Make Change a Commitment

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 #5, Make it a Commitment.

What is a commitment?  It’s something that you plan 100% to follow through on, that you’ll do despite adversity and hard times.  You make a commitment when you sign that mortgage agreement or when you have a child.  During your wedding vows, you say “I will,” not “I’ll try.”

Abraham Lincoln said it best: “Commitment is what transforms a promise into reality. It is the words that speak boldly of your intentions. And the actions which speak louder than the words.  It is making the time when there is none. Coming through time after time after time, year after year after year.  Commitment is the stuff character is made of; the power to change the face of things.  It is the daily triumph of integrity over skepticism.”

When you want to make it a change, it takes a commitment.  It’s something that you’ll do even when the going gets tough.  If everything doesn’t go as planned, you’ll stop, take stock, regroup, and forge ahead.  If you know ahead that things might go awry, you create a contingency plan.  But if you’ve really made a commitment, you’re going to find a way to follow through.

Having supportive friends, and telling them your plan can really help you keep your commitment.  Traditionally, the reason that weddings are attended by friends and family is so that they can both witness the commitment the couple is making, and support them when the going gets rough, as it inevitably does even in the best of marriages.

Similarly when you make a commitment to change, have it witnessed by a group or by at least one supportive person.  When the going gets rough, that person or group can help you see it through.  Create or join a support group, or hire a professional like a personal trainer or a life coach.

One thing to remember, when you make your commitment, make it specific.  Make it realistic, and decide exactly what you are going to do, how much you are going to do, when you are going to do it, and how your support people will know.  Specific, measurable commitments are the most effective.  And you don’t have to start with something big; it is far better to commit to something, no matter how small, that you know you will absolutely do.  Better to commit to walking for 5 minutes and actually doing it than committing to walking for 5 miles and never getting out the door.

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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.