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Making Decisions

Of all the strange things that human beings do, making decisions must be one of the strangest. It’s a very human thing. An animal makes decisions yes, in terms of what it’s going to do next, but its decisions have a different quality from human decisions. They seem to be reactions to the immediate situation – or at least that’s what it looks like to us on the outside. Animals by and large don’t spend days, months or years agonising over the consequences of their decisions. They just get on with it.

To many of us it would be a blessed relief to be able to make decisions as simply and directly as an animal does. All our decisions would happen immediately and we would always choose what was appropriate to the circumstances. Decision making would be automatic, and we wouldn’t have to think about it. You never see an animal thinking about a decision. It may need to know more about the situation – we see a cat or a dog sniffing an unfamiliar situation to learn more about it – but once it has got the information the decision is instant.

Of course we do make animal-like decisions all the day. We wouldn’t be able to function if we didn’t. But for humans decision making can often become a difficult and long drawn-out process. Often the decisions we need to make are dependent on other decisions we haven’t yet made. How do we decide what clothes to buy, if we haven’t decided yet whether we are going to the party? How do we decide whether we are going to the party, if we can’t decide whether we can afford the new outfit? How can we decide if we can afford the outfit if we haven’t decided whether we’re going on holiday this year? We can get stuck in this sort of vicious circle for a very long time.

I have had many coaching clients over the years who have been wanting not just to change jobs, but to change careers. Obviously this is one of the most major life decisions one can make. Often they seem to have become stuck in a swamp of indecision. They can’t decide what career they want; they can’t decide to make the leap; they can’t decide to stay and make the best of it. This can go on for years. No amount of questions like “What needs to happen before you can decide?” or “When is it going to be easier to change your career than now?” can get them to budge.

I think that the reality is that decisions make themselves. However much we pretend to be in charge of our decisions, they actually come from somewhere out of our conscious control. They rise up from the abyss, sometimes when we least expect them. And sometimes we have to accept the fact that they don’t.

We may give very good reasons about why we made such and such a decision, but if we are honest with ourselves the reasons we give are often really justifications for making the decision rather than the real reasons themselves. The sequence seems to be 1) make the decision, then 2) invent reasons for having made it.

If this is really the way decisions happen then we can see why people get bogged down in decision making. They are trying to do it the wrong way round. They are trying to find the reasons before they make the decision. Until they have got reasons that are completely iron-cast they hold themselves back from making the decision. In fact what is happening is that they are not trusting their unconscious processes to make the decision that is right for them at the time that is right.

Now I realise that many people in business will be looking askance at what I am saying here. They spend ages researching, making cost analyses, working out the discounted cash flow and all the rest. Their decisions are entirely rational, it seems. Yet who looking around at the way most governments and businesses actually work in practice could believe that their decisions are made exclusively on rational grounds?

When I look a the major decisions that I have made in my life – things like getting married, changing my career, deciding to have children, where to live – I can see that the last thing I did at the time was weigh things up in a rational manner. It’s only now looking back on them that I can see some sort of pattern in them. Most of the decisions that seemed like a complete leap in the dark have turned out very well. Most of the decisions that I made because it seemed to be the right thing to do turned out less well. Where I’ve made decisions on the basis of pressure from other people’s concept of what would be correct, it’s usually turned out less well. In other words where I have allowed the decision to make itself it has turned out well. Where I have allowed reasons to make the decision for me it has turned out badly – or perhaps not badly but it has not been a decision that satisfies me.

What about the truly disastrous decisions that I have made during my life? (and there have been more than a few) These have usually been made on the impulse of the moment. They have been reactions rather than decisions. A decision needs time to mature. The important thing to be doing during this maturation process is to gather knowledge about the situation. It is important to gather knowledge without prejudice to the decision – in other words you are not trying to find reasons for making the decision one way or the other. The sequence for a good decision is Research – Decision – Reasons; not Research – Reasons – Decision; or, even worse, Reasons – Research – Decision. You may be asking why, if you make a decision according to the Research – Decision – Reasons model, you need the last stage at all. Strictly speaking you don’t, but you have to have something to tell your friends, family and shareholders!

