Brian Gilham

Engineering leader, husband, and father

mise-en-place

Activation Energy

There’s a chemistry term I recently learned: activation energy. It’s the amount of energy required to start a chemical reaction – which is always higher than the amount needed to maintain the reaction. It’s like trying to push a giant boulder. You strain and grunt at first, struggling to push it even an inch. But once it starts rolling, it takes a fraction of that initial energy to keep it moving.

There’s a chemistry term I recently learned: activation energy. It’s the amount of energy required to start a chemical reaction – which is always higher than the amount needed to maintain the reaction. It’s like trying to push a giant boulder. You strain and grunt at first, struggling to push it even an inch. But once it starts rolling, it takes a fraction of that initial energy to keep it moving.

It’s a concept that applies to our work, too. There are times I sit down to write the Monday Mailer and, despite the brainstorming and outlining I’ve done, the words just won’t come. But I know if I start typing something, anything, it’ll get easier.

Here’re some of my ideas for lowering the activation energy required to do your work.

1. Set a timer

I’ve recently become a fan of the Pomodoro Technique. I sit down, set a timer for 25 minutes, and focus exclusively on writing until it goes off. I don’t worry about sentence structure or proper grammar, I just write. More often than not, it helps my brain warm up, and I write for an hour or more.

2. Do a little bit, every day

A small, focused task – done daily – beats sporadic effort every time. It’s hard to gather the energy to start something new; especially after an extended absence. If I write a little bit every day, it’s a lot easier to publish the newsletter each week. But if I wait until Sunday night, it feels like an impossible task. I recently started dedicating two hours to writing every morning, and it’s made a huge difference in my output.

3. Be prepared

There’s a term from the culinary world I love: mise en place. It means “putting in place.” It refers to the work you have to do before you start cooking – organizing your ingredients and tools. It’s the work before the work. We can steal this concept for our projects. At the end of the day, take the time to clean up your desk, cross items off your to-do list, and make a plan for the next day. You’ll thank yourself, tomorrow.

This stuff works for me, but I’m curious: what techniques do you have for gathering the energy to start something new? Reply to this email and let me know. I’ll try to share some of the ideas in next week’s email.

Until next time,

–Brian