How to Make Actionable Steps Work in Your Daily Life

Do you have trouble sticking to your plans and to-do lists?

You're not alone. A lot of people know the nuts and bolts of time management and productivity. They know what they "want" to be doing or that they want more time in their day. But it seems really hard to execute the plan. Or they start out really well, for a week...and then it all falls apart. 

If you've been reading my blog for awhile, you know I'm all about being productive for a purpose. So I always start with helping people figure out the purpose behind wanting to "accomplish more" or "get more things done." Do you know why you want an extra hour in your day? After gaining clarity on your "reasons why," then it's time to figure out how to take actionable steps.

After gaining clarity on your purpose, then it's about figuring out where to start.

Often when I'm helping clients or students figure out where to begin with steps, they need to start with tracking. It sounds too obvious almost. But seriously, ask yourself these questions:

  • How much time did I spend surfing the internet when I wanted to be working yesterday?

  • How much time am I actually commuting?

  • Exactly how much time did I sleep last night?

  • What did I eat for lunch yesterday?

These are the kinds of questions people have vague answers to usually, but can't point. So I recommend tracking. Hour by hour, track your time and where it goes. I love tracking and somehow I still managed to not realize how much time I was spending on Facebook last month. I had turned off my StayFocusd browser extension and thought I wasn't spending "that much time." Oh I was spending lots of time. Almost an hour a day (broken up into tiny moments, but it all added up quickly). StayFocusd is back on and it reminds me when I'm getting close to my daily limit. You'd be surprised at how much awareness comes from tracking, even from just a day.

After tracking and gaining awareness, it's about pinpointing something small.

Time to get a tiny snowball shaped and formed. Something to get the momentum started. Eventually it will turn into an avalanche, but for now, form one small snowball. What is one place you are "wasting time" in your day? And what can you do about it?

  • Can you go to sleep 15 minutes earlier (replacing browsing updates)?
  • Can you delete an app that keeps distracting you?
  • Do you have to be the one completing the action? In other words, can you outsource something small?
  • When are you most able to focus? And can the task that needs the most work move to that time slot?
  • Have you thought about actually scheduling "down time" instead of crashing into it from exhaustion?

Just try one thing. For at least a week. Be consistent about it and see what kind of results you get. Does it help? Does it not help? You're on a mission to conduct mini-experiments here. Some things may not work out and that's okay because they are tiny and can be changed.

Along the way, most people benefit from some type of accountability.

Whether or not you need accountability on each of your goals depends on a lot of things. One of my favorite resources for this issue is from Gretchen Rubin's Four Tendencies. I'm an upholder, so I keep myself accountable for most of my own goals. But a lot of people are obligers and need the extra support from a friend, a colleague, a coach, or someone else on a regular basis. If you're not familiar with her tendencies, be sure to check them out. Knowing your own tendency helps you know what works best in for you.

"Don't compare your start to someone else's middle."

A classic line that several people as a reminder when working on goals. As you start to get the ball rolling on taking action and asking someone to help keep you accountable, you might start to look around. And you might start to notice that lots of other people are "doing it better" than you are. They seem to have this productivity thing all figured out. They seem to manage their time really well. Be careful of the social comparison - it's a slippery slope. Stop and remind yourself that it probably took them months if not years to get to that point. You're beginning today. They are somewhere in the middle. Encourage yourself by talking to others who are in the exact same boat with progress.

When the ball is rolling along steadily, shift to the bigger picture.

After gaining momentum for several weeks or months, try to step back and see the bigger picture. Are tasks on your list becoming "less urgent" thanks to your new steps? I'm always working with people to move out of the "important, urgent" part of the Eisenhower box. When everything is both important and urgent, it can be overwhelming to make any progress. Reducing the amount of things in that one section can help you focus on the rest of the tasks you want to accomplish. 

So tell me, what's the next small step you want to start to take action? Leave a comment below!