“The cycle of creative action begins with the concept we carry in our minds of what we wish to do. The next step is to outline on paper some plan of how to accomplish this. The final step is action in carrying out the plan.”—Harold Klemp The Language of Soul
What’s Holding You Back?
I have found that simplicity is in everything if we look for it. It is so easy to go overboard on the things we wish to accomplish. The trite expression “paralysis by analysis” comes to mind. We “overthink” what we want to accomplish and take more time thinking about doing something than doing it.
Some folks call this activity resisting change or just plain resistance. Where does this resistance come from? Much of the resistance we feel when we want to change something in our lives comes from us.
Our brains love routine. The neural pathways that are responsible for our habits, good and bad, are built out of repetition. The more you repeat something the more you reinforce the neural pathway that supports the action and so on.
I have found that just jumping in and taking one small step toward our goals works. Regardless of how minuscule the action is, just taking that step can be the one thing that gets us moving in a dramatic way. Take, for example, writing a book. A book is literally a collection of words oriented around a broad topic and organized into chapters, paragraphs, and sentences.
When I was at the peak of procrastination on starting my book, I glimpsed at the number of postings on my blog. This examination brought about an epiphany. This epiphany was simply this: “If I can write 200+ words per day on my blog, I can surely do the same thing with a book. Subsequently, I began the book and currently at a 10,000-word count. Is the book perfect? No. But it has the solid beginnings of a good rough draft that I’ll edit and edit and edit again until I get my words down in a way that satisfies me. Taking a big task and doing little pieces of work on this task each day is one way to begin to solidify the change in your life and move forward on a project that you may have been staring at for the longest time. We begin to form a neural pathway, we reinforce that neural pathway, and over time, that neural pathway becomes strong enough that our actions toward a project are internalized—they become automatic.
Taking the Time to Plan
Think about something you want to do. It can be anything. Maybe you want to clean out your closets or the garage, maybe you want to start an exercise routine, maybe you want to set up a budget, or start eating better. Regardless what the project is there are action steps you can take to get this thing moving along.
Think About It
Before creating an action plan it is important to think about what it is you want to do. Visualize in your mind what the end state is. Where do you want to be? What does the finished project look like? What must be satisfied before you can say you’ve completed it? Do you see the way that garage or basement will look when you’re done?
Write it Down
The next step is writing down all of the things that must be done to reach the end state you visualized. The best way to begin this type of work is to brainstorm or free write about the project. Just collect a whole list of things you need to do in order to get project A from start to end point. Some folks use mind mapping techniques to do this. Others simply write down as many ideas or steps they believe need to be accomplished to get the project done.
Once you have all of your ideas or action items to complete your project, you’ll need to organize these action steps. There will be obvious first actions, secondary actions, and still other actions that must be accomplished in some order that makes sense and will move you forward in a fluid manner. If you still have no idea where to start, you can work yourself backward from your visualized end state to the beginning of the project. I learned this “backward planning” technique while I served in the Army.
Backward planning is nothing more than looking at each of your items and placing them in a timeline that starts with the finished picture of where you’ll end up when you’re done with a project. That point that you know that you are completed and there is nothing left to do.
You could put your final step as “clean garage”. Then start organizing items on this timeline that work back from the clean garage to your initial step, which may be something like pull all items out of the garage. There may be other items on your list like give this away to charity, put aside for future garage sale, or throw this item away. You may even have tasks that involve getting some items from the local grocery store before you start. Maybe “buy garbage bags”, “buy a broom”, or “buy a leaf blower” are on your list.
Some tasks depend on other tasks to be completed before you can begin working on them. For example, you can’t clean the floor of the garage while your car, snow blower, or lawn mower are in the garage. Subsequently, these “dependent” tasks require that another task is completed prior to engaging them on your to-do list. Once you have all of your items on your list in the order they need to be accomplished you are ready for execution.
Scheduling the Time
Some projects you will tackle will be large enough to eat up a few days or months of work. These projects will have action items that will take a few minutes, while others may eat up an entire afternoon. Now it is time to decide where to start and how much time you have to accomplish the task. Since you may have only a limited time to dedicate toward a project, given your other responsibilities, you may need to break some of the items on your project list into even more discrete steps. If I only have an hour or two hours to get something done on this project, I’ll need to ensure that I only tackle action steps that allow me to get these things done in the allotted time.
Many of us will allot too much or too little time toward an action step. This is common. Plan for it. If you begin working through an action step, you may discover that you need another tool, or you need more time to get this thing done than originally planned. That’s ok. Look at your action items and either break that task down into smaller tasks or adjust your schedule to accommodate the work you know you’ll need to get it checked off your list.
If you keep knocking items off of your action list, you will finish the project at some point. When you finish the project, reward yourself for a job well-done. You did it! Now, you can begin work on your next project(s) using the same process above. These steps are listed out below for your convenience:
Well, I hope this helped some of you. Have a great Saturday everybody!
Until next time…