The only way out is through

You may be familiar with the story of Hernán Cortés and his arrival in Veracruz. In order to prevent his crew from turning back from battle out of fear, he ordered them to burn their ships. That way, there was no return—the only way out was through. No going back!

There are a least a couple of problems with the story:

1. Cortés was a colonial conquerer on his way to… conquer. He was an imperialist, much like Columbus in the Americas, the British in India, or the Belgians in the Congo.

2. The ships weren’t actually burned, they were scuttled—in other words, sunk.

Nevertheless! It’s a good story and I like the analogy of “no turning back.”

I’m often reminded of this story when I’m struggling to finish something. In the days before Frequent Flyer Miles allowed us to travel at will, deliberately sinking your only form of transport back to Europe was hardcore… but it definitely got the job done.

I’ve been dealing with a lot of things happening at once. I’ve got a book to write, a few thousand awesome people coming to town in 11 days, and a complete revamp of my whole business to plan. Yet at the moment at least, everything is on track.

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If you struggle with procrastination, find a way to burn (or scuttle) the ships! Here are a few ways you can do it.

  1. Blog post. When I’m having a hard time completing a blog post, I simply adjust the publication settings from “Draft” to “Schedule.” I usually give myself 20 minutes or so to keep working on it, and I don’t allow myself to change the publishing time. One way or another, the post has to be ready to go!
  2. Register for a race. If you need help running or completing any other form of exercise, sign up for a future race. Put the date in your calendar and tell everyone you know that you’re going to do it. No backing out!
  3. Non-refundable purchases. I knew someone who purchased a First Class, non-refundable ticket to Japan before a big product launch. He knew he’d have to launch the product in time, or pay a big penalty.
  4. Eliminate distractions. Elon Musk said, “We spend too much time on small ideas.” I’ve been thinking of that while trying to work on the bigger projects. When I can give myself several hours a day on the big goals, I make much more progress than when I find myself preoccupied with small ideas.

Anything with a fixed deadline is good. Carrots are good, but so are sticks. When the only way out is through, don’t give yourself a way out. Full speed ahead!

 


A version of this article originally appeared on Chris Guillebeau’s website