3 steps to get something done

I have not posted in awhile and I am not going to tell you why (read: make excuses).

The fact is I’ve come up against a wall. It has many names: procrastination, laziness, perfection. I have tens of ideas I want to share here but have not posted a single one lately. My time manages to fill itself. No matter how many hours of activity I cut out, I still find my days full with no spare time for writing.

I’ve struggled to take action, and weeks have suddenly gone by.

No more!

I will write and publish today. It isn’t one of the many topics I’ve made a note to write about, or have begun and let simmer in the drafts folder. It’s about getting the work started and getting it finished. We can want to do something, have super strategies for getting it done, be all fired up and motivated. But there is no end result to present because we don’t start and/or we don’t finish.

So. How to get your task done in 3 easy steps.

I know, I’m so cheeky saying, “Just start.” But it’s as simple as that. Put your phone down, turn off youtube, stop mucking with housework, whatever. Get down to something productive.

  1. Start. Carve 5-15 minutes out of your schedule and dedicate them to this task. You’ve heard this before: You need to make time, otherwise your day will fill up with activity all on its own. Work for 15 minutes on your task. Doesn’t have to be perfect, doesn’t have to be presentable, just needs needs to be a start.
  2. Continue. Set aside another 15 minutes the same day or the next day and work on your task. Don’t wait longer than a week! It’s too easy to devalue what we really want to do if a lot of time goes by. Break down your big project and work on pieces of it as mini-projects.
  3. Finish. Unless you’re performing surgery, good enough is okay. Go ahead and hit publish, hang your painting on the wall, sing your song at the recital, run your clunky code, dance your awkward but happy dance. Celebrate the accomplishment! Practice makes better, so now go back to step 1 for the next project.

Getting work done

I am reading “The 4-Hour Workweek*” by Timothy Ferriss and I’m struck by a new way to work.

As a teenager I wasn’t allowed to go out on Saturdays until I had vacuumed the house. I lost many Saturdays, doing all I could to avoid doing the work. In college I stopped being lazy and started knuckling down and completing work. But (believe it or not) doing dishes sometimes seemed more interested than debugging code. In my office jobs since then I cut back procrastination even more. I tackled my to-do list; even if a task was boring or difficult I wasted no time mucking about. I was efficient and organised and I got work done.

Reading this book, I see there is an even better way to get work done. I was efficient but now I am concentrating on being effective. Efficiency meant I did work quickly without wasting time. Effectiveness cuts out unproductive work, or work that doesn’t bring high enough yields. So less work is done – but it is done and gives results. And setting extreme deadlines helps focus the work.

This is not about watching less TV to make more time. It’s about using the time differently when you’re already working, by dropping the activities that are making you busy instead of bringing you closer to your goals.

Instead of planning, writing to-do lists, “researching” on the web I get stuck in and start doing the work that will give me the biggest targeted results. This week I am experimenting with incredibly short deadlines (15-30 minutes) to get work done that clearly takes me closer to my goal. It feels good to have something concrete finished.

Here are my favourite tips that you can apply today, totally oversimplified. I do recommend reading the book for background, more details and plans.

Pick one and just try it.

  1. In every task you do, consider if it will sling you like a rocket towards your goals, or just nudge you. Drop the stuff that nudges.
  2. Apologise later rather than ask permission. If what you’re considering doing is fixable, give it a try.
  3. Set incredibly short time limits and force yourself to get it done. If you make it, great. If you finish early, fantastic! If you only get halfway there or take twice as long, you still got work done.

*Affiliate link

Live the lottery lifestyle

I’ve been daydreaming about winning the big lotto. What would I do with 30 million, 50 million, more? I even bought a ticket just in case. It didn’t win but it got me thinking about what I would do if I had won.

What is win the lottery lifestyle?

Living a win-the-lottery-lifestyle means living a similar life to what you would if you won the lottery. Obviously there will be some differences when it comes to money. You wouldn’t give up your job or buy a new 50 foot boat.

The key question becomes: what comes after the luxury cruise and diamond jewellery? After you finish your year long vacation and travel the world? After you do all the things money can buy, what would you do all day long?

The answer is something you cannot buy.

The answer ties into your life vision. What you would do after the money is something you can start now. If you want to become fluent in Portugese, you don’t need to move to Portugal. Borrow a CD from the library. Befriend your Portugese coworker. Take one evening a month to visit your local Portugese/English language group.

The projects I do now in my spare time I would not stop if I won the lottery. If I won millions my life would certainly change. But I am already enjoying my life without buying the lotto ticket.

Think long and hard about what you would do after the money stuff.

Then start doing it. Or a variation of it.

Wouldn’t it be something to win the jackpot and tell the reporters, “Oh, I’ve already been living such a great life, this is just a bonus.”

Good luck and share your thoughts below!

