Sometimes, I just don’t wanna.
I don’t wanna do the work. I don’t wanna look at my Action/Next Steps list. I don’t wanna do my Weekly Review or my Daily Review. I don’t wanna call that person or email that company. I don’t wanna write a blog post. I just don’t wanna.
Today is one of those days. I have three major projects on the agenda this month, and I don’t want to work on any of them right now. I’m traveling all month, so I’m working on the road, in coffee shops, airports, airplanes, buses, family and friends’ houses, etc. Which is actually what I dreamed of doing – I am actually living the dream, with my mobile office and Skype sessions and work/play combinations. I am manifesting my ideal life. It’s pretty awesome.
Still, I don’t wanna. Moreover, I don’t really wanna do anything else. So I’m sitting in this sort of ennui where nothing is happening and I’m not sure why.
Fortunately, when I get in this place, I have a plan of action to help me get out of it. Granted, I may choose to sit in my limbo for a bit, basking in the I-don’t-wanna-ness – but inevitably, I get antsy and decide I need to find my way out of it. Here’s how I do it:
- I ask myself why I don’t wanna. Am I procrastinating because I don’t know what to do next? Then I need to determine my next step. What needs are in play here? Am I burned out? Tired? Hungry? Preoccupied with an unrelated issue? Then I probably need to address that need (work on something else for the day, take a nap, eat something, take half an hour to recharge by doing something enjoyable). If I’m not sure why, it’s okay; I can still move on to the next question. However, it’s easier to take my next step if I have some idea of my motivation.
- I ask myself if I need to do it right now. Is the project at hand something that can wait another day? If not, what about another hour? Sometimes taking a break from the project is actually helpful, and allows me to come back with fresh eyes; other times, it can be detrimental (like if I’m on a tight deadline). I tell the difference by weighing urgency vs. importance.
- I ask myself what I can do that will motivate me. If I need to do it now, even though I don’t wanna, can I put on some music to improve my mood? What if I take a walk first to get my blood flowing and serotonin levels up? Is there a short project (like, say, taking 15 minutes to write a blog post) I can do to kick my brain into gear?
If I follow these steps, I can almost always get myself out of the quagmire. I try to remember to be gentle with myself and be flexible, while keeping my priorities in sight.
A few weeks ago, one of my favorite bloggers, Michelle Nickolaisen at Let’s Radiate, wrote a post on To-Do lists — specifically, those you make for a single day. In it, she observed that if you move a to-do (what I call a Next Step) from one day to the next more than once, you obviously don’t want to do it and should probably take it off the list and move on. This is excellent advice, and probably a good gauge for most people. However, for those of us with executive dysfunctions, there’s another element at play: We get distracted. Often.
Thus, I have an amendment to Michelle’s rule for the ADD brain: if I have to move it more than twice (to account for Shiny Object Syndrome), I need to figure out why I’m not doing it before I throw it out. Chances are still good that I don’t want to; the question, again is why? Usually, it’s because either:
(a) it’s not that important,
(b) I’m procrastinating on it, and/or
(c) I haven’t broken it down to its Fundamental First Step and actually can’t execute it yet.
Once I identify what’s holding me back from the task, I can choose a Next Step for moving forward on it. Not important? Put it back on the Next Steps list, or even the Maybe Later list. Procrastinating? I either don’t know what to do, feel overwhelmed, or just don’t want to do it. If the task is unclear or overwhelming, chances are I’ve not broken it down far enough — in which case, I do a brainstorming exercise (as demonstrated in this post) to clarify.
If I don’t want to do it, I ask what about it I find so unpleasant. Is it tedious? Find a way to make it less so — put on some energetic music, make a game out of it (Beat the Clock is a good one for tedium), or set timer to take breaks from it (quick ones, though — a 5-minute walk or stretch break should be plenty unless it’s particularly intensive). Is it stressful? All of the above ideas can be translated to alleviate that, too (though calming music might be better in this case).
Thanks again to Michelle for getting my wheels turning on this! If you like what you see on Let’s Radiate, I highly recommend that you check out her Big Vision Workbook. I’ve been using it for over a week now, and am already seeing major improvements in my clarity and thus my productivity. It’s only $15, so unless you’re in particularly dire financial straits, there’s little reason not to give it a shot!
In honor of NaNoWriMo, and to hold myself to my commitment to post more regularly as soon as I move, I will be posting every day in the month of November. I am not, at this point, a novelist, so I’m adopting the idea behind National Novel-Writing Month to put some momentum on this blog.
