How to make starting easy or the Rule Of The Easy Next Step (ROTENS)

Whether we are studying while working full time, studying full time, working or learning a new skill: a high level motivation is needed to fit it all in. With a little bit of preparation we can dramatically increase the likelihood of success.

Make starting easy with ROTENS, the Rule Of The Easy Next Step


The Analysis

Most of the time starting is the hardest part. Once we are sitting there and actually doing something, seeing the progress and being absorbed by the new ideas it is much more easy. So wouldn´t it be cool to make starting easy? … but how?

Here´s how:
Imagine now is learning time and we look at our todo list….

Example 1

  • do exercise X
  • learn for assignement Y
  • learn for subject Z

Well, not that bad, or? Well, I would say actually pretty bad. Not very specific and the tasks are also to big.

Example 2

  • read assignement for exercise X
  • read chapter 3 in book D for assignement Y
  • do flashcard learning for subject Z for 25 minutes

And now? Maybe not perfect but still much better … but why?

Try to figure out what you need to do in example 1 … do you really know what to do? and more important: do you think you can do that very easily?

The Hypothesis

So here´s the idea:

If we have a list of very specific and easy next steps at hand the probability that we will start doing one of them is much higher than with a list of unspecific and big tasks.

The Preparation

Let´s assume we´re doing a weekly planning session – like in eduScrum – where we populate our task management tool like trello. In this planning session we create one trello card for every easy task we need to do. Ideally they fit in one pomodoro.

The rules for the cards are easy:

  • make the tasks as small as possible
  • every cards must passt the “easy” test

As small as possible

Be aware that sometimes this would produce to many cards that make no sense:
Let´s say chapter 3 is 100 pages which basically means that this will not fit in one pomodoro. In that case we don´t want to produce several cards for the same book … We dont want to end up with 200 cards because this will confuse us more than help. We create ONE card and use a checklist for the subchapters (ie copy and paste from content list).

The Easy Test

For every card we ask ourselves:

Could I start doing that easily even if I am tired and unmotivated?

If the answer is yes the card passes the test.
If the answer is not yes (no, maybe, it depends, …) refine the card until the answer is yes. Break it into smaller pieces, change the wording etc.

Example – Let´s go back to our 100 pages book chapter

Here the one card would still stand for the whole 100 pages but maybe the title of the card would read: read the introduction of chapter 3 … so we will always put the title of the next subchapter in the trello card title. Once we start reading the introduction we can then use a 30 minute hour glass and read until the time is up and we reached the end of some sub chapter. Before we start in our break we put on our todo list the next easy step: read subchapter 3.X

What if …
there are hard tasks remaining? Well, we try not to have such tasks in our list but sure sometimes a couple of frogs are left.

The frog strategy
If that happens we should make them visible: either we label them with frog or we create a frog list where we store them. Then we need a frog strategy like do them first in the morning or only touch them with a high energy level. We want to make sure that we only do them when the environment is such that we are likely to succeed.

The Conclusion

By focusing on starting tasks rather than completing them, you can avoid procrastination.

The basic idea is to break down all the tasks of the next iteration into small and easy tasks. This makes starting easy. When we leave our work we always note on our todo list the next easy step. This makes it very likely that we enjoy coming back to our work because …

  • we know exactly where we left
  • we know exactly what we need to do next
  • this next step is very easy and therefore encouraging

Happy Learning!


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This blog is a digital memory for me. I store nuggets of information, ideas and resources on these pages so that I can access and share them easily at any time, from everywhere. I always felt a strong passion for continuous improvement and that is why I am now super happy to be a professional Scrum Master. Scrum, Kanban, Agile Project Management, Coaching, Learning and Self Management are my passions and that is also what my blog is about ...

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