Do the Work Summary (Steven Pressfield)

The War of Art is probably one of my favourite books.

Steven Pressfield’s follow up picks up a similar thread of overcoming that invisible force he calls resistance, which prevents us from engaging in our most important work.

In order to conquer our fears, overcome procrastination and fulfil our deepest ambitions, we must learn how to get things done, especially those things which truly matter to us.

So if you want to learn how to do accomplish your most important work, this Do the Work summary is a good start.

Let’s dive in.

Allies and enemies

The book starts by covering the concept of resistance, which is useful if you haven’t already read The War of Art.

Certain factors move us towards our goals while others obstruct our path.

  • Allies – good music which helps you work out
  • Enemies – time-sucking TV shows

The keys to achieving any goal? Ambition and self-awareness.

However, these are always vulnerable to resistance, the perennial enemy.

Resistance manifests as the criticism and doubt you experience when engaged in any meaningful or passion-fuelled activity.

The more important an activity is to you and the more energy intensive it is, the more resistance is present.

Real-world example – Henry Fonda used to vomit before every performance, even when he was 75 years old and one of the most famous actors alive.

Passion and dedication are important allies, but so too are those traditionally perceived as negative, like:

  • Ignorance
  • Stubborness

Ignorance, arrogance and stubbornness help you forge ahead despite doubts, especially in difficult times.


The common barriers to achieving your goals:

  • Excessive preparation
  • Overthinking
  • Working without structure

Learning to resist these pitfalls is central to getting things done.

To overcome them, we need to bring self-awareness to our work, where we can learn to judge our thoughts and feelings objectively.

Self-doubt is simply a form of resistance and we must simply learn to ignore it.

In this way, work becomes a form of meditation.

When starting, it’s better to:

For example, as a writer, put words on the page and then evaluate afterwards.

Create productive schedules to separate these two activities.

A useful format to adopt is the three-act structure, where you divide your idea into the:

  • Beginning
  • Middle
  • End

When taking on a sizeable project, ask yourself some preliminary questions:

  • What’s the project about?
  • What’s the theme?
  • What’s missing?

Confront your enemies

Creative blocks are common and many of us lose confidence during these periods.

When faced with such an obstruction:

  • Remain calm
  • Remember that’s it’s always possible to overcome it
  • Realise that an enemy force is actively working against you and your dreams

This force isn’t an external entity, but rather is within you, so don’t cast blame outwards.

Just because the enemy is within you doesn’t mean that it is you. It’s simply a block on your creative self.

To overcome this force it’s essential to find love for your work and what you’ve already created.

When this resistance occurs, ask yourself two questions:

  • How badly to do want this? If you’re only in it for power, reward or prestige, it’s not enough. Rather, the only sufficient answer is ‘totally committed’.
  • Why do you want this? You can do something because it’s fun, but also because you ‘have no choice’.

Only this level of profound dedication allows you to succeed.

Finishing your work

At some point, you’ll face a big crash like your computer deleting your novel.

We can’t predict them, but we can overcome them.

A crash can be extremely rewarding, but also beneficial, forcing us to figure out what is and isn’t working with our project.

Real-world example – when Pressfield finished his book ‘The Profession’, his friends hated it, forcing him to revise and improve his work.

Crashes might also appear when:

  • You advance to a higher level in your work and creative pursuits – crossing each new threshold brings to courage to push further
  • The fear of success – which lies at the heart of resistance

Resistance is often strongest when we’re about the cross the finish line.

Michael Crichton, the award-winning author, pushed himself harder when he was nearing the end of a novel by getting up earlier and earlier and working around the clock.

The more we practice overcoming such struggles, the easier we’ll overcome them in the future, making us stronger and wiser.

Do the Work summary

  • We often stop just before we’re about to see success
  • Fear and doubt are passion and progress killers – focus on the inherent joy the work brings rather than relying on external rewards
  • Identify enemies and utilise allies in your work
  • Set a clear working structure, which separates action and reflection
  • Creative blocks and crashes should be expected. Ask yourself how much and why you want it. There should be a deep need to continue because ultimately, you have no choice
  • Overcoming these obstacles makes us stronger and wiser

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