Have you heard the expression, “What you resist persists”? I find it useful to think of when I get stuck on a project. The meaning psychologically is that if you resist acknowledging and handling a problem, it tends to stick around or even get worse. Same with work and home projects; procrastination usually makes the project more complicated and stressful than it needs to be.
When you find yourself resistant to working on a project it’s often because the very next action needed to be taken to move the project toward completion has not been specifically identified. Training on how to uncover what the very next action should be was one of the most valuable tools I learned when I did trainings with David Allen and members of his team. It is one of the key factors in the success of Allen’s “Getting Things Done” (GTD) methodology for productivity.
A lot of times the next action to move a project forward is to make a phone call. But is that really the most specific and immediate next action? If you feel resistance toward taking that action, it may not be. You may need to make another call first to get necessary information including the phone number you need. You may need to write out and practice what you are going to say to the person on the phone, for example, if it is a delicate business or relationship issue. You may need to gather pertinent papers before you sit down to discuss something, like a major purchase or a legal matter.
Resistance to accomplishing something on your “to do” list is often overcome simply by getting super clear on the next action. The “to do” list, Allen coaches, should not be a project list. You can’t “do” a project, he counsels, you can only do the very next action to edge it toward completion.
Work backwards from your vision of what a successfully completed project would look like. List all the various components that would make it successful, from the people that would need to be involved to what you would be wearing when you give the presentation or whatever the end goal would be. Now you can start to tease out the next actions.
If there is someone you need to get involved to help you, what are the steps you need to take to make that happen? If you need to secure a venue, what sort of research would you need to do to find the appropriate space for your event? If you need to write an essay, what sort of support materials would you need to gather or read and what sort of brainstorming might you do?
A mind map is a very useful tool to creatively identify all the components and next actions a project might require. On a blank sheet of paper, put the name of the project in the middle as if it were a sun and start to list all the components (mini projects) around it like orbiting planets. Each component would have its own orbiting moons, which are the next actions.
Chunking out a project visually like this can be fun and makes it much less intimidating than a linear list. If you’re really feeling feisty and artistic, draw little visuals for each component and use colored pencils.
This mapping method of planning is especially helpful if you are organizing a talk or presentation that you have to give to a group. The colors and images will aid your memory much better than words alone and you can map your talk as if it were a project, only instead of a solar system-looking model you would have a start and end point, more like a picture you would draw when giving someone directions to your house. What are the points along the way you want to hit? What are some of the identifying features you want to be sure to get across? What is the mood you want to establish? Is there a song that could inspire you or a movie or character or book that gives you inspiration? Write it all down and use it to fuel the success of the presentation.
Most work and home projects will have to be completed somehow, someway, so try giving up resistance, aka procrastination, and get clear on your vision for a successful outcome. Then start identifying next actions. The smallest, nearly effortless actions you take, when bundled together, are responsible for some of the most satisfying accomplishments. Don’t resist. It’s futile anyway. Persist and complete big projects one tiny action at a time.