“Verb-alyzing” Your Goals

July 17, 2014

One of my pet peeves is how many meetings, especially business meetings, are run.  The participants spend their time, energy, and creativity discussing items such as proposals or problems.  Many opinions and suggestions are given.  However, the summation does not include specific sets of actions to be carried out.  As a result, things are left “up in the air”, and no progress is made.

In an earlier post, I wrote about procrastination.  One of the suggestions in that post was writing an action plan.  In his book, “Getting Things Done” (GTD), author David Allen develops this idea in detail.  Allen begins by explaining that the parts of our brains connected with “planning” are smarter than those connected with “doing”.  In other words, “doing mode” wants straightforward, no-frills tasks.  Allen suggests that we can use this brain characteristic to our advantage in order to accomplish our goals. He proposes a methodology composed of “next actions”.

Basically, “next actions” are a series of steps, each beginning with a verb.  Allen teaches that the best “next actions” are like components, or building blocks.  Each is small, simple, and important.  Putting these components together create an item.  In our case, achievement of a goal.

Let’s look at an example.  A while ago, I enrolled in a course to help build my business.  I knew that there would be homework, and I organized time for it.  However, I kept procrastinating because I knew that each homework assignment had several steps.  I just couldn’t find the energy to handle all those parts.  I recalled the GTD strategy and applied it.

The first thing I did was to write down the name of my task – “Do Homework”.  Then, I began to list the sequence of “next actions” needed in order to get that homework done.  My first “next action” was “Download the homework onto the desktop”.  Yet, when I thought about it, that “next action” was not specific enough.  I crossed it out and wrote, “Log in to course. Find homework assignment for this week. Download it onto the desktop.”

When using this strategy, it may be helpful to think about ourselves as a type of mechanical being, a robot.  Obviously, we are not.  However, our “doing brains” (which we spoke about earlier) are most comfortable with actions that are rote, requiring little or no thought.  When the “doing brain” has to start thinking, analyzing, considering, it often begins complaining.  We want to lull it into specific actions, letting our “planning brains” mastermind the overall process.

Chances are you’ve got a task which is hanging around undone.  So, you have the perfect opportunity to give GTD a try.  I know that when I apply this methodology, I get things done.  I am sure you will, too.

Prescription for Procrastination

July 10, 2014

I have never met anyone who is completely free from procrastinating.  Even though I am extremely organized with an almost foolproof filing system (I even have a label-maker), I still find myself putting off certain tasks.  Not being a lazy person, it was difficult for me to understand why.

Then I came across Dr. Neil Fiore’s book, “The Now Habit”.  Before giving advice, Dr. Fiore very helpfully explains some of the reasons why people procrastinate.  They are:

  • the terror of being overwhelmed.
  • the fear of failure.
  • the fear of not finishing.

From personal experience, I would add two further reasons: the feeling of shyness and the avoidance of potential unpleasantness.

Here is my suggestion for a Plan of Action.

Step 1: Analyze the reason.

“I don’t feel like it” or “I don’t have time right now” may be reasons which are true for that moment but they are not the core reasons.  Begin by looking at which of the five core reasons above suit the situation.  If none do, take an honest look inside.  You will most likely find a deeper, more emotional reason for why you are putting off doing this task.

Step 2: Arm yourself.

Overcoming procrastination often feels like a battle.  So, here are some useful “weapons”.  Choose the tool(s) you feel will most likely overcome your core reason(s).

Put a new spin on it – We often try to motivate ourselves by using self-talk such as “I need to do this”.  What about, “I choose to do this”?  Instead of being passively subject to outside influences, we are now actively making a decision in our best interest.

Bait and switch – This unscrupulous business tactic is when customers are lured by the promise of a cheap item and then pressured to buy an expensive one.  Lure yourself with the assurance that you are not going to do the task BUT if you were going to, this is how you would go about it.  Think about the steps you would need to carry out.  Doesn’t it already look more do-able?

Let’s Pretend – This tool is similar to the one above.  The difference is that you actually imagine yourself doing the job.  In your mind’s eye, you see yourself moving from one step to another and completing your mission.  Often, when we imagine ourselves doing something, we are more able to actually do it.

Make a list – Again, another variation on the theme.  In this case, you write down the steps on a post-it-note and place your list wherever it is most often seen.  Now you’ve got a concrete plan for success – whenever you choose to carry it out.

On your mark, get set, go! – Turn your task into a personal challenge.  How long will it take you?

Take a quick dip – Taking “a dip in the pool” has the feeling of a quick “in and out”.  You can do the same with this assignment.  Set your timer for 5, 10, or 15 minutes.  When we know we don’t have to “stand something” for a long time, we can usually find the inner resources to do so.

Step 3: Do battle.

Using the weapon(s) of your choice, confront the troublesome situation.  In most cases, if you have analyzed well and chosen the right tools for you, the situation will reshape itself more positively.

With the aid of the above Action Plan, the number of times I find myself procrastinating has decreased dramatically.   Which ideas from this post will you try?

Tomatoes: Fresh Produce Or Refreshingly Productive?

