“Find the small tasks that are actually the tasks, and then just do one of them. And then do a different one. And honor your limits.”

Getting unstuck, figuring out where to start… sometimes there is so much to do, so much even that we want to do and find pleasure in doing, that choosing where to start becomes overwhelming.

Let’s look at a few different strategies for finding our starting point, including (in no particular order, because what works will alway be individual to the person and their circumstances):

-start with the easiest thing, the low-hanging fruit.

-start with the thing you’re passionate about, following your intensiveness.

-start with the thing that causes you anxiety, because once you have done it you will be free of that anxiety, which has been haunting you every time you think about that task anyway.

-start with the thing what will bring you pleasure. You do not have to put off your own pleasure.

-start with something that you will feel good about doing for someone else.

We’re sure there are more, but this is a place to start.

Transcript and notes:


Recorded 23 January 2024.


Hey, everyone, thanks for tuning in.

So this week is the fine art of picking something. You know how, as intensives, what we want to do is everything all at once?

Maybe that's just me. But sometimes I get stuck because there's so much. So much that I want to do and explore and be, and everything... and I sadly keep turning out to be human with human limitations on my energy and my capacity and my skill set and my ability to learn, even. Rude.

And so what am I going to do? Because I want, I want to do everything, but I got to pick something I got to choose, I got to get unstuck. There's this thing that happens, where all the things I want to do get piled up behind some kind of bottleneck. Or they just pile up. They just pile and pile and pile until I can't get around the pile. And I can't do anything out of the pile.

Because if I pull something out of the pile, the whole pile comes crashing down.

And it's a very physical metaphor, because it feels very physical. It feels like pressure building up in my chest. Pressure, even for things that I want to do. Even for things that I am delighted to do. Even if it's just creative projects, the painting that's been hammering at my brain for so long that it's starting to emboss.

And the sewing projects that I've been promising myself for years. And the weaving project. When I got the loom, I decided I was going to definitely warp it up and do a weaving project. And I have the materials for the weaving project. I signed up for a kit club. Because I knew that if I didn't get materials periodically showing up at my door, I would stall out for a long time.

So at least to get started, I signed up for this kit club, through Vermont Weaving Supplies. And I just had the conversation with the owner about the materials for the next project. But I still have the first project.

Admittedly, I didn't sign up until December. And that's the end of the quarter, and the projects are quarterly and- but you get the idea, right? That there's so much always there's a list of so much.

While the ground is still wet, I need to go out and reinforce the raised beds in the yard. I need to put some kind of edging around them. Because the grow bags are starting to go. And that's fine. But I don't want the beds to go. So I need to start buying 10 foot lengths of little short picket fencing and wrapping it around there and sticking it in while you can still get a stake into the ground.

So much, so much. And and it's all things that delight me. And then they're the things that don't delight me like the dishes. But there's so much that I want to do. There's so much that I'm interested in. There's so many books I want to read. There's so many ideas I want to explore. There's so many books I want to write.

I absolutely- when I heard that line in Hamilton about "why do you write like you're running out of time?" I was like, how could you not? You're born running out of time, there's so much. Poor Hamilton, he didn't even get to my age.

Anyway, one of the things he wanted to do was be right, and he wanted to be right more than he wanted to be alive. And that is also an intensive trait. Sometimes. Some of us, mostly the ones who survive long enough, remember that we don't have to do that. Eventually.

But the thing is that, with all these things that we want to do pressing down on us, pressing in at us, pressing out at us; making us feel like we're going to explode, we can get stuck, right? We can have all this stuff and we can get stuck.

And the meditation I posted for the members is, is a little bit of a way to get a little bit unstuck, but only a little bit. At some point, you still have like 18 things that you're juggling, and you got to pick something. You got to go get something and be like, this is the thing, right? This minute this, you know, 11:15am on Tuesday, this is the minute that I'm going to be doing this thing. This one right here.

So how do you pick? And there are a couple of ways to pick. There are ongoing conversations about like, what do you do? How do you get unstuck? A lot of folks with ADHD also find this useful.

You know, sometimes you pick the thing that you're most passionate about, the thing that the Muse is hammering on your brain about. "I should probably do that painting that the Muse is after me about so that I can move on." Maybe there's a bunch of creative stuff stuck behind that, and I just don't know about it.

