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Just Do One Thing

Phil Cooke encourages us to take that first step and, whatever that first step is, to just take it. By Phil Cooke
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Writing a new book is hard. I put it off and put it off to the point that I start worrying about missing deadlines. But then something magical happens. The pressure becomes so great that I force myself to sit down and start.

I write one page. Just one, and then the flood begins. It’s as if just writing one page—no matter how good or bad that page is—is the key. It primes the pump and the process begins.

You may have experienced the same feeling with an upcoming exam. You put off studying until the night before and realize with horror that it’s a do-or-die moment. But at the agonizing second you open the book, you realize the thing you were putting off wasn’t nearly as bad as you thought.

You just had to take that first step.

That realization helped fuel my book, “One Big Thing: Discovering What You Were Born to Do.” During a long career in the entertainment and media business, I’ve talked to hundreds of writers, producers, directors, designers, executives and other creative professionals and discovered that in most cases, one thing is all it takes to launch your dream project. My friend Ralph Winter produces movies like “X-Men,” “Wolverine,” “Planet of the Apes,” “Star Trek” and “Adrift”. His projects have budgets of $100 million and more, but they all begin the same way—with one step.

Our fear is often great that we freeze up, forgetting one simple step forward will breakthrough any obstacle and open the doorway to success.

Rarely a day goes by when I don’t meet someone who wants to do something significant with their life: write a book or screenplay, produce a videogame or movie, launch a new app, go to college, lose weight, get back in shape—whatever. The problem is,  they can’t seem to get started. So I ask:

Are you writing the book now?

They usually reply, “Well, no. I just don’t seem to have the time, or I just can’t get started.”

My response? DO ONE THING. It doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be one thing. Write that first page, create that first design, sign up, learn to code, join the gym or make a phone call — whatever that first step is, just take it. There is something inspiring and motivational about the power of the start.

One of the greatest obstacles to taking that first step is distraction. Distractions in the workplace have become so serious that USA Today reported it costs a typical large company more than $10 million a year in lost productivity. The report indicates more than half of U.S. workers waste an hour or more per day from interruptions—60 percent of those come from electronic devices and email. In fact, 45 percent of workers report that they can’t go more than 15 minutes without some sort of interruption.

School is no different. Friends, social media and other distractions are well and good on their own, but end up robbing us of an enormous amount of time. Even outside of school and work, it never stops. Research indicates that only 68 percent of people turn off their mobile phones during movies (which may explain the jerk three rows in front of you who keeps checking his email).

In the National Public Radio (NPR) story, “Digital Overload: Your Brain on Gadgets,” it was reported that the average person today consumes three times the information an average person consumed in 1960. They also cited a New York Times report that the average computer user checks websites 40 times a day and can switch programs 36 times an hour. We check our cellphones 150 times per day, and texting has become so dangerous that some states are starting to outlaw “texting while walking.” (I’m not kidding. Every day people walk into buildings, get hit by cars, fall into ditches and more just because they’re so mesmerized by their mobile device.)

As a result, the onslaught of messages, interruptions and distractions are making it more and more difficult for any of us to focus on a single step—that one big thing. But chances are, if you’re reading this, you have a dream. The question is: what are you doing to make it actually happen?

This isn’t about productivity, it’s about your life. What’s the one single step that will start you on the journey to making your dream happen? Whatever it is, it’s time to take it.

Make it small, make it ugly, make it rough—just take it.

For Further Study

Sign up for Phil Cooke’s newsletter at philcooke.com and check out his book, “One Big Thing: Discovering What You Were Born to Do.”

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