Small Actions Get Shit Done

Photo by Minh Pham on Unsplash

I read a lot of self-help books. I’m always looking for that magic bullet–that one miracle solution that will end my procrastination, get me in shape, and set me on the road to lifelong success. So far, I haven’t found it. I did, however, find a book that gave me some concrete strategies I could use to get things done. In his book, Getting Things Done, David Allen provides a unique strategy for curing procrastination and increasing productivity. Unlike so many other books on goal-setting and productivity, Allen does not recommend creating a vision statement and outlining big picture goals. He asserts that you can’t focus on your overall vision for success until you clear out the tasks that clutter your mind.

He outlines a five-step system for streamlining workflow and prioritizing tasks. The system involves developing a system for capturing and monitoring big ideas and small tasks. His premise is that if you capture everything you need to do in your life in one place, your mind can quit worrying and focus on the moment, no matter what you are doing. He contends that his process will lead to greater peace of mind and increased creativity and productivity. The first step to implementing the process is to clean your work space and buy an in-box. He actually recommends buying two in-boxes, one for work and one for home. He is a strong believer in having a dedicated work area where you keep all items relating to your work. While implementing this process intrigues me and seems to provide an answer to my chronic procrastination, I was stymied by the first step. I have several sets of in-boxes, but I don’t really have a dedicated work area in the house.

My desk is the dining room table. I had a nice desk that I used for my old computer, but my son has taken it over for his own use. I have a small corner with my roll-top desk and a table that sits behind our couch. After procrastinating for several days, I finally took the first step and cleaned off the table. Following Allen’s advice, I handled all the papers that had piled up only once. If something needed to be filed, I filed it. If something needed to be shredded it, I gave it to my husband (a key piece of advice from Allen is to delegate whatever you can). And I recycled the rest. I ended up with a cleaner area where I could store my in-box and other items, such as my daily planner. The next step is to start capturing all the tasks, projects, and ideas I might want to pursue onto pieces of paper and then put them into my in-box. I then go through the in-box and decide which tasks have to be completed, which projects need to be developed, and ideas that could go on a “maybe later” list. The key to this process is the next step-identifying one small action for each task or project that can bring you closer to finishing it. While I have not been able to do a complete capture of everything I need to do, I jumped on this one piece of advice.

One project that has been plaguing me for months is my novel that I wrote for NaNoWriMo 2018. I’ve been trying to revise it, but have made little progress. It seems like a monumental task, but I thought about one small action that I could take to begin moving forward again. The first thing I need to do is sit down and read it. To read it, I need to print it. Thus, my first small action was born. I needed to print my novel. Once I identified that small action, my brain opened up. I thought about other small actions I could take to begin moving forward with my writing career. I can’t afford a book coach right now, but I’ve been reading a book that will help me coach myself. My next action was to read the next chapter. To do that, I had to sit down at the dining room table. Yesterday, for the first time in over a month, I sat down and renewed my writing routine. I carved out an hour to print my novel, read my writing book, Coach Yourself to Success, and work on a freewrite. Today, I carved out another hour and got my novel copied, read another chapter in Coach Yourself to Success, wrote another freewrite, and analyzed a chapter of a novel that is similar to mine. Tonight, I found another hour to write this blog post.

While Getting Things Done may not be a magic bullet, it does provide some key advice for increasing your productivity. It can help you prune the forest of your obligations of all the saplings that keep you from seeing the trees. Once the undergrowth is cleared away, you can make your way through the forest more easily and without losing your way-one step at a time.


Photo by Matt Briney on Unsplash

The self-help industry makes $9.9 billion a year to improve our self-image, increase our confidence, boost our physical fitness, and promote our mental health. A plethora of gurus stand ready to take our money and assure us that if we just think this certain way or live that way or eat this particular way, our lives will be perfect. We will be at peace with ourselves, become positive thinkers, and finally find our ideal weight.

I have to admit that I have contributed my fair share to that $9.9 billion figure. I have many negative qualities I would like to cure. I procrastinate. I’m a negative thinker. I’m overweight. My house is a mess. I own too much stuff. I worry about how my problems might influence my son. And, for each of these problems that plague me, there is a corresponding book: books that tell me how to tweak my to-do list so I can get more done; books that tell me how to eat or how not to eat; books that tell me it’s okay to be overweight as long as I’m healthy; books that will make me a more resilient person if I just rewrite my negative scripts.

Right now, I am reading a book that will help me transform into a warrior goddess. In ten easy lessons, I will learn to embrace my true self and become the woman I am meant to be. Through meditation and self-reflection, I will become a beautiful, compassionate, all-powerful, all-knowing being–a warrior goddess. And did I mention, for a small fee, I can meet the author of this book and walk on a hot bed of coals?

For $495, I can sit and meditate with complete strangers. I can attend a bonfire and walk on hot coals. I can do yoga (which I hate). I can learn to “commit to myself” and “align with life.” But first I have to “purify my vessel.” Yikes! That last one sounds uncomfortable! Maybe, that’s what the hot coals are for.

I saw a picture of a circle of women at this retreat. As I looked at the picture, I realized that while one or two of the women were smiling joyously, most of the women looked discomfited. With their arms around total strangers, their faces were turned away from the circle and they were not smiling. Another picture shows a group of women sitting on a pile of rocks, their arms reaching to the sky. They look like they are in rapture, but I kept wondering, how comfortable can they be sitting on that pile of rocks? There is even a picture of women walking across hot coals. Again, some of the women look transported, but most of them look afraid. Who wouldn’t be afraid? They are being peer-pressured into walking on hot coals.

Unfortunately, after all the self-help books I’ve bought (I haven’t read a lot of them I purchased because of that habit of procrastination I have!), I am still the same insecure, messy person. Recently, I have begun to make some changes in my life, but they don’t arise from a book, but from my own determination. I am starting to realize that change has to be internal rather than external. It has to be one step at a time. I have to make my changes on my own terms. And I don’t need to spend $9.95 for a book or $495 for a retreat to do it.

Maybe, that could be the title of my self-help book: Change on Your Own Terms Without Spending Any Money (except for the $9.95 you will pay for this book). I could market a companion workbook and a retreat. I could become a motivational speaker. I could travel the world, bringing my message of change to people everywhere. But where do I start?…..Hmmm….Maybe, there’s a book on that.