The best excuse

I have posted about priorities, motivation and common obstacles for getting started on a life of stylish minimalism. Today I want to address excuses. In short, there is no valid excuse. I believe excuses are a commonly accepted way to claim the desire to change but to not.

But why would someone make the claim? Why do we say, “I really should go swimming” or “I want to finish that photo project” and then follow up with excuses why we haven’t?

I think the answer is usually something along the lines of what other people think. What they expect. Who we think we should be. I have a real problem with living life like this — because it’s NOT LIVING your life. Decide who you want to be, and make no apologies for it. Nobody can argue what you want. And I’m not talking hedonism here. Working on the big picture priorities (your life vision) is not always fun. But turning down other peoples’ priorities is going to happen a lot.

If something is a priority, it’s important. When you know something is important – really important – you don’t make excuses. Instead of saying “I can’t” you ask “How could I get this done?” and start making changes to get yourself there.

If you “really should go swimming” but obstacles come up (and you’re making excuses) I urge you to check if this is really a priority if your life. Once you know it IS a priority, check out this post on how to get and keep yourself motivated.

If you still can’t get started, what’s stopping you?

So what’s the best excuse?

And if you scrolled down here without reading the above, I applaud you for trusting your judgement on what’s important and spending your time accordingly. Hooray!

The best excuse (even though I hate calling it that, it’s more of a reason) is: “That doesn’t fit with the vision I have for my life so I’ve decided against it.”

I’d like to close with an example from my own life. A few years back I started learning how to play the clarinet. I enjoyed it and made great progress in only half a year. When I devoted a lot of daily time elsewhere (4 hours daily commuting plus 3 hours a week studying) I didn’t have time to practice. Music is a priority to me, bringing me peace and joy. So I eliminated everything else less important but still couldn’t make enough time. I made the sad decision to stop playing clarinet. I hoped to take it up again once I moved and finished studying but then I had some children, and they take up even more of my time.

I was realistic enough to realise I will not have time to learn in the forseeable future so I sold the instrument. When someone asked me (taunted me?) if I was still playing, my answer was a guilt-free “No, I don’t have the time.” Without going into my reasons/excuses why I don’t have the time. It effectively ended that topic of conversation. I can’t tell you if the person asking was disappointed to miss out on the “yes, but”  game… but I can tell you I felt and still feel at peace.

If, for whatever reason, you aren’t doing something… that’s fine. Let it go. Don’t make excuses and don’t beat yourself up. I believe in hard work, building your life towards fulfilling your life vision. But if something does not fit into your plan, let it be.

Your true priorities

If you’re not doing it, you don’t want to (enough)

How many times do you hear “I really want to do X?” This gets said and thought all too often. If someone really wants to do something, they will find a way. Ideally, our priorities and actions are in alignment so anyone can look at what we do and see what’s important to us.

Let me start with the simplest step.

If you find yourself saying “I really should …” please take a moment to ask yourself if you actually want to. If not, STOP SAYING YOU SHOULD. Saying it only reminds you of something you will likely never do, dragging you down and making you feel bad about yourself. Toss that thought.

On the other hand, if you do want to do it and this is important to you, now is the time.

Where is the time?

It’s not always possible to find the time; you have to make an effort to get it. For example, I wanted to have an emergency plan and kit in place because my family’s safety and health are a high priority to me. So I stopped writing this blog to make the time. And when that project was complete it was difficult to come back to writing. But since posting here is important to me, I’m making the time instead of lazing around reading novels or surfing the web.

In real life.

The steps are simple in theory but we all know how hard it is to change. Start with one concrete action at a time. They’ll start adding up. Even a little effort brings you closer to your goals.

FIRST: Make a list of what you truly want.

There are no “maybe”s on this list. Daydream about the life you would like. What activities are you doing? Who’s there? If you lost your faculties (sight, limbs, hearing) which would be the most devastating? If you could do only two activities in your free time, what would they be?

NEXT: Stop doing what’s not on the list.

Don’t replace the activity with something else yet, just stop doing things that aren’t on your list. You’re not wasting your time any more than if you were spending it on something you don’t love doing. If you’re doing anything that’s unimportant to you, please stop wasting your precious life minutes on it.

Pick one thing right now that you can stop doing for the next seven days. Let go.

Here are some ideas: turn on the TV/computer 30 minutes later than usual; let go of the unfinished craft project that’s been sitting there half a year; uncommit yourself from the book club that you aren’t enjoying; cut out your gym time that you drag yourself to every other day.

FINALLY: Do what’s on the list. If you’re lucky, you’ve been doing it already, and have given yourself real free time by minimising your activities. I hope you’ll have free time. I hope you’ll have more money. I hope you’ll see life beginning to open up.

Update: Sometimes there are things we should do, for the benefit of ourselves or our loved ones. In this case, we do want to do it, but for the long term reasons instead of the activity itself. So the above still applies… we just need to suck it up and do it anyway. We can look for something positive about the experience and know we’re doing our best.