Dr. Tom here! Gotta Minute? Want To Get Things Done?

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Want to Get Things Done? You Might Try Getting them Started!

Professionally, I am often asked about how to improve performance.  It seems that more people are interested in improving at this “special” time: the beginning of a New Year.  The mere fact that you are reading this article suggests some level of dissatisfaction with your own situation!  You probably believe that you are capable of being more…much more.  (Don’t you also feel a certain sense of urgency?) Basically, people want to know the “secret” of how to make changes. They want to change (hopefully for the better), but haven’t reached the point of doing something about it.  A good first step is to clearly identify the things to start changing!  Now, this might appear to be stating the obvious, but the process itself often overwhelms. 

Many people have a vague sense of something “not being right”, but they haven’t taken the necessary time to identify the specific things to change.  Because of this, they have no logical plan of action.  They have no history to guide them and provide familiar “frames of reference”.  For others, there’s just too much information to deal with.  They may have more experience, but the outcomes were disappointing.  Much of the information available seems complicated or contradictory. People are reluctant to commit precious time and energy to a questionable course of action.  Either way, “paralysis through analysis” usually takes over, and nothing much happens.  So, it’s back to eating “Cheesy-Poofs” while another dream gets put back on the shelf (or falls prey to the next Infomercial…!)

There are differences between initiation (starting something) and maintenance (keeping it going).   I regularly challenge my students with this question:  “What do you think is more difficult: starting something or keeping it going?”  After considerable debate, it usually comes down to “keeping it going” as being the more difficult.   Typically, we all get a lot of things started, but how many are taken through to completion?   Far fewer than were started…

As stated earlier, getting things started is, really, pretty simple: Just Begin!  (Don’t you love the Nike slogan: “Just Do It”… Tough to argue with…!)  Although I said that starting is “simple”, it is not easy!  (Pay attention to the words!)  Conflicting thoughts and emotions are working in the mix. 

Some are pulling to the positive, some are pushing to the negative, but all are in play.  Thoughts and emotions (anger, fear, guilt, worry, frustration, anxiety, etc.) alternately encourage or discourage your decision to begin.  This happens when you are deciding whether or not to change. Regardless of the perils of the decision, getting started is much easier than keeping it going (maintenance).  You only need to do something once to have triumphantly “started”. 

Think of how many times you have vowed to get “into shape”, or diet, or stop a bad habit… You argue with yourself back-and-forth, again and again.  Maybe you win, maybe you lose, but the argument happens.  When attempting to “get started”, you have the internal argument only once.  Compare the difficulty deciding to start with the difficulty maintaining. If you attempt to “keep going”, you will have the very same argument within yourself every single time… Measure your resolve in terms of how long the new behavior continued (weeks, days…hours?).   Regardless of the number of times you stop, you can always nobly “start” again (cuz’ this time, you mean it!).  Maintenance requires gathering the resources necessary to repeat your action again and again and again…

Are there any tools to help “get started”?  You bet!   

1. One of the most effective tools for successful change is to write things down.  Don’t rely upon your memory.  Casual musings and daydreaming don’t typically lead to any desirable results.  Take out a legal pad, grab a pencil, and write them down for review. This keeps things organized and available for future review.  Don’t self-edit.  If you think of something (anything), write it down (it probably has meaning).  Writing has another, more subliminal benefit.  It provides a sense of progress and accomplishment.  It gives a sense of actually doing something concrete and constructive to address your situation.  Beyond that, it helps make that “vague sense” far less vague!

2. Another tool to prepare yourself for change is to spend some quality time identifying what you want to change. (Remember that “vague sense of something not being right”?)  Many people get bogged down at this step because it does take time.  It also requires that you be brutally honest with yourself.  At this point, ego will tend to minimize or gloss over important considerations.  Do the things that you want to change include behaviors, physical characteristics, thoughts, feelings, habits, or something else?  Again, resist the temptation to self-edit.  Write them all down.  This will lead to the next step…

3. After you have identified the specific things you would like to change, you can take it to the next level by looking at the reasons why these changes need to be made. Notice that I said “reasons”?  I have found that most people get side-tracked during this step by trying to identify “THE reason”.  The pursuit of “THE reason” usually leads to self-editing.  You may be discarding some very real reasons while chasing the ultimate, the “key” to all your problems.  Instead, seek as many reasons as you can.  They will make more sense when you go to the next step…

4. Now that you have spent (invested) quality time, identified what you would like to change, and the reasons why, it is time to organize.  Study what you’ve written.  Look for any patterns or themes.  Group any like-themed “what & whys” together. Then, organize them in order of importance (yeah, I know, more work!). Put the most important reasons first, and rank them down from there. 

Do you now see any patterns being revealed? This will help you to develop a meaningful plan of action. It will also provide thoughtful answers should you question “Why am I doing this?” in the future.

5. If the above four steps do not give enough structure, another technique involves provides a further breakdown of the obstacles to your changing.  Instead of one “Master List”, make four smaller lists. 

  a. First, make a list of “things I am good at”.  Don’t be shy, you know yourself (if you are honest).  List the things you have a talent for, and are good at. 

  b. Second, make a separate list of “things I am not good at”.  (Again, be honest for this exercise to be useful…). 

  c. Third, make a separate list of “things that I enjoy doing”.  List them whether you are good at them or not.

  d. Make a fourth and final list of “things that I do not enjoy doing”. These lists may include some things on the first two lists, but do not concern yourself.  Spend quality time, be brutally honest, and don’t self-edit.

  e. Go back to #4 (above) and follow the same directions for each list.  Then, compare all the lists, and look for any patterns that are revealed…

These suggestions offer an excellent framework to analyze and prepare for any changes.  Beyond all the analysis, the single most important step in the process is to write things down.  This will prevent your thoughts from being lost while you are “busy doing other things” (as John Lennon once said).  It will also help minimize repeatedly going over the same-old thoughts & feeling without coming to any conclusions.  You can simply pick up where you left off without getting caught in an endless feedback-loop. We will take another look at writing things down in a future article about keeping a regular Journal.  Until then, this will give you some practice writing and investing in quality time…