How to get any project up and running

by Mark Forster.

Do you have lots of great ideas for projects but never get round to starting them?

Do you have a host of old projects that you got so far with and then ran out of steam?

Or do you find yourself saying things like “I really must do some more marketing, but I can never find the time”? (Translation: “I’m not doing the really important work because the less important work is more important!”)

I’m going to tell you a method now which will enable you to give any project your best shot. I can’t of course guarantee that your project will succeed, but at least if you use this method you won’t fail because you have let yourself down.

But be warned: you can only use it on one project at a time!

The basic idea is simplicity itself. You can keep any project moving powerfully forward if you take some action on it first thing every day.

Let’s analyse that a bit further. There are three elements:

1) Take some action

2) First thing

3) Every day

Let’s deal with each of those in more detail.

1) Take some action

You need to take some action, not just think about taking some action! It doesn’t matter how small the action is. The important thing is to get started. I’ve written before about how a simple phrase like “I’ll just get the file out” can be the trigger for getting into a difficult or daunting task.

How much action do you need to take? It doesn’t matter. Just as long as you take some action, it will keep the project alive. When people come to me with writer’s block, I usually set them the the target of writing for at least 10 minutes every day. Al Secunda in his book “The 15-second Principle” makes it even less — he says a minimum of 15 seconds work a day on any project will bring it to fruition.

Of course Al is not telling you to work for only 15 seconds. He is telling you to work for at least 15 seconds. Once you have succeeded in getting started, most days you will go on and do some significant work on the project. But even if you don’t do more than the minimum, you will have kept the project alive in your mind and you will find that you naturally get into the swing of it in the next day or so.

2) First thing

In my book “Get Everything Done and Still Have Time to Play” I give an exercise in which you are asked to select one task that you are going to do the next day. If you succeed, you then select a slightly more difficult task for the next day. If you fail, you select an easier one.

This sounds an incredibly easy exercise, but the truth is that most people find it almost impossible to keep it going for more than a few days. Yes, it’s rather a horrifying thought — most people are incapable of selecting just one new task a day and doing it without fail!

Your project is going to get lost in the same way unless you make sure that you do it first thing before doing anything else. You know exactly what will happen if you don’t do it first thing. You will find yourself late in the day saying: “It’s nearly time to stop work and I haven’t done a thing about that project yet. It’s not worth doing anything now. I’ll give it a really good go tomorrow.” Guess what happens tomorrow!

I have learnt the hard way that if I want to carry out some particular task every day over an extended period — such as writing, going for a run, whatever it may be — it has to be got under way before I have my breakfast, before I make a cup of tea, before I look at the newspaper. If you work in an office, then the task needs to be started before you check your e-mail, before you talk to your colleagues, before you listen to your voicemail. The second that you say “I must get started on that project, but I’ll just check whether there’s anything new in my in-box” you’ve lost the battle!

Once you’ve got going, you will find that most days there is a natural tendency to keep going. And if some days there isn’t, so what? As long as you’ve done something, you will find it is easier to do more the next day. And that brings me on to my next point.

3) Every day

When someone tells me that they are stuck on a project, the first question which I ask them is “When did you last do some work on it?” Invariably it turns out to have been weeks ago.

Once you stop working on something, it will start to die. Think of your projects as house plants which need watering daily. They don’t need a lot of water, but they do need some. If you forget to water them for one day it won’t be fatal, but forget to water them for several days in a row and they will start to wither. Yet sometimes even the most dead-looking plant will revive if you resume the daily watering. And so it is with projects. If you have a project in your life which is really stuck, try doing some work on it first thing every day and you will be amazed to see how it starts to move forward.

When I say “every day” I mean every working day. For some personal projects you may want to do seven days a week, but for most work projects five days a week is fine. There may be days during the week when you know you are not going to be able to do any work on the project. You might for instance be away at a business conference. The important thing is to identify these days in advance. And what’s the first thing you do when you get back into your office after your conference? Yes, you’ve got it!