July 3, 2014

Just as the humble “pomodoro” (Italian for “tomato”) gives zest to Italian cooking, so, too, it can enhance productivity.  In this case, however, instead of fresh produce, we are speaking about tomato-shaped kitchen timers and the periods of time they measure.

According to Wikipedia, the “Pomodoro Technique” was created by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s.  Cirillo’s idea was to have short periods of uninterrupted work or study followed by five minute breaks.  In order to know when the time was up (without the distraction of having to continually check a timepiece), he used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer.  Hence, the name.  Cirillo called each period of concentration a “pomodoro”, plural “pomodori”.  A person can get an idea of their productivity by keeping track of how many pomodori they complete within a given time period.

Basically, the Pomodoro Technique is composed of three, simple but extremely powerful steps.

Step 1: Choose a task.

Step 2: Eliminate as many distractions as you can.  For example, turn off notifications on your computer and your phone, close your door if possible (you may want to hang up a clock showing when you will next be available), and take care of any personal needs that can’t wait (such as having a drink or a bathroom break).

Step 3: Set your timer.  I usually set mine for 25 minutes.  Work until the timer rings.

I think the Pomodoro Technique is a great productivity tool.  In fact, it’s one of my favourites.  Here’s why:

  • It puts me in control of my workload priorities rather than just reacting to the ones which continually try to get my attention (such as emails). By consciously making the choice of which task I do when, I am able to accomplish more.
  •  I can use this technique as a tracking tool.  Keeping a spreadsheet of my pomodori means I have easy access to the dates and number of times I worked on each task.  This helps me to realize when a task is getting out of hand.  For example, we had to create a budget for a new ad campaign.  Time for this task was estimated at 5 pomodori.  Arriving at pomodoro #6 was a signal that the task was taking too long and needed to be wrapped up.
  • We tend to put off larger tasks because they look too daunting.  The Pomodoro Technique gives us a way to reshape such tasks into a series of manageable steps.  Focusing on just the step at hand makes the task feel “friendlier”.

The Pomodoro Technique website, says that this time management tool enables people to “work with time, not against it; eliminate burnout; manage distractions; and create a better life/work balance”.

Try it today.  Please let me know how you get on by posting a comment!

I move, therefore I think

June 26, 2014

What do you do when you get stuck in a “thinking rut” or have a deadline looming close ahead with the project far behind?  Even if we know we need a break, most people stay seated at their desks.  They feel they have to stick with it to get it done.  So, some gnaw the tips of the pencils and pens.  Others check their emails for the fifteenth time, answering trivial messages, just to feel like they’re making progress.  It’s all basically time wasting in the hope that when we return to the job at hand, things will have improved.

Interestingly, lots of research flies in the face of this methodology.  It appears that moving, yes, physically getting up and moving around, may be one of the best things to do in such circumstances.  When we take a moment to think this through, it begins to make sense.  After all, as Michelle L. Marigliano and Michele J. Russo stated in their paper, “Foster Preschoolers’ Critical Thinking and Problem Solving through Movement”, one of the techniques used to build critical thinking and problem solving in preschoolers is creative movement.

Movement causes several important positive effects.  For one, it increases blood flow to the brain, “waking it up” so we can think more effectively.  For another, it energizes our bodies, putting us in a better frame of mind for working.

The next time you feel some movement would help, why not try one of these easy-to-do options.

Chair Yoga

For those whose bosses frown on them leaving their cubicle or office too often, chair yoga is a great option.  You can find visual instructions on YouTube, or written information here.

Two for the Time of One

In his book, “Play”, Dr. Stuart Brown suggests taking a mood-improving walk.  If you take a walk to the water cooler for a refreshing drink, not only are you moving, but you are also hydrating.  Did you know that when the brain doesn’t have enough water it works less efficiently?  Were you aware that the majority of people don’t have enough water in their bodies?

Make Time to Smell the Roses

In his book, “Presentation Zen”, Garr Reynolds gives advice on how to improve creativity.  Applying his ideas here could look like the following: Get out of the building.  Focus on whatever nature is at hand in order to calm your mind and see the big picture.

It took me some effort to give myself permission to get up and move around.  Now that I have gotten into the habit, I find it easier to be creative, get work done and enjoy my day.  I encourage you to allow yourself the freedom to move during work time.


Use What You’ve Learned with Actionable Books

November 29, 2012

Are you one of those people who gets excited by the concept of a new book?  You buy the book, but don’t have time to read it, so it ends up on the shelf with all of those other great books.

Or, perhaps you’ve read an inspiring book, but there’s so much in there it’s hard to know how to apply it, or what to apply first.

Enter Actionable Books.   Actionable Books provides summaries of business books, with key tips on how to put the concepts into action. I’m a big fan of Actionable Books and a guest writer too.

Most recently, I summarized Breakthrough! 90 Strategies to Overcome Creative Block and Spark Your Imagination.   What I loved about this book is that though it’s written for so-called “creatives” the strategies can be applied to anyone who wants to overcome blocks when thinking creatively in their work.   Want to know more? Click on this link and read my summary!