A body at rest tends to stay at rest, and a body in motion tends to stay in motion, unless acted on by a net external force.
– Sir Isaac Newton
I often find that just getting started is the hardest part of doing something. This is especially true when the project is large or results take a long time to see.
A few years ago, I started talking about getting in shape but wasn’t really sure how to take that seriously. Occasional pickup basketball games with friends and leisurely bike rides with my wife were fun, but I was otherwise leading a mostly sedentary lifestyle. Doing any kind of exercise with consistency seemed impossibly tedious, so I didn’t!
Then, a minor disaster struck as I suffered a light tear in my calf muscle during a random Saturday morning basketball game. As part of the healing process, I had to go to physical therapy. It turned out I found myself actually enjoying PT even though the exercises were repetitive — there was something about having someone coach me through the motions that didn’t make them feel completely tedious.
My PT experience gave me the idea to solve my getting in shape problem by hiring a personal trainer. Though I didn’t love working out, having a trainer worked for me basically right away. Knowing there was a person waiting for me at the gym kept me going to my sessions even though I always wanted to cancel. Working out with an expert who coached me through new movements eased my fear of the unknown. Having a buddy there while I did repetitive (and yes, often tedious) exercises made the time pass much more pleasantly.
It turns out the thing I needed to get over the inertia of inactivity was a partner who'd push me when I couldn't totally motivate myself. It didn't take long before the new inertia of working out has set in and, years later, I’m still doing it several times a week. Thanks, Tommy!
Recently, I was having trouble getting started on a new project at Good Enough. Though I’m personally very excited about what the project can be, the seeming size of the endeavor intimidated me and not doing much of anything was easier than figuring out how to start. Then, without a whole lot of thought, I reached out to Arun and asked if he wanted to pair on some of the work.
Pair programming doesn’t seem like it should make sense. One person works (typing and navigating around the computer and what-not) while the other person watches and babbles in the first person’s ear. You’d think that this would be a recipe for getting absolutely nothing done, but it magically results in super productive sessions and more enjoyable work time.
The same qualities that made personal training work for me were present in our pairing sessions. Arun and I kept each other accountable with scheduled pairing sessions. When we hit something we didn’t know how to do, we talked through the problems together in a way that made them feel instantly smaller. Having someone to laugh with made work a lot more enjoyable.
We got more done together than we would have apart and we had a lot of fun doing it. Win win! Thanks, Arun!
If you’ve got something large in your future and you just can’t seem to get started, consider asking yourself how you can find an accountability partner who’ll help you break the shackles of inertia. You might be amazed at how quickly joining forces with another person can help an insurmountable task feel like it wasn’t that big of a deal.