Someday is not a day of the week.” – Janet Dailey

When did life get so busy and so full?  It seems to-do lists have taken over, which can be especially overwhelming if we face that one repeating thing on our to-do list daily. For weeks, I stared at “create a leadership development program.”

Right. I’ll just sit down and do that after work.

You can imagine what my mind did every time I came across that monster on my list. One look at “call the dentist,” and “design leadership development program for entire company” was bumped once again. Yes! Dentist!  I can do that!

It’s interesting how that happens, isn’t it? I’m sure you have suffered from the same paralysis in the face of such a massive undertaking.  I used to blame myself for being “a procrastinator” but I finally changed my tune after reading Getting Things Done by David Allen.

Mr. Allen notes that most of us suffer from paralysis because we confuse projects with tasks.  A project is anything that takes more than one step to complete. Let me repeat that: a project is anything that takes more than one step to complete. Whoa, that’s pretty much everything.

How can we avoid the doomed and all-too-common state of project procrastination? Break it down.

You don’t actually do a project, you can only do action steps related to it.” – David Allen

Back to my doomed leadership development program project. I finally stopped kidding myself and sat down to think about what success would like and how to define all of these next steps. (I did this on the back of a napkin while sitting in a coffee shop one day. Yes, it was very high tech and very classy.)

The particular method I used was called a mind map.  It’s a fancy name for listing all the next steps I could think of in no particular order. (Psychologist Tony Buzan wrote about mind mapping and has several excellent books on the topic, one of which is appropriately titled The Mind Map.)

Each of these next steps included an action verb such as “email so and so,” “look up such and such,” or “write section X.”  Notice that each next step provides just one, very specific action to be taken. *

Next, I did my best to put them in a linear order when necessary. This means that if one step depended on another, then I put the prerequisite task on the list first. For example, “make a list of the sections I want to include” must be done before “create the videos” can be completed.

And that’s it—totally old school.  Take out paper, dump your brain on it, then be thoughtful about wording and arrangement, and most importantly, enjoy being productive again as the fog of paralysis finally lifts.

For more tips on how to maintain your sanity in the workplace, check out Daphne’s podcast, The Super Fantastic Leadership Show (specifically episodes 9, 26, and 62).


*It pays to take the time to craft your next steps in this way, lest the project paralysis return.

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