Do you ever write something on your to-do list that you already completed just so you can check it off?
I do it. It makes me feel productive.
Although there is tremendous value in having a solid system for organizing your tasks, sometimes we become slaves to the system and not the action it’s supposed to draw from us.
An appointment might cancel and suddenly we’re given a few hours of glimmering productive time, and what do we do with it?
…Research how to use Trello to organize your life (true story, I’m a sucker for productivity apps).
If this sounds like you, if you write to-do lists like it’s your job but they do nothing but remind you of the business of your life, then read on.
Because this post is intended to give you three ideas of how to start taking action towards your goals, and how to stop procrastinating (because let’s be honest, that’s why you’re making a list in the first place).
1. Break your goal down into repeatable daily tasks
If you want to write a book, write 500 words a day. If you want to become a photographer, take/edit/publish 5 photos a day. If you want to learn poetry, read 3 poems a day.
Get the idea?
Don’t overwhelm yourself wondering what steps you need to take to accomplish your goal. Instead, breakdown your goal into daily activities that you absolutely know you’ll have the time and energy for.
Create a log to check off each activity as you perform them daily. Try this for a month, 3 months, a whole year! The amount of cognitive processing energy you’ll save by habitually taking action makes this simple strategy worthwhile.
But, and this is an important side note, taking incremental action every day takes patience. A lot of it.
You will need to get used to the idea of delayed gratification. Depending on your goal, it might be months or even years before your see any significant results from your actions.
2. Be mindful of the margins in your day
We like to think we are busy. It’s a classic excuse. Once we believe we’re too busy we whip out our notebook, write out all the things we need to do, and then forget about them.
However, we have time, it’s just dispersed throughout the day:
Waiting for the bus. Eating lunch at your desk. Sitting on the…can.
Being mindful of these times allow us to take micro-actions toward our goals.
Going back to the writing example. If your daily goal is 500 words, aim to pound out 100 while drinking your morning coffee, 200 during your lunch break, 150 sitting on the…can, and 50 right before bed.
This method isn’t an optimal state of flow, however, it’s practical for the average person who doesn’t have 3–5 hour chunks of time.
3. Cut out distractions in your life (like TV)
I want to be self-employed by June. My wife wants to pass her pharmacy boards in May. The long, cold winter nights here in Pittsburgh make cuddling up on the couch to watch Netflix oh so tempting.
So we packed up our TV and put it in the basement.
Maybe it’s TV. Maybe it’s spending too much time at the bar. Maybe it’s Angry Birds on your phone (Do people still play that? I don’t play games so I have no idea if this is a relevant reference anymore.) Whatever your guilty pleasure might be, it’s time to take a good hard look at it, and cut it out.
If your goal brings you lasting happiness and your distraction brings you spurts of instant gratification, it’s time to make a change.
It has to be a quick and sudden change. My wife and I tried limiting our TV time to 1 hour a day, but one episode of Downton Abbey always led to three. So we pulled the plug and packed it away for good.
Without the black box calling us we are free to focus on things we know will bring real gratification in our lives.
Find the snake, cut off it’s head. Now you have a clear path forward.
Do you struggle to hit your goals? Don’t beat yourself up.
Give yourself the clarity and insight you need to achieve your biggest goals with my Goal-Getter’s Self-Audit Workbook.