Some days, the posts will be short (like this one) – a thought on an executive dysfunction, a question to probe deeper evaluation of your own challenges and strengths, etc. I anticipate this will be the case through Nov. 9, when, at long last, I arrive in Paris! (This has been the major project that I’ve prioritized over the blog for the past few weeks). Once I arrive and get settled, I will start hashing out those ideas and tips I’ve been cooking in the back of my multi-track mind during my sojourn (from writing – not from work, by any stretch!). In any event, this is my Next Step toward my goal of making this blog a full-time gig.
So with that, I ask you: On what goals will you follow through by doing one little thing a day?
In the realm of time management and productivity, I draw inspiration from several outside sources. In terms of developing a consistent system, I have adapted some of my recommendations from David Allen’s Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, an organization book geared toward business professionals that can be (mostly) translated to any and all areas of life. Although it is definitely written from the perspective of a highly privileged, upper-class, able-bodied, educated, heterosexual, white American male, this book is an anomaly among mainstream organizing approaches in that many of its tools can be used by people with ADD and other executive function disorders.
A keystone of David’s system – and my own, which incorporates tactics from other sources as well as my own special brain – is what he calls a Next Actions list and what I have dubbed a Next Steps list. This is not the same as a to-do list, which for most people includes everything from two-minute actions like “Call for a hair appointment” to gargantuan undertakings like “Achieve world peace.” A Next Steps list provides an easy reference for specific, actionable tasks – those which you can do, which will move you forward. David’s explanation of this concept provided me a lightbulb moment as far as what wasn’t working in my attempts at time management – especially why it seemed that I could rarely accomplish much of what was on my to-do list. In this aspect, people with and without AD/HD have a common problem: differentiating between “projects” and “actions.”
For example, one cannot, in one fell swoop, “Find a better job.” If that’s on your to-do list, chances are it’s been there for a while and frustrates you every time you see it. You cannot “do” that item because it is a multistep process. It is therefore pointless to put it on your list of actionable items. In this example, “Find a better job” is a project, not an action. In order to execute a project, you first have to break it down to its Fundamental First Step. The process of doing so is often, itself, the Fundamental First Step — breaking things down is an action. Its key question is “What has to happen first?” and it looks something like this:
Big Picture: Find a Better Job
What has to happen first?
- Interview for Jobs
- Update my resume
- Search for Available Jobs
What has to happen before any of these can be done?
→ Determine what kind of new job I want
- A. Stay in current field
- B. Do something else
From here, my next action will vary, depending on whether I choose A or B:
- (If A) Update my resume
- (If B) Brainstorm what “something else” entails (which breaks down into several other steps, but we will stop here for the purposes of this illustration)
And so forth. For me, drawing this out mind-mapping style is more effective than typing it out; I encourage you to experiment and find your own method. Please note:The point of this exercise is not to outline, in minute detail, every step in the process of reaching your goal (though it does provide a convenient overview of the stages you’ll go through). The point is to find the Next Step you need to take to move toward your goal.
So, key terms:
- Project or Goal: Any task that has more than one step (i.e., “Find a better job”)
- Action or Step: Any single-step, “do-able” task; always begins with a verb (i.e., “Call Bob for a reference,” “Review my resume”)
- Fundamental First Step: The action you must take toward a goal/project before any further actions can be taken. (i.e., in order to “Find a better job,” you must first determine what kind of job you want; once you’ve determined that, you can do things like update your resume, browse Craigslist for available positions, etc.).
- Next Step or Next Action: Literally, the immediate, next step toward your goal; what must be done before anything else can occur.
**The most important thing to understand about Next Steps – and everything we will talk about from here on out – is that they are self-perpetuating; in taking one, the step that comes after it will be revealed.**
For example, when you call Bob for a reference, he may tell you that he heard of an opening at this great new web organization, or say something that brings to mind a key point for your resume. Even if nothing more than the intended reference comes out of the phone call, you have already broken down your goal enough to easily extract a Next Action from your brainstorming; this becomes more intuitive as time goes on (and, as we translate this concept into a system, you’ll have a master list to refer to when you feel “stuck”).
This means that almost as soon as you reframe your approach to the traditional “to-do” list, all the hours you used to spend painstakingly outlining your step-by-step plan of action will be completely unnecessary – a thought both scary and liberating. Scary because you have to give up the (erroneous) idea that you can know and control exactly what will happen on the way to your goal; liberating because you will quickly find that you have a lot more time to devote to doing your goals rather than planning them.
Disclaimer: This does not mean that you will not be thinking ahead or that you will be acting with reckless abandon – quite the opposite, in fact. Planning and reviewing are key parts of the process of time management and goal-accomplishment – but ones that will take up very little of your time once your system is in place.
What is the Next Step you can take toward your current goal?
(Next post: An overview of the system.)