I used to do morning pages, a la The Artist's Way, Julia Cameron's now famous book. There are very few practices that I've maintained as long as I did maintain that practice. But I haven't been able to do morning pages recently. My words-making has turned more verbal and less written in the last five years. And I'm not sure why.

But for a long time, I did morning pages. And that helped to keep the creative constipation from happening. Not that it's just creative things that get stuck in this backup, by any means. But for me, the creative things are the most obvious because they're the things I most definitely want to do.

I'm clearest that there's that there's a deep desire, a drive, to do them. And I don't know what to do about the fact that there's a drive to do them. And I'm still not doing them. And mostly I'm not doing them because they're all jammed up in the same little tiny spot. And so I have to, like you what if you are clearing any kind of backup.

You know, if you go to a stream, and it's got a, you know, a narrow point in the rock, and it's all full of leaves and twigs and sticks, and God knows what-all flotsam and jetsam coming down the stream. If you pull it all out en masse, sometimes that's okay. But sometimes it causes like this flood that kind of destroys the rest of the stream structure.

So it's often better to like pull a little bit of leaf out, and then a little bit of leaf out more. And a little bit of leaf out more, kind of like you're a bird or a forest animal or a beaver using the materials for a nest or something. Just a little at a time and the water can kind of adjust a little at a time, and everything else usually stays in place.

So one of the options is to do the thing that you're driven to do. The thing that keeps coming up. That you keep thinking, Okay, I'll do that after I do this, after I do that, after I do this. And that thing never gets done that desire that deep drive never gets satisfied. Yeah. So one of your options is to pick that up. Just be like, I'm sorry, I'm taking a mental health, sick day, and put the painting or whatever in the middle of your table.

I talked a little bit in one of our previous episodes about how I had taken my computer off my desk to do a drawing exercise. And how much different that felt and how differently I operated that day. I need to do tha again. I haven't done that since. I really should. The little bin for my computer's right, right to my left. Immediately to my left.

So one option, clear your desk. Just clear it, let the intensiveness take over, let the passion takeover. Now, that assumes that the passion is at the top of the pile and not like buried. Sometimes the passion gets buried. Sometimes it gets shoved aside for so long that the Muse goes to sulk. And it doesn't feel like you're inspired to do anything at all. Or you feel so much guilt like-

Okay, confession time.

I have a beautiful guitar that I bought myself when I lived in Chicago a long time ago. And it's been sitting in its case at my East Coast partner's house for literal years, barely touched. I moved to the West Coast suddenly. And with the way that airlines treat musical instruments, I haven't felt like I could get it out here. It's a gorgeous instrument. It would be happier if it were played. It would be healthier if it were played. Something about wooden instruments, they do better when they get used, but I haven't.

And now when I go to visit her and I see that case, I feel this huge lump of guilt. It sits right below the swallowing point in my throat right at the top of my chest. And I just- it's so hard for me to even open the case. And then when I try to play, of course I'm out of practice and so I feel bad about that.

And at one point, I tried to find a practice stick like just a basically the neck of a guitar that I could practice on out here. But they're expensive. Everything's expensive. Maybe I should make one out of a two by four. Anyway. For what it's worth.

That guilt is preventing me from music in general. It's blocking me from almost everything except singing, which is a different problem. So you may find that like me you have this this blockage that's emotional but it's still real. So what do you do then? You've already heard me talk a bunch of times about how I do dishes. How if the dishes are overwhelming I like, just do the spoons.

If my creative and other- my doing energy is blocked. And this is different. I want to- I gotta pause here. Because there's a difference between your doing energy being pent up and blocked and active verses being in an intensive stop place.

Intensive stop is a place of rest. It's a place of exhaustion. It's a place of depletion. It's a place of like, in many cases happy, but happy used-upedness. That Marge Piercy the idea of, of being used for work that is real. Right? If you've done and done and done and you're- you just need to rest.

You're like a sea cucumber that squirted out all of its insides at once. And now you have to crawl under a rock and regrow it. Yes, that's a real thing. Look them up, sea cucumbers are awesome. They're related to sea stars. Sea cucumbers- alright, this is a digression. But sea cucumbers are what would happen if you took a sea star and made the arms really short and the body, the center of the body, really big. And then you stretched it out on its vertical axis. That's what a sea cucumber is, basically.

