Overcoming Static Friction

Static friction makes objects resist movement. It keeps them where they are.

Work can have its own version of static friction. I resist starting it. I have to push myself to sit down and log in and start typing. If I don’t push hard enough to overcome that initial cost, I can try a hundred times and never make progress. The energy I spend on all those attempts is wasted.

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If I’m struggling to overcome a task with a lot of static friction, there are some tricks I try. As an example, let’s say I don’t want to go grocery shopping.

  • Look for an easy prerequisite. The drawers in my fridge are covered in bits of last week’s broccoli. I need to clean those out before I put in new vegetables. Where’s the sponge? Halfway through scrubbing the second drawer, I’m not trying to get started. I’m already working.
  • Look for a gap in my knowledge and start by learning something instead of taking action. I know I need more calcium. I mostly eat vegetables. I don’t know what vegetables contain calcium. Can I find a reputable article on vegetable calcium content? Great, found one. Pick ones to add to my shopping list. I turn around and I’m in the grocery store trying to find the kale.
  • Schedule it for later. Static friction varies from day to day. It’s actually my energy and willpower that vary day to day, but I perceive it as a change in the difficulty of starting. I’ll check the fridge to make sure I have enough food for today and schedule shopping for tomorrow. Crucially, I schedule it. I don’t just skip it. I add a task to my calendar or stick a note on the counter. I don’t want it to disappear. I just need a break.

These get me past a surprising amount of high-friction work. Try them out! Let me know how it goes.

Adam

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