On days which you haven’t identified in advance don’t accept any excuses from yourself. The most common justification that I hear is that an “emergency” came up. I’m not saying there aren’t occasional unforeseeable life-or-death situations in which you have to take immediate action to avoid a catastrophe. But be honest with yourself: how often does that really happen? Most of our so-called “emergencies” aren’t emergencies at all. They are simply situations which we have neglected so long that they have come back to bite us.


So there you are: that’s it. Follow the principle of taking some action on your project first thing every day, and you will be amazed to see how the project comes to life and progresses almost like magic. But remember what I said at the beginning: you can only do this with one project at a time!

So how do you decide which project you are going to use this method on? Ask yourself some questions, such as:

What’s the project that I have been putting off longest?

What am I most stuck at?

What would make the greatest difference to my life and work?

What would really take my life or business forward if I took action on it?

Concentrating on one project at a time is a very good time management principle. You may remember that old music-hall turn, the Chinese spinning plates. The performer has a huge number of bamboo rods and the aim is to get a plate spinning on the end of each rod. A good performer can get thirty or more plates spinning at the same time. The way it is done is to get one plate spinning properly, then to move on to the next plate, then to the next. Go back to an earlier plate only when it starts to wobble.

It’s exactly the same in your life or business. Get one project up and running properly before you take on the next. That is far the best way to move forward.


Reading this article won’t make the slightest bit of difference to your life unless you do something about it. What you need to do now is to decide on one project which you are going to do first thing tomorrow and every day thereafter until it is fully up and running. If you want to reinforce your decision, feel free to e-mail me ( to tell me what it is, and I will e-mail you in two weeks time to ask how you got on!


Mark Forster is the author of three books about time management and personal organisation. The most recent, Do It Tomorrow, was published by Hodder in 2006.

© Copyright Mark Forster 2012. All rights reserved.

Performing under pressure as a small business owner


by Paul Sheals.

I had been considering writing an article looking at the parallels I have found with regards to handling pressure both as a top level athlete and as a small business owner. As with sport and athletes small business owners go through different stages of development and are armed with different levels of skill to cope with each stage. I was particularly interested in the decision making process and how this is effected by pressure and stress.

Driving back from a particularly good meeting yesterday I had the radio going in the car but felt relaxed and had a steady flow of ideas, strategies and plans that were coming into my thoughts regarding the meeting I had just had. The chat show on the radio changed and became a discussion about pressure in the sporting arena and was looking at everything from Cricket to the recent Rugby World Cup but with a view to reaching conclusions around how the british Team can best prepare for the upcoming Olympic Games in 2012. I immediately tuned into the discussion which was fascinating and had guests like Andrew Strauss (Current England Cricket Captain), Michael Vaughan (previous England Cricket Captain) a couple of sports psychologists (one who had been involved with the rugby World Cup and one who had been involved with professional Football and was currently involved with Olympic Athletes).

I myself competed at Judo for the British Judo Team for over 16 years and managed to win Gold medal at the Commonwealt Games along with medals in the World and European Championships plus numerous other International & National Tournaments. I retired some 20 plus years ago and what struck me was the stark difference between the preparation of athletes then and now, and how ill prepared I was psychologically to deal with the pressure and stress involved with competing at the highest level.  But it also highlighted to me how ill prepared I was and indeed many small business owners are to deal with the pressure and stress involved with creating, building and keeping afloat a small business particularly in these turbulent economic times.

If I relate to my time as an athlete my preparation to compete on a physical level was tremendous – I think nowadays there is a lot more science involved in terms of peeking for the right tournaments at the right time and ensuring athletes do not over train but on the whole my training was real quality. I was incredibly fit, as strong as I needed to be and my skill levels with regards to the technicality of our sport was as good as anyone in the World. This skill level came from a core amount of natural ability but mainly from hours upon hours of drills and skill sessions along with thousands of hours fighting different opponents at different levels, weights, strengths, speed, nationality so that when it came to competing if my body tired as it always did with our sport instinct kicked in to get you through the fight.  They say to become very good at something you need to invest 5000 hours to become exceptional this needs to be something like 10,000 and I had paid my due’s plus some!!