Anyway, let's get back from sea cucumbers to getting things done.

So when we think about getting things done, there's this difference between intensive go-intensive stop, the sea cucumber recovery phase; and intensive pent up.

Intensive pent up is an unhealthy level of blockage, right? It's a painful, difficult obstructive level of blockage in your doing flow. Your intense go, intensive go phase is in, but you're still stuck.

So when you feel that pressure, one of the things you can do is pull, you know a little bit of leaf matter out of that blockage in the stream. You can just look at the stack and be like whatever the littlest thing is, the easiest thing is, the lowest hanging fruit, I'm going to do that.

And what you might discover when you go to do that is that a task that looks like low hanging fruit is actually four tasks. And that's why you haven't been able to get started. So you know, when you take a look at your task, and it says "write email."

I know, writing an email should be pretty simple, right? But you have to go find the email that you're responding to, or the content, the material you're responding to or engaging with in that email. You need to find the email address, you need to open your email and not get distracted by everything else that's in your email. You have to figure out what to say and how to say it. You have to write it down that way. You have to double check it if it's an important email. And then you have to send it.

That's a lot of steps.

So when I say take a little bit of leaf matter off the top, I don't mean write the email. I mean, go find the email address, open your email and start a blank email. Just start a blank email and put the right email address in it. That's it, open that up, leave that tab open. And then see if you have energy to do the next step in that task.

Or if what you need to do is take a little leaf matter from a different part of the blockage. You picked some up from the left now you're gonna pick some up from the right. You might have to go do a completely separate task. Maybe you made a commitment to yourself to post something regularly on social media. So you go to the social media site and you post.

And that also- like, you have to open the social media site if you don't have it already open. That's why so many of us keep it open, because it actually reduces the barrier to doing the things that we want to do on social media. If you want to increase the barrier, because you don't want to be on social media so much, close the tab. Just close it. Change what's on your homescreen, change what automatically opens when you open your browser. Take the app off your phone.

But if you want to be doing something, make it easy. Reverse that, take the barriers down.

And sometimes going upstream and solving the problem is actually part of the process. So it might be that you need to put this person's email address into your contacts because you use it all the time. And you could never find it. Okay. That's the task. Not write the email, just find the email and put it in your contacts. So then every time going forward that you need it.

Not only is there less friction for the writing of the email task, but also there's less friction because you're not annoyed at yourself for not having added it to the contacts yet. So recognizing the tasks on your list for what they are; recognizing the things you want to do for what they are; recognizing what the obstacles are.

For example, I want to work on this weaving project. I'm really excited about it. The loom is in the garage. It's not warm enough to be out there without heat. The task is not go work the loom, or even figure out how to work the loom. Because it's been like 10 years since I worked a loom.

The task is go out to the garage and figure out the heating situation. Figure out which space heaters can run in there and how to hook them up. So that you won't be cold. Possibly, also, figure out a way to put the loom on sliders so that it's easy to get in and out of its spot tucked under a shelf.

Find the small tasks that are actually the tasks, and then just do one of them. And then do a different one. And honor your limits. Honor your limits when you say, "Okay, we're just going to do one, just do one." And then really check in with yourself. Do we want to do more? Don't let the shoulds make the decision.

Do we want to do more? Does this feel good? Or should I do something else? The overarching theme you may be noticing is: how does it feel? Because you're an intensive and that doesn't change. And doing the things that feel good is going to be easier, consistently easier, than doing the things that feel hard.

And so when something feels hard, sometimes you've got to go around the back way. I've been having trouble painting. So I signed up for a substack. Thirty days of drawing. It's run by Wendy Mack, who illustrated among other things, "Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat," the incredible, incredible theory of cooking book. And that has me... I'm not doing every single exercise but most exercises.

The limit is 10 minutes, you're not allowed to draw for more than 10 minutes. You do the prompt and then if you want to, you share it. And if you want to, you comment on other people's. That is the tiniest bit of painting that I could pick up. So I've been using watercolor pencils. And then yesterday I did the exercise with inks, which is one of my favorite painting mediums.

