You’re Not Too Tired to Create—You’re Too Distracted

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I’m too tired.

Too many of my first drafts have died an early death because of that sentence.

This is an excuse that neatly covers failure for just about any work. It’s so easy to justify. But just because an excuse is justifiable doesn’t mean it’s worthwhile. Because I can always imagine a time when I’ll feel more refreshed and more energized, “I’m too tired” can ruin any chance I have to make something.

What to do, then? Run a few laps? Get more sleep? Drink five Red Bulls? (The last one only works for my developer friends — don’t try it.)

Half of the real problem of exhaustion comes from distraction. The problem is not being too tired. The problem is having a divided mind.

Most of us probably have a dozen different projects going on at the same time — or worse, left ignored. This saps our confidence that we can do new work well (or completely). It keeps us from reaching the creative focus needed to get into the flow states that make work fun.

The solution I’ve found? If I want real momentum in starting something, I have to finish something. I can only start from where I left off, so I begin by fulfilling the goals or obligations I’ve left halfway to completion.

As simple as this solution sounds, getting the mental space to start something new is rarely as easy as checking off the last item on my to-do list. I have to ask myself a few questions first:

  • Where does this work fit into my priorities?  Completing old work should remove a stress point or obligation, or it should make starting new work simpler.
  • How long will it take me to complete this?  Since my main goal is to begin something new, I want to tackle something I can finish in a reasonable amount of time.
  • What mental roadblocks are holding me back from finishing this?  Odds are, they’re the same ones — analysis paralysis, fear of embarrassment, fear of negative feedback — that will do even more to hold me back from starting something.

When I have the answers for these questions, I know what to take on first. That takes some of the uncertainty out of sitting down to start a work session.

More importantly, once I have the forward momentum of having done something important, starting something new doesn’t seem nearly so hard. And when I’ve done something really cool or worth sharing, I don’t feel nearly as tired.

What excuses are holding you back from doing great work? Don’t just procrastinate or force yourself to run up against walls — rethink the source of your problem with the work. The solution may be counterintuitive: like me, maybe you need to finish things before you can start them.

James Walpole is a writer and marketer who enjoys tying everything back to entrepreneurship. He works with bitcoin payment technology company BitPay and Praxis, an intensive year-long program for young people who want to get a real world education by working with entrepreneurs.

You’re Not Too Tired to Create—You’re Too Distracted