A conversation with a client the other day got me thinking...
Often (especially in a business environment) we strive for perfection when we set out to do something. But sometimes, that quest for perfection is actually holding us back, and perhaps even keeping us from starting something.
Sure, there are times when perfection, or as close to it as we can possibly manage, is preferred or even crucial. I'm thinking a client pitch or proposal, and of course an ingredient mix for a new product, Health & Safety procedures, and such circumstances. But often, life is not on the line, only or own perception of our accomplishments.
Yes, I am talking about the ego.
Our ego can fool us into somehow thinking that it is better not to start something, or pursue something, because we will not be able to execute it perfectly. But what is perfection? Who decides what is perfect, and what is "just good enough"?
In my work as a business coach, I have many of these conversations with my clients. And sometimes it is not the ego that is holding people back from a task, but simply that the task itself feels too big, too encompassing, and it is hard to oversee it or even know where to start. So instead, we put our heads in the sand and try to block out the scary, the unknown, that big tasks that looms over our heads. The thing rarely just 'goes away' though, but instead ends up hanging over us like a dark cloud, making us uncomfortable, leading to stress, sleep problems and all sorts of other health issues. These can be anything from a financial position that feels like you will never get out of, a large project (like building a new website for example) that you feel you don't have the skills to pull off, or just the never-ending 'to do' list on your desk.
So what is the solution? Just start.
It sounds hard to do, and it often is, but you have to start, and by starting I mean start anywhere. It doesn't matter in which end or with what task, just start. Because if you don't, you'll never get out of the slump, and once you start ticking things off, no matter how small the win is, it's a win, and that matters a great deal. Small wins make us start feeling better about ourselves and our accomplishments (because we have actually done something), and it leads to larger wins down the line. All of a sudden, and quite often without even realising it, we have come quite far, and by then we have got the momentum going, and stopped most of that mental chatter that tells us that we are a failure and we can't do it. Because we are already doing it. One small step at a time.
So how to start? There are a few really simple tricks really:
1. Cut down your large, 'insurmountable' project into smaller, bite size chunks. Ideally tasks that you can do in one hour or less. And then start chipping away at them. One hour at a time, one task at a time. Maybe even one a day. This article about how to make working from home work for you, outlines a great strategy for hourly tasks.
Just start somewhere. Anywhere
2. Keep separate 'to do' lists. I like to keep a few different lists. Partly because I love a good list (and especially the physical ticking off the items on said lists), and partly because it makes prioritising easier. I keep one daily 'to do' list, and a weekly one. On your daily list you only write down what you absolutely need to accomplish that day, nothing more and nothing less (see below). The weekly list can be an ongoing 'to do' list. But the trick is to actually chip away at the weekly list, and tick things off. A to do list that just grows and grows without anything coming off is just a cause for more stress. That is where the daily list comes in. You pick a few items from your long 'to do' list, things that have to be done today. And you go do them.
3. Be realistic of what you can accomplish and schedule accordingly. If you are at locked up at home, home schooling children while trying to get work done, perhaps three large tasks a day is enough to accomplish? But prioritising is key here, to make sure that those three tasks are the tasks that are the most important for you to get done that day to move your business forward. If you mange to tick them off the list fast and breezily, you can move on to easier, lighter tasks if your time allows. That will feel great. Whatever you do however, unless you know with absolute certainty that you can finish this task as well, do not attempt to cram in more heavy or difficult tasks, but rather focus on smaller, easier tasks after the big ones have been ticked off. Why? Because otherwise you are likely to not reap the benefit of feeling accomplished about the important tasks you have actually ticked off your list, but instead feeling bad about not finishing that extra task that you set yourself. That's just stupid, so don't do that. The goal is to feel good about what you can finish, and leave the rest for the next day.
4. Schedule hard tasks for the first thing in the morning, when you are fresh and (hopefully) rested. You have the best chance of finishing a task when your head is clear, you have a spring in your step, and you are motivated for the day. Often we procrastinate and wait until the end of the day to do the hard things, exactly because they are, well, hard. But, there are (at least) two benefits of scheduling hard things first thing:
a) You get the hard task out of the way, and the rest of your day will feel more enjoyable because that hard thing that you need to do is not coming closer and closer by the hour. It's done! There is also an added benefit that if the rest of the day turns to custard (and we know, sometimes it just does), you have a better chance of getting that thing done before that happens, the earlier you schedule it.
b) Ticking items off the 'to do' list will make you feel good about yourself, you'll have that feeling of accomplishment. And feeling good about yourself and accomplishing things is not just a feel-good thing, it will most likely prompt you to tackle a few other (less 'hard') things as well, meaning that you actually get more done overall.
As an extension of both of these benefits, you have a better chance of continuously propelling your business forward, every single day.
An example: a client of mine who is a creative mentioned that she often starts her day with her creative work, as she enjoys it and it is work that she can do without too much effort, it's a nice way to start the day. She admitted to leaving strategy work, client pitches or proposals and other work to later, and that at the end of the day often she feels tired when she needs to sit down and do it. She's got little humans at home, and so the work/life struggle in lockdown has been real. I pointed out to her that it sounded like she would benefit from shuffling things around, just as I described above.
By focusing on more 'thought-heavy' (or 'bandwith-heavy' as I like to call them) tasks in the morning, not only would she probably get them out the way faster and to a more satisfactory result, she would also get them 'off her mind', tick them off the list, and she could then do her creative work later in the day. She replied that it was a great idea, as then the creative work would be sort of a reward. It would give her something to look forward to, and as it is a more intuitive (for her) type of work, it is something she can do when she has less energy and still get it done. Everyone is different however, so someone who is not a natural at creative work might want to schedule this type of work early in their day.
Routine is the key to getting sh*t done
5. Routines are great. It might sound boring, but keeping at least some routines is the key to getting sh*t done. Social media planning and posting is something that many dread, so it gets put off, with the result that your social media presence suffers. Instead, having a weekly 1-2 hour session on for example a Monday morning to plan and schedule your social media posts for that week, with a recurring reminder in your schedule, is a great strategy. With time it will feel easier as well, because you know that once that you have finished that task, you have a whole week of 'freedom' until you have to do it again. One or two hours of 'suffering' is surely worth it for a whole week of mental bliss, instead of that constant reminder in your brain that you really have to do something about that social media feed of yours. Check out this article, for some great tips to make this type of work easier for you, if you are not a natural creative.
Celebrate the small wins, have a non-negotiable list of tasks for each day, and make sure they get done before you go to bed that night, and ideally first thing in the morning, but if you get distracted, it has to be done later in the day. The items have to be done. Make a habit of writing the next day's 'to do' list in the afternoon or evening before, so that you can get stuck into it first thing in the morning without any distractions. This will ensure that you are less stressed about all the things you need to do, because you have already prioritised your work for the next day, probably leading to less mental chatter, and a better nights sleep as a result. Which in turns means that you will feel most rested the next day, and have more energy for the tasks ahead (see the benefit wheel spinning and spinning here?).
And remember that most tasks (like social media, updating your website etc) is continuous work that you don't have to be great at, or finish perfectly straight away. What it needs is continuous improvements over time.
All you have to do is start. Somewhere, anywhere.
It doesn't need to be Perfect straight away - just 'Good Enough'