Today’s tip is simple and practical -- so simple in fact that it is easy to dismiss. But if you build these practices into your routine, you will see some dramatic results.
1.) DO IT NOW
How many times each day do you think of something that you need to do - send an email, make a phone call, schedule a meeting, etc - but you don’t actually do it. Instead, you do one of two things. Either you try to remember it, or you add it to your To-Do List (a list that’s beginning to look like “War and Peace”).
By all means, DO NOT attempt to keep it in your head. That is a magnificent waste of your valuable creative energy. WRITE it down or speak it into a microrecorder. But absolutely, get it out of your head immediately. Carry a small pad and pencil with you at all times, just in case. The amount of freedom you will experience from doing this will surprise you.
Even more powerfully, do the activity when you think of it. If you simply wrote the email, made the phone call, scheduled the meeting, it would be done. Often, in less time than it would take to track it on your To-Do List. Sometimes that will not be possible or advisable. I am not suggesting sending an email as you drive down the highway. What I am suggesting is that you become more ruthless about taking action right away rather than putting it off.
The added benefit is that you have the most energy around the task when you think of it. When you add it to your To-Do List and come back to it, you won’t have the same energy around it anymore.
Want to experience another dramatic boost in productivity and creativity? Finish what you start. The amount of creative energy that you lose by having unfinished tasks is costing you more than you realize.
What about really big projects? How can I finish a huge project in one burst of activity? Of course, there are projects that will not be possible to finish in one hour, one day, one week, or even one month. The key is to break down the large project into small enough chunks -- chunks that you can finish in one work session. That is precisely how I wrote the first draft of my forthcoming book, “How Much Freedom Can You Stand?”
I made a commitment to write AND COMPLETE one chapter every weekday for two months. The two important pieces of that plan were:
- I made a COMMITMENT.
- I designed each work session so that I would have a COMPLETED project -- one chapter.
On a couple of occasions, I did not complete the chapter in one work session. And on those occasions, several things happened.
- I robbed myself of the sense of satisfaction and completion.
- My mind could not MOVE ON to the next piece of work because I left it in limbo with this incomplete work.
- I found it challenging to resume the work with the same level of creativity as I had in the original session.
If you are finding it challenging to complete projects, consider breaking them down, where possible, into smaller tasks that you WILL complete. Design your work session so that you have ample time to complete the work. Scheduling 10 minutes to write a chapter that you know will take 1-2 hours makes no sense. That is a recipe for frustration. If you only have 10 minutes, use it do an activity that you CAN complete in those 10 minutes.
The other thing to look at is your level of commitment. When something is not getting done, almost always your level of commitment isn’t really there. Hey, let’s face it. You cannot be committed to everything. Which leads us to:
3) DROP IT NOW
Be willing to get ruthless about what you decide to do and what you let go. Just because you have an idea or a thought does not mean you have to do something about it. Not everything that is interesting will fit into your life. Before you add it to the To-Do List, look at what you are committed to, and either do it now or drop it. Why let it linger and suck your energy?
When you use extreme discretion in deciding what goes on your To-Do List, you will reap tremendous gains in productivity, creativity, and time. The funny thing is you will forget about the things you drop almost immediately, indicating that they probably weren’t that important anyway.
The Flip Side
When you get lackadaisical about utilizing these principles, here’s what can happen.
Over a period of months, I got lazy about organizing and responding to action items from email. In other words, I violated every principle that I just shared with you.
I did not:
- Just do it now. Instead, I let it pile up.
- Finish tasks. I procrastinated by writing an email to myself with the work to be done instead of just completing the work.
- Get ruthless and drop/delete emails that I knew I was not going to use.
It wasn’t long before I had over 370 emails sitting in a folder. This did not have to happen. I created it.
Finally, I decided that something had to be done. I devised a plan using the principles outlined here.
- I committed to clearing the emails in one month or less.
- I committed to start RIGHT NOW.
- I committed to clear a minimum of 10 emails each day. (A task I knew I could complete.)
- I committed to deleting any email that was not relevant to something I was committed to in my life RIGHT NOW.
Couldn’t I have just knocked out the entire project in one evening or weekend? Of course, but I noticed that when I considered the project from that perspective, it felt overwhelming. When I designed it in small, doable chunks, I felt energized and excited. I took that as a sign that I was on the right track.
If you employ these practices, they will work with everything in your life - at work, in business, at home. As the Italian author and poet, Dante Alighieri said,
“The secret of getting things done is to act.”