Six deceiving men
I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
In May's article, The Secret of Success, I discussed Albert E. N. Gray and his view that successful people have "formed the habit of doing things that failures don't like to do." If you have a tendency to pick the enjoyable tasks off your to-do list then how do you rationalise those choices? What excuses do you make to avoid doing what you don't want to do?
These excuses are simply examples of self-deception.
Here's a few of mine!
- I don't need to do that today
This might translate as, "It's not urgent", but might also indicate that there are other, more urgent or important things to be done first. If you really can potpone this task then postpone it (but see the comments below on progressing important, non-urgent work.) So when do you need to do it? Schedule it!
- The person I need to 'phone will probably be out
So let's just call to find out! If you really know something about their working patterns then you probably know when they're likely to be in. Alternatively, you're simply justifying your reluctance to call, in which case it will probably help to plan what you're going to say: to the person you want, to their PA or colleague who answers or to voicemail. Rehearse it a couple of times and then dial.
- I don't feel like doing that now
There is an argument for only doing certain things when you're in the right state. But that doesn't have to mean you just put them off until you feel like doing them. It's much better if you develop strategies for changing your state or for overcoming a negative one. To change state use the anchoring technique (Change Work September 2006) . To get past an internal barrier, make it easy for yourself, e.g. say, "I won't do the whole task now, I'll just spend 10 minutes planning it." More often than not, you'll get absorbed and suddenly realise it's almost done. (If this didn't work I wouldn't be writing this now!)
- It's not urgent, there's plenty of time
If you're motivated by urgency then you've probably got used to doing things at the last minute. This might work quite well for you. Remember though, the urgent things aren't always the important ones so develop a habit of doing a little bit towards your important goals every day - even though there's plenty of time.
- I've got lots of other things that need doing
For me, this is usually a sign of overwhelm. There's more to do than I can keep mental track of. We can only be consciously aware of about 7 things at once - everything else goes into the unconscious. So when I've got too many things "on my mind" I can't deal with them all. Problems keep slipping out of consciousness and then popping back in. This makes it impossible to focus on any one task. So nothing gets done. The simplest answer to this is to write a list, including everything you can think of, and then choose what to do first.
- It won't work so it's not worth starting
Wow! The classic self-limiting belief, or self-fulfilling prophecy if you prefer. I'm sure you're ahead of me on this but here's the antidote anyway. What will you get out of completing this successfully? Is it something you really want? If so, how can you find out what to do and then how to do it? (Hint: someone else has already done this before.)
I notice that some of Kipling's "serving men" crop up in these discussions and you might be able to see where all of them fit in. The excuses you make are probably unconscious, habitual ways of thinking that you don't even realise that you have. And questioning yourself is a key part of breaking those patterns that undermine you.
So when are you going to start?