Founder Diary

October 4, 2022

Now we’re talking

Now we’re talking

Breaking down your goals is crucial, but knowing the starting point is where progress begins.

A puzzled hamster looking for the right path to the rocket. Multiple paths are seen all over the picture.
A puzzled hamster looking for the right path to the rocket. Multiple paths are seen all over the picture.
A puzzled hamster looking for the right path to the rocket. Multiple paths are seen all over the picture.
Nikita Kazhin's headshot

Nikita Kazhin

Co-founder at Brick

X (formerly Twitter) logo

The past half year I spent more time than I’d ever expected on a website called Focusmate.

The name speaks for itself. 

The idea is as simple as it is brilliant: you hop on a video call with another person, you both share your goals for the 25 or 50-minute session, and then… yeah, you just work on them while being watched.

The point is accountability. It’s way harder to weasel out of your commitments or get distracted when you’re supervised. Sure, your partner isn’t going to pester you for fooling around on Instagram. They probably won’t even notice. But I find that the very fact you’re not toiling alone and will have to share your results at the end of session is in itself a potent incentive. Besides, if your self-trust is particularly shaky, you can even share your screen so your partner can at least shame you with a withering look (or a smirk) if you dare deviate from your stated plan.

The approach works wonders (if you let it), but that’s not why I wanted to mention Focusmate.

One of Focusmate’s underrated features is public user profiles where you answer a dozen or so questions about your work habits so your partner knows who they’re dealing (I mean working) with. My single favorite item is “The task or type of work I dislike most.

For me, this one line is a treasure trove. Essentially, people tell me (without even me asking) what they struggle with in terms of productivity. And that is what my work is all about. Free ideas, how cool is that? I can transform these revelations into blog posts, Twitter threads, app features, copy, you name it.

Expectably, most of the responses are painfully typical: “admin work,” “invoices,” “paperwork,” or simply “repetitive tasks.” Occasionally, though, I stumble on true insight. One guy listed “going to bed” as the task he hates above all. I feel ya! Getting ready for bed and falling asleep can be such a chore.

Jokes aside, I found there are common threads that resurface more often than others. Just look at these:

The task or type of work I dislike most:

Anything that I can't figure out how to start

Any large task where I can't find a starting point, or fail to break the project down into the smallest possible task...

Big tasks that I am trying to jump into without breaking them down, otherwise they feel insurmountable.

Unstructured work. My realisation is that breaking the goals into smaller tasks helps me immensely. Which is why … I encourage myself to break a goal into as many digestible tasks as possible

Things I must do [where] I don't see the why

Tasks that seem overwhelming or don't have a definite end or direction.

Do you see it? Three recurring themes when people a) don’t understand the goal, b) don’t see a clear step-by-step path to it, and c) don’t know where to start, guess what?

They get utterly stuck.

The starting point is king

I’ll put the whole “importance of goal-setting” matter aside for now — the topic is just way too hackneyed. For what it’s worth, I’m more interested in learning to abandon goals well.

Got a goal? Good. Anybody can set one (or a hundred).

But what now? The more important questions are: What do I do now? What’s my next action? Where do I start?

“Where to start” is a fundamental question. It permeates every facet of our lives, way beyond work and productivity. No matter what you’re about to do, you always have to know what the first step is to start moving.

The alternative is paralysis.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying goals are a non-issue. But, first, there usually isn’t a deficit of goals. The issue is getting them done. I’d even argue that you don’t always have to know exactly what the desired outcome is to get started. You might have a general feeling of what it looks like, or a vague picture you can’t quite distill yet.

Did Columbus know exactly what his destination would look like? What he did know was how to equip an expedition and in what direction (roughly) to sail.

Did we know what it’d be like for a person to be in outer space in the mid-20th century? What humanity did learn (and execute) was how to launch a rocket that’d (probably) survive long enough. We figured it out from there.

Do we know exactly how and when we will stop climate change? No, but that never stopped scientists from deconstructing the problem and coming up with our next actions NOW, from overarching fixes like cutting emissions or upholding biodiversity to down-to-earth ones like reducing food waste or improving manure management.

In other words, goals don’t have to be totally worked out to be actionable. All they need to be is refined just enough for you to be able to break them down, find the starting point, and get going. Just enough to build your pyramid of action, where the tip is the goal and the foundation is the first task, and yes, the starting point.

Without a starting point, goals are nothing more than dreams. While goals can remain uncertain for a time, the starting point cannot. You have to know how to get to the desired outcome. And by “how” I don’t mean cliché motivation rants about grit, never giving up or, heaven forbid, being “driven.” I mean it in the most literal sense: what exactly needs to be done. Step by step. A path.

And once you know the starting point, you’re on.

The goal, whatever it is, stops being intimidating. A colossus with feet of clay.

Now we’re talking.

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