For starters, take these tips with a grain of salt. First, different approaches to productivity work for different people. Second, I have to be the world’s worst person at parking my butt and getting prep done. These are all things I have tried with varying degrees of success, but I am certainly not the world’s guru on getting things done (for that I would probably direct you to David Allen). For what they’re worth, here are a handful of tips for sitting down and starting prep. If you have experience with these and want to weigh in one way or the other or have your own tips or secrets, let everyone know below. I’ll be immensely grateful for another approach to try.
- Simplify, simplify simplify: don’t try to tackle a massively complex system for which a single encounter write-up takes a page or more. Don’t try to plan an epic level-spanning adventure path featuring dozens of NPCs, an original setting and 45 pages of world history. Start small with a five room dungeon or a similarly sized adventure with minimal required world building in a system that’s easy to wrap your brain around or that you’re already familiar with. This lets you make progress before your attention fades or the next shiny rears its head.
- Go low tech and low distraction: while there are all sorts of fancy tools for prep on computers these days, there are also a lot of distractions right there ready to pull you from prep. The internet, games, etc. Instead, find a quiet place with minimal noise, no TV and no internet. Prep in a notebook old-school style if you need to. This makes it a lot harder to take a “quick break” that ends up lasting for hours.
- Try a time management technique: several years back I wrote about the egg timer prep system. A similar technique that I’ve been told is all the rage these days is the pomodoro technique. It’s less important which specific technique you use and more important that you try one or a few out and see if they work for you. The point is, of course, that they structure your time and “obligate” you to work on a task, but keep the initial barrier low to make it easy to start.
- Try meditation: a simple meditation technique can help you with starting tasks and other willpower hurdles. In her book “The Willpower Instinct,” Dr. Kelly McGonigal notes that meditation is difficult, but it is the practice of reigning in your rogue thoughts as they interrupt your focus that is precisely the value of meditation. So the worse it feels like you are, the more practice you’re getting. Here are some simple steps, but there are more in-depth guides all over the internet:
- Set a timer for five minutes, or longer on later attempts.
- Sit still, don’t fidget. Try to experience but resist the urge to scratch itches or adjust your position.
- Close your eyes or stare at a single spot on a blank wall.
- Inhale and exhale deeply and slowly. Focus on the sensation of breathing.
- As your mind wanders (and it will) try to catch it and return it to focusing on breathing.
Now it’s your turn. How have you given yourself a jumpstart to get your prep moving? Let us know in the comments below.