by Susan McCarthy
Everyday practice: Identify one small action that will move you forward on a project - and do it now.
Have you ever hit the end of a week or a month (or a year) and wondered why you didn’t get done the things you said you were going to do? Then, you give a discouraged sigh and think, “I was so busy I could barely keep up with the day-to-day stuff let alone anything I dreamed of accomplishing.”
Were you busy or were you procrastinating? Is your busyness procrastination in disguise?
I’m a big fan of to-do lists … long, detailed to-do lists. I figure that if I’m crossing a lot of items off my list then I’m getting a lot of stuff done. Right? So, why, at the end of too many days, did I feel uptight about accomplishing nothing even when I’d crossed twenty tasks I’d wanted to get done off my list?
Like you, there are things I procrastinate about doing and things that just get done. So, why was “nothing” getting done?
When a few people mentioned Eat that Frog: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time by Brian Tracy, I popped this title onto my Amazon wish list (where I keep my list of books I want to read).
After a couple of months (no, I’m not joking), I looked to see if I could borrow a copy of the book from my local library.
Although the book is oriented to a business audience, the core information could be used for personal goals as well. While reading this, I kept saying to myself, “Oh, so this is why I always feel like I’m busy but getting nothing accomplished.”
Five Ways to Overcome Procrastination ... Now!
1 – Do the Most Important Task First
Why Eat that Frog? What do amphibians have to do with procrastination? Nothing. It’s a metaphor about tackling the least savory (but, probably, the most important) task on your to-do list first.
One of my problems is that I’ve created and followed the rule that I just need to get all the “small” tasks out of the way to clear mental and physical space for starting the bigger task. But, how often do I run out of time or motivation? Duh, that big task is the most important thing I should get done during the day and to do that, I need to do it first.
2 – Planning to Do Something Isn’t the Same as Doing the Thing
Like I said, I love to-do lists. I’ve created detailed plans – with lists and charts – about how I’m going to get my act together. And, then, I promptly ignore that plan I spent two hours creating. As Eat that Frog author, Brian Tracy says, “Many people confuse activity with accomplishment.” Planning isn’t the same as doing. Yes, you should plan, but then you need to act on the steps you’ve outlined. Oops.
3 – Figure Out the One Thing that “Would Have the Most Positive Impact on Your Life”
Make a list of ten things that you’d like to accomplish this year. Now, select the one that “would have the most positive impact on your life.” In other words, what would be the most valuable use of your time? If this goal doesn’t have a deadline, create an artificial one so you can keep the pressure on yourself.
Then, make sub-deadlines so you know that you’re staying on track.
I know, you’re thinking about the other things on your to-do list. Are you supposed to ignore them? Keep in mind that “there’s not enough time to do everything, but there is enough time to do the most important thing.” So, if you want to procrastinate on something, do so on less important activities.
But, what if you want to accomplish some of those other things on your list? Focusing on One Thing doesn’t mean that you’re not doing anything else. It just means that the One Thing gets priority over less important things.
If, for the first time, you want to host Thanksgiving dinner at your home, but you can’t see the dining table (and most other flat surfaces in your house), then decluttering your home is your One Thing.
Yes, you have to work and maintain your relationship with your family and friends, and, let’s not forget going to the gym. However, if the choice is between an evening of television or cleaning your pantry, you know which activity will get you to your goal.
Make sure you are “absolutely clear” about your goals and objectives. Use present tense, positive voice, first person singular (unless this is a goal your family is working on together) when creating your goal. So, “I’m hosting this year’s Thanksgiving dinner in my clean, organized home.”
3a – Still Wondering What Your Most Important Thing Is?
“…something that is important has long-term potential consequences. Something that is unimportant has few or no long-term potential consequences.” Ask yourself, “what are the potential consequences of doing or not doing this task?”
Keep asking this question until you find your most important thing out of all the things you want to (or feel you have to) do. Don’t assume you need to do a task just because you’ve done it in the past. You’re wasting time if it’s something that doesn’t need to be done … or be done by you.
If you feel that you're not working with purpose, The Organized Squirrel's Guide to Getting the Right Things Done can help you identify your intentional values and the tasks that are in alignment with what's important to your life.
4 – Put Your Plan on Paper
Make a list of everything that you think you’ll have to do to achieve your goal. Be specific. “Clean the garage” might be your goal, but it isn’t the steps you need to take to get it done.
Make a list of what you want to get done that month. At the beginning of the week, use the month-list to break down what you want to accomplish during the week. Each night, use the week-list to help you make a list of what you need to get done the next day.
Organize this day-list into a plan by priority and sequence. Use lines and arrows to show how tasks relate to one another. (All this list-making has me giddy. Remember, though, these lists are full of the actions you need to take to reach your goal … they aren’t for reminders to pick up the dry cleaning.)
5 – Act on Your Plan … Immediately, Not Tomorrow or Next Week.
Do something every day that moves you toward your most important goal. Spend more time working on the areas or projects that will make the most difference to your life and spend less time on activities that won’t.
I’ve gone into a room that I want to declutter and listed not only every piece of furniture but every shelf and surface that I need to work on. Yes, the list is crazy long sometimes, but instead of thinking of “the room” I’m focused on a shelf … which might be a ten- or twenty-minute task. So, instead of scrolling through Facebook first thing in the morning, I can clean a shelf or a drawer. I can skip a thirty-minute comedy in favor of working on two shelves.
So, decide what’s the most important thing is that you should be doing to reach your goal. Write that down and write down all the tasks you’ll need to do to get it done. Break that list down into manageable, daily tasks so that you’re always working on reaching your goal.
Ready? I’ll give Brian Tracy’s suggestions a try. There’s nothing earth-shattering about the advice, but, when I realize that I’ll work on little, unimportant tasks before what is most important, I know there’s advice here that I should follow.
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The Organized Squirrel, Susan, shows you how acorns (small habits) can grow into oak trees (a better life).