Doing Is Everything

Many people know what they should do: lose weight, start exercising, stop smoking, get serious about managing careers, find a romantic partner, start saving money, and so on. Yet they can’t seem to make themselves do.

Doing is everything / Knowing is nothing

You know what to do, but you don’t do it!

It is told that long ago in China, a reclusive monk climbed up a tree in a forest. He settled comfortably and sat there in deep meditation, undisturbed by the outside world.

That became his everyday routine.

People from hamlets in the vicinity adopted him. They approached him with offerings and discussed their affairs. And he imparted his wisdom.

His fame soon spread everywhere. Visitors from far-flung towns trekked to the forest for his counsel.

Folks started calling him Birdsnest for the reason that he perched high up his tree.

On one occasion, the local king learned of Birdsnest and set forth to see him. After an arduous journey, the king located Birdsnest’s tree.

The king hollered at the monk trying to seek his attention. “O wise one, I have an important question to ask of you.”

The king waited for Birdsnest. No response came.

The king tried repeatedly to evoke Birdsnest, but didn’t succeed.

The king grew impatient waiting for Birdsnest.

Eventually, the king became irritated and shouted out, “I can wait no longer! Here is my question. Say, what is it that all the wise ones taught? What is at the heart of all the teachings of the great masters? What is the most profound thing the Buddha ever said?”

The king lingered around Birdsnest’s tree for a long time.

Finally, Birdsnest summoned the king. Holding a meditative poise, Birdsnest declared, “At all times, do good things. Don’t do bad things. This is all the Buddha said. This is what the wise men instructed.”

The king became infuriated.

Birdsnest continued to meditate with a gentle half smile behind his eyes. He was obviously toning down the power of the Buddha’s wisdoms.

The king screamed, “I can’t believe this impertinence! Is that all you’ve got for me? Do good things and don’t do bad things. I knew that when I was three years old, you blithering fool!”

The afternoon sun filtered in through the trees as Birdsnest looked down from his perch. His compassion and matter-of-factness radiated out from your heart. He sympathetically acknowledged, “Indeed, the three-year-old knows it. Yet the eighty year-old finds it very difficult to do!”

The Knowledge-Action Gap

'The Now Habit' by Neil Fiore (ISBN 1585425524) One of the most insidious obstacles to your success in life is the chasm between knowing and doing—between thinking about something and acting on it, between ideating and implementing.

Your ideas may be impressively simple, but accomplishing them with discipline and steadiness can be very, very difficult indeed. This is the knowing-doing gap.

Ruminate about what stops you from accomplishing the things you need to do, want to do, and know how to do, but can’t get to do. Usually, your alleged obstacles—your boss, parents, spouse, children, colleagues, situations—are but excuses. When you sincerely unearth the reasons for your putting things off, you’ll realize that, by and large, it’s you who are sabotaging yourself.

Yes, occasionally, you may face a few genuine external obstacles. Nevertheless, in the grand scheme of things, you usually have the power to overcome them or work around them.

Transform your thoughts into action

Procrastination is a Breakdown of Self-Discipline

As I have stated in my previous articles, procrastination is weakness of will. Chronic procrastination is a recurrent breakdown of self-discipline.

The overpowering emotion associated with chronic procrastination is guilt. These feelings of guilt are not just specific to the task you’re dodging, even though, at the time of procrastination, your mind may be full of qualms and repentance under the direct influence of your putting off the dreadful task. More accurately, the guilt you feel about your chronic procrastination is the outcome of not living up to your full potential and not authentically engaging in the many possibilities life presents you.

'When Things Fall Apart' by Pema Chodron (ISBN 1611803438) It takes courage to face your anxieties, to forge ahead despite your feelings, and to act. Self-improvement begins with self-reflection. And self-reflection derives from self-compassion. The renowned Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön wrote about self-compassion in her wonderfully reassuring classic When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, “The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.”

Don’t hunt for motivation. As I’ve asserted in previous articles, motivation is glorified as a personal trait. While it is beneficial to be motivated, folks who actually manage to get things done are those who find a way to work at whatever they are interested in even when they do not really feel like doing it.

Idea for Impact: Make 2017 the Year of Getting Things Done

Transform your thoughts into action.

Put your ideas into practice.

