Take a look at your To Do list right now.
Chances are there are items on there which, despite you being perfectly smart and capable, simply aren’t budging.
And you’re maybe aware of the internal voice, sneering “Why aren’t you getting these done?!?” You’ll recognise it: it judges you, beats you up and speaks only in rhetorical questions. (Out of interest, its other favourites are: “Who do you think you are?!” and “Why would anyone ever pay you to do that?!”)
My favourite trick to disarm a rhetorical question is to repeat it, but with a calm, curious, compassionate tone, so that it’s an actual question. You know, with an actual answer.
So, why aren’t you really getting things done? Here are 8 common aspects to check for. Isolate the task, find the real reason and leave the sneering voice behind.
1. Does this involve a transition into The Zone?
Some tasks are substantial and require your highest level, focussed thinking. For me, this includes items like preparing a talk or developing a course module. I love this In The Zone work – it’s all-absorbing and satisfying, but like many of us, I don’t live In The Zone all the time, so it requires some kind of transition.
Think about plunging into the sea. It can be gorgeous when you’re in, but that moment when you have to switch from “nice and dry and warm on the outside” to “submerged in the water, possibly slightly cold at first” often requires encouraging self-talk.
Solution: Do the task first thing, so you’re not making a transition from zoned-out email time. Or consciously acknowledge it’s a transition and brace yourself for that sharp shock, knowing it’s going to feel so good when you’re In The Zone. For me, this might involve clapping my hands and saying, quite loudly, “Come oooon!” (yes, as if I were cheering on a football team).
2. Do I need more information? Am I waiting for something?
Sometimes, your procrastination is smart. I was recently invited to speak; the opportunity sounded great but getting back to the host with a “yes” was stuck on my To Do list. I realised I hadn’t asked a crucial question: “How many people will be attending?” to check the event was worth my travel time.
Solution: Stay in information-gathering mode. Ask the question, then move the task from your To Do list to your Waiting For list.
3. Does it feel big? Am I scared of the answer/outcome?
“Write guest blog for ____” looks straightforward enough. I can write a great blog in less than an hour, so it wasn’t a task outside my skill zone, but on this occasion, I was pitching to an online forum I considered big.
Solution: Make the task feel smaller. To start with, this task felt 9 out of 10-sized. To take the significance away, I asked myself: will it be the end of the world if they say no? This brought the task down to 7/10. Then, make yourself feel bigger. I finally got the confidence to write after receiving some awesome feedback from a client which pumped me up to a 9 or 10 out of 10, so I felt bigger relative to the task at hand.
4. Am I not convinced it’ll work?
When advertising for the new member of my team, I had a stubborn “Post advert on local GumTree” on my To Do list. I looked at it every day for weeks… and didn’t do it. Then, I chatted with Daniel (our tech genius) and we remembered how I’d posted on GumTree when recruiting for his role and that route hadn’t brought any suitable applicants.
Solution: If you realise it’s not actually a useful task, and your procrastination is trying to save you time, give yourself permission to delete the task from your list.
5. Have I not thought it through?
Sometimes, the action is premature. I had the simple task of replying to an event host (again, about a speaking opportunity) but realised I was procrastinating because I needed to make strategic decisions first – What topic to offer? What to charge? What length of session?
I needed to get out of my inbox and talk these things through, so I grabbed my partner, who’s amazing at asking the tough bottom-line questions and thinking creatively.
Solution: Brainstorm on paper, go for a walk, or recruit a friend, partner or colleague as a sounding board. Book a Clarity Session. You might also find a clear desk supports a clearer head.
6. Is it boring?
Some tasks just aren’t all that sexy. For example, I received remittance advice from a talk I’d given. There was nothing complicated about what I had to do: log in to online banking, check the money had come through, log the number in my accounts. Simple but dull, non-urgent but had to be done, and I wasn’t doing it.
Solution: Acknowledge that it’s boring. Batch admin tasks together; call it your Admin Hour and play funky music. Or hire someone else to do the tasks that don’t require your expertise.
7. Is this an elephant?
“How do you eat an elephant?”
“One bite at a time.”
Often, it’s not a task that’s staring back from our To Do list – it’s a massive project. On my list, it said “Refresh sales page for Blog For Clients masterclass”. But that’s not “doable”; it’s a project with multiple steps.
Solution: Identify the first tangible, actionable step. In my case, it was: “Print current Blog for Clients sales page”. From there, I could take the next step, and then the next. Break your project down into bite-sized tasks.
8. Am I ashamed about some element?
“Get book-keeping ready” was my stubborn task. I realised I was embarrassed that I hadn’t separated my cash and card receipts like my accountant had asked me to.
Solution: Face the shame, be compassionate with yourself, and take pleasure in getting back into integrity.
Over to you
If your To Do list isn’t getting done, there is a reason. (Often multiple reasons – did you say yes to several aspects per item?)
So, isolate each task, ask these questions, and then apply the solutions so you can move forward with great satisfaction.
Which question did you say yes to the most? What other questions can you share with us, that help you fly through your actions? Leave a comment below, let us know.
Is blogging on your list?
If “start blogging” or “write blog” or “come up with blog ideas” is one of your stubborn To Do list items, identify the reason (or reasons!) and then click here for the Blog for Clients masterclass (opening for enrollment soon so do get front of the queue).
P.S. PASS IT ON
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© Corrina Gordon-Barnes 2013