In all this time however I never once trained for the pressure and stress involved with competition and the impact that would have on performance. If I could have simply translated what I did in training into the competition arena I would have been World and Olympic Champion many times over – however this is the same for every athlete at that level and I believe the athlete who is more successful at this is the one who wins all the major tournaments and the athlete that isn’t wins sporadically and never truly fulfills their potential.

Some examples of how pressure can effect performance in my sport would have been:

  • Adrenaline – when you are training you feel relaxed and can try different things and so adrenaline never really kicks in – during a tournament this can speed up what you do which in turn effects timing and in a technical sport this can be crucial – also you feel tired (even if you are not) more quickly which can cause you to reserve energy and therefore not exert pressure in the way you would during training
  • Decision Making – in a contest there are many times when you feel pressure, exhausted, you might be losing etc. and all these factors can make you try things you wouldn’t when you are thinking clearly without stress
  • Missing a warm up or an enforced change to a routine can add pressure and change your decision making

The programme explored all of these factors and I believe given my own experience and what the guest speakers were saying two big things that came out of it:

  • Routine – the more you can create routines for different situations the better so for example Golfers practice routines before every shot. It is particularly important to sports like Golf because they have a lot of time to think between shots and so one bad shot can easily spoil a whole tournament so this is why you here cliches like “play one shot at a time” or in Football “one game at a time” however these cliches are absolutely true. In Golf they practice the same routines before every shot in training so that in a competition when the pressure is on the routine itself (if practiced enough) becomes the trigger to calm down, to behave as you would in training etc. If you watch the great kickers in Rugby – during training they envisage the posts to be huge and the difference between the posts to be huge but they aim for a tiny spec or dot in the middle of the posts. However it is the routine leading up to it, how they hold their arms, how they breathe, the amount of steps backwards and to the side that they take that becomes the trigger and calming effect to simulate training.
  • Stepping Back – often in a pressure situation you feel consumed with the situation and the problem and you make poor decisions or worse decisions you wouldn’t ever normally make if you were in a relaxed mode. Athletes often talk about this pressure being like a big blanket coming over them and consuming them and restricting their movement and thinking. The key here is to have the ability to step out of the situation – when you feel you are being consumed in this way take a second to stop, step away from the issue or problem and look at it from the outside in and deal with it as you would in training

So how does this relate to business? It would be difficult in one article to discuss all the ways in which parallels can be drawn between running a small business and sport but having outlined the issues and some potential solutions I would hope many of you that are reading this could draw your own comparisons and play around with your own methods of dealing with it.

I would like to discuss one common situation I see though as an example. I deal with a lot of small business owners and in particular deal with their Online Marketing. We all know that building a small business is tough and it is even tougher in todays difficult economic climate. What I often see is that small business owners make a perfectly good decision regarding the future of their Online Marketing Activity and agree a plan, agree which partners they want to work with and specify outcomes and goals. I then see due to the pressure of the economy, need for cash, desire for quick wins that they begin to second guess themselves. Because of the nature of Online Marketing there is always something new being promoted – every day there is a new product, service, company, method of delivery and so when a small business owner feels the pressure they try something new, when that doesn’t deliver, they try something new and so and so on.  When all they really needed to do is back themselves and their original decision – if it wasn’t quite working quickly enough stick with it, make tweaks but “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water”.

I often liken this to school football teams – if you have ever watched kids playing football the whole team follows the ball all around the pitch. As a coach you train them every week to stay in position, find space, look for their team mates, pass the ball and NEVER follow the ball as a team. The moment the pressure of a game comes on they all run after the ball and no amount of screaming from the sidelines from parents and coaches will change their thinking when they are under pressure in this way.

I feel all to often Small Business Owners chase after the ball when what they should be doing is finding space, taking their time and backing their original decision – it was usually the right one!!


Paul Sheals

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© Copyright Paul Sheals 2012. All rights reserved.