So now the inks are on my desk, they have been opened, I have stuck my finger in them. We're making progress toward the giant pad of brand new paper that I got when I realized that part of the reason I wasn't painting was because I didn't have the paper I needed to paint on. So I went and got the paper, but that exhausted all of my doing energy for that project for several weeks. So the paper has just been sitting over there on the table waiting for me to be ready to figure out "where do my paints go?"

I haven't painted since I moved here. Not really. It's been over a year. I still don't know how to set up my painting area, because I don't know what it looks like here yet. One step at a time. One step, another step. And so we are borrowing from the expansives. We're borrowing from the tortoise, even though we are hares. Because sometimes the tortoise's way makes sense. So pick up the small thing, pick up the passion thing.

How else can you choose? Pick up the thing that's causing you the most anxiety.

I know that one sounds weird, right? It's causing you the most anxiety. That doesn't sound like what will feel good. But let me tell you, making the anxiety stop feels really good. And this is how you make the anxiety stop.

You pick up the thing that's causing you the most anxiety. It might be a bill. It might be balancing your finances. Money is often a stressor for a lot of us. It might be an email, it might be relational. Whatever it is, it is draining you.

I promise, if it's causing you anxiety, just thinking about it, that anxiety is draining you it's draining your energy. It's draining your attention. It's getting in the way of you doing a whole lot of things. Get the anxiety off your plate.

So that's another option for how to choose. Choose something that you're passionate about. Choose something that's a little uneasy, break things down so you can find the little easy things. Choose something that's giving you anxiety.

Here's another one: choose something that's giving you pleasure. I don't mean the thing that gives you- passion is great, and it is pleasurable, but it is a very specific kind of pleasure and not always the kind we want.

So consider picking the thing that gives you the most pleasure. The thing that will feel absolutely the best in your bones, in your body.

It might be something you do every day, it might be something that you keep putting off because you keep hanging it in front of yourself like a carrot reward situation. And you might just need the pleasure first, you might just need to feel good first. So it might be, that the thing that gives you pleasure is the right place to start.

One more option: pick the thing that does something that you will love having done for someone else. We're intensives. And a lot of times, especially if we were assigned female at birth, especially if we grew up socialized in that way, what we end up with is a belief that we don't deserve the thing first.

Someone I knew years ago used to talk about FHB: Family Hold Back. Which was the thing that she had in her family, that she had growing up, where if they were doing a dinner party or potluck or something FHB was the code for "family should take smaller portions to make sure there was enough to go around."

But for a lot of us, we were taught that we were the one who should take smaller portions of time of energy of resources, of pleasure. Of everything. Because somehow, if we didn't put ourselves last, there wouldn't be enough to go around.

If there's not enough to go around, there's not enough to go around. And that's a problem we need to collaboratively solve.

But in the moment of choosing what to do out of the giant pressing pile of things to do, if you can't bring yourself to choose anything else. If you can't bring yourself to get over the hump in one way or another for yourself, then sometimes the trick is to do it for others. To pick up something that will work for someone else that will make someone else feel good. That you will feel good- that you will feel good for having done for someone else.

And if that happens, then maybe you'll have just that little bit of room. You know, we're talking all month about having that little bit of room.

The push-pull, the pressure of wanting to do and the pressure of wanting to stop at the same time. Sometimes the answer is to let just a little bit out. And sometimes the answer is- sometimes the answer is to let it be for someone else. If that's- we only have a certain amount of resistance to our training energy for any given unit of time. It's- people call it willpower, but it's a little more complicated than that, I think.

But whatever it is, we only have a little bit of it. We only have enough. Sometimes we don't even have enough to get through the day. It's hard to push back against conditioning all day every day. And sometimes we've run out of energy. It's like decision fatigue only it's not, it's like resistance fatigue.

It's new neuronal pathway fatigue.

And so sometimes we get to the end of our day, the middle of our day, and we don't have any of that left, or we know we have to save some for later. And if we're going to have to save some for later, we can't spend it all now.

And so the easiest thing to do is to let that conditioning propel us forward. To let that conditioning open the door. To let that conditioning be the crowd behind you that shoves you onto the subway, because you know you can't elbow your way onto the subway yourself.

So there are a few ideas for getting started. Next time... next time we'll talk about the little tiniest, tiniest first step. Thanks for tuning in. Talk soon.