Don’t let excuses, apologies, indolence, or a lack of motivation get in the way.

Knowing is nothing.

Doing is everything.

The Art of Taking Action: Use The Two Minute “Do-it-Now” Rule

The Art of Taking Action: Use The Two Minute Do-it-Now Rule

Many tasks that people tend to procrastinate on aren’t really difficult to do. People have the ability, energy, and time to undertake such tasks, but just aren’t disciplined enough to not dodge starting them for one reason or another.

One particular habit that robs people of time is putting all their tasks on a to-do list, prioritizing the list, and then tackling the tasks by priority. But it’s often wiser to skip the to-do list and simply do many tasks immediately. This constitutes the Two Minute Do-it-Now Rule, a discipline popularized by David Allen in his bestselling time management book, Getting Things Done. This rule directs you to act immediately on a contemplated task if it can be completed in less than two minutes.

  • You’ll not only save the time it takes to put the task on your to-do list, but also prevent the buildup of tasks hanging over your head.
  • By limiting the time you’re allocating to get the task done, you can finish it more efficiently and avoid being perfectionistic about it. (See my previous article on Parkinson’s Law, which states that work tends to expand to fill up the time you give it.)
  • You’ll avoid procrastination by getting the task done straightaway and not letting it fall through the cracks. Therefore, this technique has the added advantage of making you appear responsive.

Idea for Impact: Don’t put a task on your to-do list if you can get it done within two minutes. You’ll be surprised at how many tasks you tend to put off that you could get done in two minutes or less.

Identify Your #1 Priority and Finish It First

Identify Your #1 Priority and Finish It First

“He who every morning plans the transactions of the day and follows out that plan carries a thread that will guide him through the labyrinth of the most busy life. The orderly arrangement of his time is a like a ray of life which darts itself through all his occupations. But where no plan is laid, where the disposal of time is surrendered merely to the chance of incident, chaos will soon reign.”
Victor Hugo

“A Guaranteed Formula for Success”

Ivy Lee's A popular legend recalls a time management trick that efficiency expert Ivy Lee showed to Charles Michael Schwab (1862—1939,) the American steel magnate and President of Bethlehem Steel, then the second largest steel manufacturer in the United States.

Lee famously advised Charles Schwab and his managers to list and rank their top priorities every day, and work on tasks in the order of their importance as time allows, not proceeding until a task was completed. After implementing the suggestion, Charles Schwab famously said that Lee’s method for managing priorities had been the most profitable advice he had ever received and paid him $25,000.

When Charles Schwab was president of Bethlehem Steel, he confronted Ivy Lee, a management consultant, with an unusual challenge. “Show me a way to get more things done,” he demanded. “If it works, I will pay you anything within reason.”

Lee handed Schwab a piece of paper. “Write down the things you have to do tomorrow.”

When Schwab had completed the list, Lee said, “Now number these items in the order of their real importance.”

Schwab did, and Lee said, “The first thing tomorrow morning, start working on number one and stay with it until it’s completed. Then take number two, and don’t go any further until it’s finished or until you’ve done as much with it as you can. Then proceed to number three and so on. If you can’t complete everything on schedule, don’t worry. At least you will have taken care of the most important things before getting distracted by items of less importance.

“The secret is to do this daily. Evaluate the relative importance of the things you have to get done, establish priorities, record your plan of action, and stick to it. Do this every working day. After you have convinced yourself that this system has value, have your people try it. Test it as long as you like, and then send me a check for whatever you think the idea is worth.”

Mary Kay Ash Helped Her Beauty Consultants Juggle Spouse, Children, and Career

'You Can Have It All' by Mary Kay Ash (ISBN 0761501622) Mary Kay Ash, American beauty products entrepreneur and founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics, had a variation to this technique. In You Can Have It All, she writes:

Each night, I put together my list for the following day. If I don’t get something on my list accomplished, it goes on the next day’s list. I put the hardest or most unappealing task at the top of the list. This way, I tackle the most difficult item first, and once it’s out of the way, I feel my day is off to a good start.

Mary Kay Ash taught her cosmetics sales consultants this technique of prioritizing their work and thus avoid being stretched too thin. Most of Mary Kay’s cosmetics sales consultants were women filling multiple roles as mother, wife, and businesswoman.

