Category Archives: Following Through

Procrastinating? Make Your Decision Ahead of Time

In January’s newsletter, I briefly summarized the 10 Joy of Getting Things Done Tools that can help you succeed with your goals, such as New Year’s Resolutions. This month I will go into detail about Tool #4, Make Your Decision Ahead of Time.

When confronted with a decision between something easy and something difficult, we tend to go with the easier one in the moment, especially if the easier choice is also the one that we usually choose. If we’re at a restaurant, and we have to choose between our regular order, the double cheeseburger with bacon and the healthier alternative, broiled chicken with vegetables, it can take some serious willpower to go with the chicken and veggies.

Or think about your evening. You’re tired, the day has been long, and you usually flop down in front of the TV after dinner even though you know that there is a stack of paperwork on your desk that you really need to tackle, but the couch is beckoning…

However if you make your decision ahead of time as to what you are going to do, you significantly increase your chance of success. When you make your plan, choose what you are going to do, when you are going to do it, and how much you are going to do. When the time comes, the decision is already made. There are many ways to reinforce your decision to add to the probability of success. You can write it down on your calendar, just as if it were an appointment. Tell a friend or two what your plan is, and tell them that you’ll follow up with them. Visualize yourself doing it ahead of time, sort of a mental rehearsal. Plan a small reward for yourself when you follow through.

So say you want your evenings to be more productive, maybe you want to tackle that mound of paperwork after dinner. Decide in the morning that you are going to do some paperwork when you finish dinner. Imagine yourself actually getting up from the dinner table and going directly to your desk. Tell a friend about your plan, and tell him or her you are going to let him know that you did it. Decide that if you do 20 minutes of paperwork, you’ll allow yourself to relax in front of the TV afterwards, but if you don’t do it, no TV for the night.

I had a friend who lost over 100 pounds through Overeaters Anonymous. Every morning, she called her sponsor and told her sponsor what her eating plan was for the day. Every evening, she talked to her sponsor again, and reported what she had eaten. By planning ahead, and also knowing that she was going to be held accountable to her plan, she was able to stay on the straight and narrow. The combination of planning and accountability was the winning combination for her.


Avoiding a Task? Break It Down

In my January newsletter, I briefly summarized the 10 Joy of Getting Things Done Tools that can help you succeed with your goals, such as New Year’s Resolutions. This month I will go into detail about Tool #3: Break It Down.

Think of a task that you’ve been putting off just because the sheer enormity of it is daunting. There are lots of jobs that we’re afraid to start because the thought of them brings knots to our stomachs.  For many people, it’s cleaning out their office or a specific space in their house. The best way do deal with such a task is to break it down into a series of smaller tasks that aren’t so menacing.  By focusing on each small task, we can actually make progress without ending up feeling overwhelmed by the whole thing.

Good teachers do this for their students all the time when they assign long-term projects, such as research papers. They break  the assignments up into smaller goals, and assign a due-date for each.  You can do the same for your own large jobs.

If you are cleaning up a room or organizing a space, put all of the items that are out of place into boxes.  I personally prefer big clear plastic bins, but heavy cardboard ones will also work. Just go through the area, throwing everything that is not where it should be into the boxes. Don’t make any decisions about the stuff as you put it in the boxes, just get it in there quickly. (One exception: have a special box for items you know you will be needing soon.)

The area will suddenly look clean, and all of the clutter has been broken down into discrete units (the boxes).  Now you can clean out one box at a time in a space that is not overwhelming you with its messiness.  One caveat: when you use this method, be sure to have a plan for cleaning out those boxes!  Otherwise, they can become permanent storage, which is probably not what you had in mind.

You can also divide up a project by just working away at it for predetermined “chunks” of time – maybe an hour, maybe only 20 minutes if that’s all you can face doing at one sitting. Simply set your timer and dig in. Think only about what you are currently working on, not on the whole project. Try to do one time-chunk per day, or maybe two per weekend, or whatever schedule works for you. See the March, 2011 JoyofGTD Newsletter for more information about using a timer.

Almost any project can be broken down into manageable segments.  With a little thought, you can make a big, overwhelming project into a series of small, accomplish-able ones.

