Momentum is magic

A concept I’ve frequently found myself referring to lately is momentum.

In physics, momentum is a quantity that captures the tendency for a moving object to remain in motion. Once something gets moving, it takes energy to slow it down, and the forward motion often becomes the new default state.

This is a great metaphor for project work.

At the start of a new project, it’s easy to procrastinate or become distracted by snacks. A proven way to overcome this inertia is to get a few quick wins that point you in the desired direction. The quick wins snowball into a tangible sense of momentum that drives a team forward towards the broader goal.

What can momentum look like in practice?

  1. A new team forms around some big problem. Say, customers have been complaining about slow page loads or the company has decided to prioritize a hairy migration to a new technology. The eventual goal feels daunting, but the team prioritizes a handful of low-hanging fruit tasks that feel like stepping stones towards the Big Outcome. After only a few days on these tasks, the team has collectively built a mental model of the problem and a clear path forward emerges.
  2. In the realm of company-formation, the lean startup methodology is essentially a framework for generating momentum. By tightening the feedback loop between product development and customer feedback, a team is able to build confidence in a solution to a problem faced by some market.
  3. I know that blogging is supposed to be good for my career. But I’m only able to get over the hump of motivation to write a thoughtful longish-form post once or twice per year. The post you’re reading is an attempt to leverage momentum by writing shorter posts when inspiration strikes. Stay tuned for whether it works!


A project’s success is determined by the team’s ability to generate and sustain momentum. A good way to generate early momentum in a project is to prioritize quick wins and explorations that tighten the feedback loop.

Further reading

A few other good things out there on momentum and related concepts:

  1. The middle slump: the power of weekly project goals, by Leeor Engel
  2. Stepping Stones not Milestones, by James Cowling
  3. Become Like Water My Friend, by Taylor Pearson
  4. Venkatesh Rao’s book Tempo

Thanks to Alexa Rhoads and Kush Gupta for reading and providing feedback on drafts of this essay.