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Break It Down: The Un-Sexy Secret to Taking Action

Remember when you were a baby, with only a few miniature teeth, and your parents would sit next to your high chair and cut up your food into tiny, tiny pieces before spearing it with a fork and bringi...

Remember when you were a baby, with only a few miniature teeth, and your parents would sit next to your high chair and cut up your food into tiny, tiny pieces before spearing it with a fork and bringing it towards your mouth?

What if they had instead handed us a whole roasted chicken and said, "bon appetit" -- we wouldn't have fared very well. Many of us, however, throw down the equivalent of roasted chickens on our to-do lists and then wonder why we're procrastinating.

No question, the allure and glory of a big, dramatic goal - "lose 50 pounds" or "build multi-million-dollar company " - is what inspires us to achieve great things. But the problem with big, dramatic goals is that they can be so overwhelming and daunting that we resist actually taking the first step.

The key to overcoming inertia lies in breaking things down: while "lose one pound" may not sound terribly impressive, every ambitious goal and complex activity is the sum of many such incremental actions. Faced with a bite-size first step, it's easier to get started which makes it easier to take the next step and, voila, soon you have momentum. But knowing how to break things down is a creative skill, and one we're not explicitly taught in school or elsewhere. So here are three tactics to help you get started:

- START SMALL. I mean ridiculously small, so incremental that there's virtually no resistance. If "draft global licensing agreement" has been on your to-do list for too long, try "draft first page (or first paragraph!) of global licensing agreement." Still procrastinating? Break it down again to: "open new document, name it global licensing agreement." There's no shame in starting small if it means you get started.

- START SPECIFIC. If your tasks sound vague and ambiguous without a clear ending point - e.g. "overhaul entire file organization system" - you'll be much less likely to get started. Describe your tasks in specific, finite ways - "alphabetize files in left bottom drawer" - so you'll know exactly when they're completed and you can cross them off your list.

- START SHORT. Likewise, it's difficult to get started when you know a project is going to take awhile. So try my 15/30/45 rule: in the beginning, when resistance is high, frame your tasks so that they can be completed in 15 minutes. As you build momentum, you can work up to 30 and 45 minute time periods (this is how I break down a monolithic three-hour piano practice session, for example). As a result, instead of doing something until it just happens to get done, I break it down into set amounts of time in which to achieve specific mini-goals, which keeps me focused and in motion.

If you're like me, you'll find that resistance to beginning a project or task feels strong because we assume that it will grow and get even stronger once we've started. But, in factComputer Technology Articles, overcoming resistance is more like breaking through a wall - not climbing a mountain - and it will melt away once you're in motion.

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Renita T. Kalhorn is a Juilliard-trained pianist with an Insead MBA and a first-degree martial arts black belt. Harnessing the power of "flow," she coaches entrepreneurs and corporate professionals to achieve extreme focus and reach the top of their game at work. Claim your f*r*e*e copy of "Find Your Flow! 21 Simple Strategies to Banish Tedium, Reduce Stress and Inspire Action" at

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