We try very hard to get our consultants to organize themselves. The best way I have found is a little pad of paper we issue called “The Six Most Important Things.” I teach consultants to write down the six most important things they have to do the next day every night before they go to bed. I suggest that people organize things by priority. First, put the thing they most don’t want to do at the top. Then write down the six most important things—not sixteen, because this is frustrating, but six.

Idea for Impact: Squeeze the Most out of Your Day

The best way to start your day is by accomplishing something instead of fiddling around with email or contemplating the day’s priorities. So, every evening, before you leave the office, write down the most important tasks you’ve got to get done the next day. Leave it on your desk along with any support material you need to work on it. This will help you get rolling first thing in the morning.

The Truth Can Be Bitterer than a Sweet Illusion

Bitter Pill - The truth can be bitterer than a sweet illusion

In 1998, as CEO of 1-800-Flowers.com, Jim McCann could not bring himself to let one of his senior executives go. McCann and the rest of his leadership team understood that this senior executive was neither right for the job nor performing well.

For McCann, the biggest hindrance was that he was friends with this executive and had spent time with his family. McCann agonized over being heartless to a friend and couldn’t bring himself to dismiss the executive.

Unexpectedly, McCann met General Electric’s CEO Jack Welch at a dinner party and discussed this dilemma. Welch advised, “When was the last time anyone said, ‘I wish I had waited six months longer to fire that guy?’ Always err on the side of speed.”

Urged by Welch’s counsel, McCann deftly dealt with the situation. Initially, McCann felt that being tough was unjustifiable and was pained by the loss of a friendship. He was hurt but relieved because firing the executive was the right decision for everyone.

On a happier note, the former executive soon got a new job that better suited his background. Their friendship stood the test of time and they eventually made up.

Firing is awful—indeed, it’s the most difficult thing managers have to do, especially for those who encourage camaraderie and treasure loyalty. As in McCann’s case, if you think an employee isn’t up to par and you may fire him/her within the next year, it’s always better for management, the employee in question, and other employees to take the right actions promptly.

Idea for Impact: Don’t Be Conflict-Avoidant

Confront the Bitter Truth The truth is that the truth hurts sometimes. Even if the truth can be bitterer than a sweet illusion, delaying action will only make things harder.

Making the right decision and taking the action may involve unpleasant confrontations. Though conflict can be emotionally distressing, being decisive and doing what’s best eventually works out well for everyone.

Instead of being hyperconscious of other’s possible judgments and avoiding conflict, do difficult things as soon as practically possible.

When dealing with difficulties involving others, there is nothing more insidious than unresolved conflict and inaction. Read “Five Dysfunctions of a Team” (by Patrick Lencioni) to understand how to engage in conflict in a way that nurtures (rather than harms) relationships. Also, read “Crucial Conversations” (by Kerry Patterson, et al.) on how to conduct effective discussions by stating the facts, speculating possible remedies, and then skillfully leading the other person to a course of action. Stick with facts to reduce defensiveness. Have the other person develop and commit to a course of action on his/her own.

Seven Ways to Motivate Yourself

Seven Ways to Motivate Yourself

Most people often know what they should do, but can’t seem to make themselves follow through. Here are seven quick and easy ways that might help you get motivated.

  1. Be decisive. Avoid analysis paralysis. The best way to get unstuck is to start somewhere. Don’t wait for the right answer and the golden path to present themselves. Focus on action, which will get you started and build momentum. You can adjust your course of action later. See my previous article: “When in Doubt, Do.”
  2. Avoid the desire to prove yourself. The need to prove yourself to others can be off-putting because you may foresee them disapproving of your work. Let go of the need to prove yourself to everyone else, and free yourself to accomplish what matters most to you. Overcome the fear of failure. Consider low-risk actions.
  3. Develop a Plan B. The most successful people are those who acknowledge when their current plans aren’t working and switch to Plan B.
  4. Accelerate. If things seem under control, you are probably not approaching your goal quickly enough.
  5. If you have made mistakes, don’t be shackled by regret. Things will eventually work out. If you are chained up by a worrisome activity and can’t seem to make progress, switch to another productive activity. Try my ’10-minute Dash’ technique to beat procrastination.
  6. Play favorite scenes in your mind. Envisioning triumph, moments with a loved one or images of playing with a pet have an incredible ability to inspire you.
  7. Try something new and befriend the unfamiliar. Break away from your comfort zone. You will only grow when you let go of discomfort, explore a different path, and try something new.