Even More Reasons We Avoid – Part 3 of 3

This is the final installment of a 3-part series about avoidance, a problem many people grapple with. The first two, Why Are You Avoiding? and More Reasons We Avoid may be viewed in separate blog posts.  Understanding our reasons for avoiding problems, decisions or tasks can often lead to facing them.  Here are some more things to think about as you work to understand your own procrastination.

We avoid cleaning up because we don’t know what to do with our stuff. I see this a lot with people who are trying to clean up. They have an item that sits out on a counter or table because they don’t know what to do with it. They don’t want to get rid of it, but they don’t know where to keep it. So, they put it back where it was, thinking, “I’ll figure out what to do with this another time.” It’s another case of deciding by not deciding. What you are actually deciding is, “This is where I’m going to store this item long-term,” because as long as you are avoiding dealing with it here and now, chances are very small that you’ll find a place to keep it further on down the line. So things typically find homes on floors, tables and counter tops, instead of having a home that is truly “away.” Consider creating a “drop dead date” for the decision. When the date comes, either find a real storage place for the item, or get rid of it.

We avoid cleaning out because we don’t have anyplace to put our stuff. What if you know where you’d like to keep an item, but that place is full to bursting? Sometimes this is a circular problem. You can’t put your clutter away because all of your storage place is so full that there is just no room to store it appropriately. And people get stuck cleaning out the storage space because they just don’t know how to approach it. Here’s an approach that many people find helpful. Pick just one small area of your house, maybe a closet, maybe a cabinet, maybe just one shelf. Get a couple of sturdy boxes. I particularly like the 66-quart latchbox that Sterilite makes because it’s strong, see-through, and stackable, but any kind of sturdy boxes will do, including good cardboard boxes.

Now throw everything on that shelf or closet or area into the boxes, so that you are starting with a fresh space. Go through the boxes one at a time — which is much easier because you’ve broken the task into manageable units. But be sure the boxes don’t become a graveyard for the stuff you’ve put in them! Decide on the maximum number of boxes you can — and will — deal with at one time. For some people, it works to fill just one box, clean it out, then fill it again. Others can fill 10 boxes, clean them out, and fill them again. Be realistic, decide on what number works for you.

If you find that dealing with your stuff is too painful on your own, coaching can help. Together we can figure out what is getting in the way of getting rid of that stuff. Is it your logistics? Are you overwhelmed? Do you not know where to start? We can work together to tackle your “stuff problem”, and find systems that help you get on top of your stuff.

Making a Change? Start Small!

How often have you tried to establish a new habit in your life, such as exercising or eating better, only to fail after a week or two? The problem comes from diving in hook, line and sinker at the very beginning. Adrenaline and enthusiasm can get you going, but when it peters out, so do you. The secret to incorporating a new habit into your life is starting small and building gradually.

Suppose you want to stop eating so many processed and sugary foods— instead you want to start eating more whole grains, fruits and vegetables. If you try to revamp your entire diet all at once, you’ll probably become completely overwhelmed very quickly. Instead, pick one meal, and pick one unhealthy item in that meal, and replace it with something better. Does breakfast consist of coffee and a doughnut? How about if you instead had coffee, a doughnut hole, and a piece of fruit? Once that’s established, pick one thing to replace a lunch, for example instead of drinking a 12 ounce can of soda, have a 6 ounce can and add a glass of water. The point is to cut down on one unhealthy item, replace it with something healthy, and continue doing that for a week or two before you move on to the next change.

When establishing a new habit, the more resistant you are to it, the smaller you should start. We know the importance of exercise, but many people have a really hard time making it a regular habit, often because they feel like they have to start out with an amount prescribed by the experts, say 30 minutes of walking. That’s a lot for a sedentary person to do at the beginning. But what if you started out doing just one minute a day? Does that seem overwhelming? What if you did that one minute a day, every weekday for a week, then added another minute the next week, and another the week after that? One minute a day that first week isn’t going to produce much benefit, but in a few months you’re up to 30 minutes, and your seeing real benefit! Of course you always want to check with your doctor before starting any new exercise routine.

By starting small and building up slowly, you can change your life in a way that sort of “sneaks up” on you and becomes permanent. Remember, that journey of 1000 miles starts with the first step, even if it is a very small one. Small steps mean success.  Successes, even small ones, increase confidence and the probability of succeeding in your goals.