Real life can get messy. We might wake up in the morning with great ideas and maybe even plans of what we want to do. It can feel awesome. And then things happen: we wake up late, have to rush to school or work, forget something along the way, run out of time. Or maybe we do none of those things and just sit and ponder. The hardest part in real life is navigating the path from idea to action, and making progress from wanting to do things to actually doing them.
What can help you navigate that path better?
Sometimes it’s just taking that first step.
For example, you can start with any of these 7 ideas for making that first step a reality:
Idea #1. Wrap your mind around it.
Before you start doing anything, especially if it’s new, get your brain on board with what you’re about to do. It helps you get motivated to take action and become fully absorbed in what’s in front of you.
- Instead of approaching what you’re doing as a chore, turn it into a choice. Tell yourself, “This is something I really want to learn more about!” The benefit? It gives you a greater sense of control about what you’re doing.
- Remind yourself of the value of your efforts with this question: “Why am I doing this?” Make the connection with the initial reasons for working on something to begin with. It can be to learn a new skill, research a topic you’re interested in, study for an exam so you can graduate and start your career, explore a business opportunity, solve a particular problem, etc.
- Visualize what you’re about to do. This is a technique called building a mental model, where you imagine all the steps you’ll be taking. For example, if you are researching something new, visualize covering a certain amount of material (chapters of a book), taking notes on important concepts (manually or typing them up), and writing questions to follow up on later. By telling yourself a story of what you’re about to do, you map out the entire learning process in a way that’s easier for your brain to understand.
Idea #2. Tackle feelings of procrastination by replacing the words “I don’t feel like doing this” with “why not?”
We all feel like procrastinating at some point in our life (or every day!) because it doesn’t require a lot of effort to do so. In fact, it’s almost a default reaction to something challenging that’s in front of you.
- First, ask yourself if there is something else hiding behind procrastination. Maybe it is fear of not being able to do something successfully or not understanding why you’re doing it.
- When you feel like procrastinating, rather than immediately saying “I can’t”, ask yourself where the resistance is coming from. Be honest with yourself. Start with explaining, “I can’t because….” so you know the source of your resistance.
- Think of what you gain when you say “why not?” You win over fear and you start thinking beyond obstacles. There is something really powerful when you leave a little space open for possibilities, instead of shutting the door in your own face. It’s a subtle change in attitude that can have a tremendous impact in your life.
Idea #3. Create a laser focus to your day by asking yourself this question each morning: “What is the one thing I am committed to completing today?”
This technique trains your brain to focus on goals that are important to you right now, and it forces you to prioritize the goal you believe to be the most relevant in this moment.
- Put it in writing. Write it in big bold letters on a sheet of paper and hang it on your bedroom or bathroom wall.
- Read it out loud as you start your day, and come up with an answer on the spot.
- Follow up by taking action and by reminding yourself throughout the day about the commitment you made.
Idea #4. Make your work easier to do by preparing your workspace.
To boost focus while working on any task, it helps to declutter your workspace. Before you start your day, make sure you have everything ready.
- Gather all materials the night before so that you don’t waste any time in the morning looking for them. This applies to your books and notebooks, reference materials (bookmark them in your browser or write notes that you’ll have handy on your desk) and your daily plan (a checklist of tasks you need to complete for that day).
- Don’t forget refreshments. Bring with you or set aside a bottle of water, an energy snack such as a power bar, banana, peanut butter, or a fruit and nut .
Idea #5. Find out how your brain works.
If the very thought of working for hours leaves you feeling overwhelmed, consider different ways in which you can optimize your brain performance so you can work smarter not harder.
Try this simple technique. For one week, keep a log of all mental activities you perform in the morning, midday, afternoon and evening. You will noticeat a certain time of day. Then, adjust your schedule to accommodate the activities depending on what’s right for your brain and when. For example:
- Mornings can be great for doing deep work, i.e. work that requires a lot of your concentration. Some scientists call this the brain’s peak performance time, and it’s roughly 2-4 hours after we wake up. So, for example, if you wake up at 6, your peak times are between 8 and 10 a.m. Block this time off for your analytical brain to perform the most complex tasks that require a lot of focus.
- Early afternoons are great for collaborating. This covers the 12-4 p.m. time range, when you take a lunch break and the few hours after, when you are more likely to socialize. It’s a good time of day to schedule meetings, brainstorm ideas with others, and work together on group projects where you can provide feedback and get recommendations on your work.
- Evenings can be scheduled for strategic thinking. This is when the brain eases into a different tempo when it can be more creative. If you’re setting goals and strategizing where you want to be in 6 months with your personal development or career, this is when you can outline your next steps. It’s a great time for contemplating the big picture.
Idea #6. Turn it all off!
Sometimes it’s challenging to get anything done and focus on what’s in front of us because we have so many distractions in our busy lives. One example of a distraction is multitasking: you could be reading email and simultaneously checking your Instagram or Twitter feed. But when you turn off what’s distracting you, you have a better chance to actually do what’s important.
- Set your phone to Airplane mode when you need to focus without any disturbances, for example when you need to finish a project or homework by the next day.
- Set expectations with others by letting them know you won’t be available in the next few hours, so they don’t interrupt you with their requests, questions or comments.
- Check your email and social media apps only 2–3 times a day (for example, around lunchtime, later in the afternoon, and evening).
- Avoid browsing the Internet or reading the daily news; leave these activities for later after you’ve completed what you need to do.
Idea #7. Always have a personal goal to aspire to.
Regardless of whether you’re a student, working full-time, or taking time off to be a parent or start your own business, you should do whatever is possible to work on your personal development. If you don’t, it will eventually catch up with you and may leave you feeling unhappy or overwhelmed with day-to-day activities.
- First, think about the big picture. Ask yourself: Where do you want to be 1, 5, 10 years from now? Who do you want to become? What is a dream scenario for you: a life in a specific city, having a partner to share your life journey with, being surrounded by smart and interesting people who contribute to your personal growth, being fluent in another language? Get specific.
- Second, narrow it down. Set aside an hour or two this weekend to do the following:
- Write down your top 3 personal goals.
- Under each, write down 3 things you would need to do on a consistent basis to get you closer to each goal.
- Then, create a schedule for the week ahead so that you can devote blocks of time to making progress in the areas you’ve identified.
- When you’ve followed your schedule for a whole week, make an assessment of the progress you made. Did some activities take more time than you anticipated? What could you have done better? Then make adjustments for the following week to stay on track with your goal.