Seek Discipline, Not Motivation: Focus on the WHY

Motivation is glorified as a personal trait. While it is beneficial to be motivated, folks who actually manage to get things done are those who find a way to work at whatever they are interested in even when they do not really feel like doing it.

Discipline is Fixating on What You Want

“More than those who hate you, more than all your enemies, an undisciplined mind does greater harm,” the Buddha taught as per the Dhammapada.

Seek Discipline, Not Motivation Whatever form of personal character it takes—self-control, dedication, endurance, persistence, resolve, willpower, or self-regulation,—discipline is one of the biggest differentiators between successful and unsuccessful people.

The British philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell wrote in “On Education” (1926,) “Right discipline consists, not in external compulsion, but in habits of mind which lead spontaneously to desirable rather than undesirable activities.” Discipline is the conscious ability to prevail over distractions, avoid opportunities for gratification, regulate your emotions and actions, overrule impulses, and exert mindful self-control to fulfill your immediate goals and aspirations.

A Simple Hack to Develop Discipline: Focus on the WHY

A Simple Hack to Develop Discipline: Focus on the WHY

Many of the goals you strive for—like losing weight—require you to choose between a smaller but immediate reward and a larger but remote reward. For instance, if you are dieting and are presented with a cake, you face a choice between the immediate indulgence of eating the cake and the more distant incentive of losing weight. Renouncing immediate pleasure in order to reap future benefits can pose an enormous challenge.

Research by Dr. Kentaro Fujita of Ohio State University shows that participants who considered why they had to do something were better able to inhibit their impulses when presented with immediate temptations. They also exerted greater self-control and stuck with a task longer than those who thought just about how they could do something. For example, Fujita’s research suggests that if you focus on your ultimate goal of losing weight, you are more likely to reinforce your dieting discipline. You are more likely, then, to indulge in a slice or two of pizza and avoid eating the entire pizza than if you would just try to fill up on salad and avoid eating the pizza altogether. This complements my “cut back, do not cut out” tip for dieting success based on how abrupt deprivation from pleasures often results in guilt and over-indulgence.

Idea for Impact: Focus on the ends rather than the means. To build up discipline and self-regulation, keep your goal itself at the front and center of your concentration instead of focusing on how to reach it.

Overwhelmed with Things To Do? Accelerate, Maintain, or Terminate.

Overwhelmed with Things To Do

If you are overwhelmed by extensive demands on your time or by the number of projects that seem permanently stuck on your to-do list, here’s a technique to organize your projects more effectively.

Make a table with three columns: “Accelerate Mode,” “Maintain Mode,” and “Terminate Mode” and classify your projects.

  • “Accelerate mode” projects have the potential for significant benefits and therefore will need additional investment in time, effort, and resources.
  • Projects that you can sustain at the present pace and projects where additional investments may not necessarily translate to larger payoffs go in the “maintain mode.”
  • Choose the “terminate mode” whenever in doubt, especially for projects that have been lingering in the “someday I will get to” and “maybe” categories. Also, terminate those projects that are on your list because you feel that you should do but need not.

One of the key characteristics of successful people is to recognize and invest their resources in projects that really matter and to do everything else adequately enough.

When in Doubt, Do

Analysis Paralysis

One of the most insidious obstacles to achievement is our tendency to give in to the pessimistic voices in our heads that advocate caution and forethought before making decisions. Instead of accepting failure as an inherent possibility in any undertaking, we tend to espouse inaction in order to weigh every fact against possible outcomes. We are thus predisposed to devising excuses for our indolence.

Admittedly, further deliberation is justified in some cases, but with a vast majority of our decisions, we tend to overestimate the stress we might experience after making a difficult choice. The longer we spend on making a decision, the less productive we are. Beyond a reasonable amount, obsessing over choices causes analysis paralysis, as in the fable of the fox and the cat.

Idea for Impact: No good comes from hesitation and inaction. The only things you will regret in the future are the things you don’t do today. So, instead of dragging it out, act decidedly on an opportunity before it ceases to be one. Take a few low-risk steps and watch your confidence grow. The consequences are likely to be far less extreme than the cost of comfortable inaction.

