don’t travel up and down so much. It still isn’t a smooth ride, but much of the jostling of lower speeds is gone.

In addition to trying to stop you, outside forces will try to push you off course. Even with momentum on your side, you’ll need to make constant corrections and adjustments. If you don’t, you may still make good time, but who knows where you’re going to end up.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. It’s followed by a second step, then a third, and 4,223,997 more. Looking forward, that can seem intimidating, but take the first step and take another. Keep going. Write for 20 minutes, go jogging, or drink water instead of that diet cola. Then do it again tomorrow. You may not feel like you are doing much, but those small efforts, consistently applied, are what make all the difference. Before you know it, you will have formed a habit, and momentum will start to carry you forward.

Question: How do you motivate yourself to take the first step? Share your thoughts in the comments, or on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.

About

Colter writes software and blogs about personal growth and productivity. He lives in Silicon Valley (California) with his wife and children, recently took up golf, and watches mostly British TV shows.

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