Follow the “10-Minute Dash” technique to get a task going and overcome procrastination.

Overcome Procrastination: My “10-Minute Dash” Technique to Get a Task Going

How to Overcome Procrastination

“He has half the deed done who has made a beginning.”
Horace (Quintus Horatius Flaccus)

Procrastination: “Why do now what I can do later

'Procrastination is the thief of time.' -- Edward Young Simply, procrastination is a choice to delay an action with the intent to act later.

Most of us are prone to procrastination on tasks big and small. Some of our postponement-problems are instigated by fears of incompletion and failure, or, from assuming that the tasks we face are tedious. Often, our procrastination is nothing more than resentment to working on tasks assigned by others.

The “10-Minute Dash” Technique

The next time you face a ‘job’ that appears overwhelming or unpleasant, beat the temptation to postpone action by committing to work on the job for just ten minutes. Follow these four simple steps.

  • Overcoming Procrastination Consider the ‘job‘ at hand and break it down. Pick two or three simple component-‘tasks‘. For instance, if you want to clean your study room, your component tasks could be to clean the bookshelf, organize the study-desk, etc.
  • Commit to focus on your chosen tasks for just ten minutes. Use a timer, if necessary. For ten minutes, do nothing but your chosen tasks.
  • Avoid distractions or interruptions. For instance, if you unearth Aunt Stella’s letter while cleaning a bookshelf, continue to clean–you can read her letter later.
  • Do not give up. Two minutes into the ten-minute dash, if you find your chosen task tedious, do not stop. After all, you have just eight more minutes to go.

Beginning a Task Builds Momentum

There are two distinct outcomes of doing a ten-minute dash.

  • Procrastination: Beginning a Task Builds Momentum Often, at the end of ten minutes of uninterrupted work, you feel good about working towards your goal. It is likely that beginning to work on the job built a momentum; you got absorbed in the tasks. In contrast to your presumption, the job may turn out to be rather easy and pleasant. Continue to work—schedule ten, twenty or thirty more minutes of work.
  • The less likely outcome is that the ten minutes of work reinforced some of your displeasures about the job. Still, your achievement was that, at the very least, you got ten minutes of work done. If you do not wish to continue working on the task, commit to resume your work later. Ask yourself, “When can I start again?”

Concluding Thoughts

One of the easiest techniques to overcoming procrastination is to begin. Quite often, seemingly difficult tasks get easier once you get working on them. In short time, you get into the ‘flow’ and work towards completion.

General Electric’s Jack Welch on Acting Quickly

General Electric's Jack Welch on Acting Quickly

Jack Welch, General Electric's former CEO Jack Welch was the Chairman and CEO of General Electric (GE) from 1981 to 2001. During Welch’s twenty-year tenure, GE grew into one of the largest and most admired companies in the world. Jack Welch is widely recognized as one of the greatest business leaders of our time. In 1999, Fortune magazine named him the ‘Manager of the Century.’

In an interview with Spencer Stuart executive headhunters Thomas Neff and James Citrin for the book “Lessons from the Top”, Jack Welch regrets not taking action quickly during his tenure at General Electric.

I think the biggest mistake I made is a fundamental one. I went too slow in everything I did. … If I had done in two years what took five, we would have been ahead of the curve even more.

You rarely do things too fast. If you think about your life and the decisions you’ve made, you can’t come up with too many where you said, “I wish I took another year to do it.” But you can sure come up with a list where you say, “I wish I had done a bunch of things six months earlier.”

Call for Action

Procrastinators sabotage themselves. However, procrastination is a learned behavior and therefore can be unlearned.

In all spheres of life, competition has transitioned from “big-eat-small” to “fast-eat-slow.” Good ideas are relatively easy to come up with. However, quick and efficient execution is primary to the success of these ideas. When a hundred people probably have the same idea, execution in a fast timeframe is just about the only thing that matters.

Are you holding back on your ideas? Do the tasks look daunting? Do you lack confidence? Are you uncertain of the direction or afraid of failure? How can you overcome these hesitations? Develop a set of ideas to reach your goals, prioritize them, and commence working on your ideas right away. Why delay?