I know this sounds completely counter-intuitive and contrary to everything taught in books on decision-making. But it is in practice the way that decisions are made. Look at the last major decision you made in your life, perhaps something like buying a new house or car, or changing jobs, or getting married. Did you examine the possibilities? You almost certainly did. Did you weight up the pros and cons? You probably did to some extent. Did you make your decision on the basis of the pros and cons? If you are honest, the answer is probably no. The decision itself was something deeper, more visceral. If you did make the decision purely on the basis of the pros and cons, are you entirely happy with the results of that decision?

Finally, having made your decision for better or for worse, do you now have an armoury of reasons for having made the choice? I’ll bet you do! But were they the real reasons? You can only answer that question for yourself.


I am going to give you three simple exercises to give you the feel of what is involved in making a decision. Each involves holding a pencil out in front of you at arm’s length and then either dropping it or not dropping it.

1) The first time you have to decide before you hold the pencil out whether you are going to drop it or not, and also how long you are going to hold it out for.

2) Now repeat exercise 1), but this time you have the option of changing your mind once you are holding the pencil out.

3) This time do not make the decision before holding the pencil out, but just hold the pencil out and let it fall or not fall of its own accord.

Which was the easiest way of making the decision? In which did the action take place in the most graceful and natural way?


Getting to Your Goals: Step Three

So now you know where you are going; you know where you are - what do you do next? The answer is easy: you start moving in the direction of where you want to go.

In many ways this is the easiest step of all. It’s usually obvious what you can do to move in the direction of where you want to be. Notice I said “start moving”. You don’t have to have the entire route mapped out. It may help if you have a clear idea of the route, but it’s not essential. What is essential is to get moving. And then keep moving!

Notice that it is very important to move in the right direction. People often talk about doing things in order to advance their goals, but then start moving in the wrong direction or get stuck in a dead-end. Just to give one example out of many, we are often told that the way to expand our business is by networking. So we may go all out to attend lots of networking events. But if we do not keep clearly in mind that the purpose of the networking is to expand our business, we may just find ourselves attending lots of events without achieving anything very much. Remember the aim is not “networking” – the aim is to expand our business. That means we must be clear what we want to get out of the networking and make sure we get it. If we don’t have our final destination clearly in mind, we may find ourselves wasting a lot of time on unfocussed activities.

We always need to be asking the difficult questions like: “How exactly is this going to move me towards my goal?”; “What would move me towards my goal?”

Once we’ve started moving there will of course be plenty of obstacles and setbacks, but provided that we have the goal clearly in front of us, we can simply deal with them one at a time. We will almost always find that we have the resources to deal with them provided that we keep two things clearly in our minds: where we want to be and where we currently are.

The exciting thing about moving towards a goal is that we will find opportunities opening up before us. When we focus on something, it is amazing how we find ourselves finding paths which we hadn’t even imagined existed in order to get there. That’s one of the reasons why detailed planning is not one of the necessary steps in order to get moving on a goal. I’m not saying that detailed plans may not be essential at various stages. In my first example of building a bridge between the mainland and the Isle of Wight, you would obviously be going to need very detailed plans and specifications. But the project’s originator will have started moving on the project long before the detailed plans are drawn up.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time talking about this third step because it’s surprising how many people forget the simple truth that to get something done you need to do it. Time and time again I have had clients who have got stuck on a project simply because they have stopped taking action on it. The secret is to start taking action again – not in a haphazard or aimless way, but by deliberately taking the next step in the right direction.


Three Types of Urgent

There are basically two types of people in the world. There are those who are perfectly ordered and who always have time to take new initiatives, while at the same time being totally unfazed by any emergencies that come up. Don’t we just envy them! The other type spend their lives rushing up against deadlines, have their plans completely thrown out by anything that “must be done immediately”, and have lots of stuff which they mean to get around to sometime but never do. In other words they are you and me. Well, OK, perhaps you aren’t like that, but in that case why are you reading this website?

What’s the difference between these two types? Is it that the first type are better people, who one day will be summoned to a perfectly ordered heaven while the rest of us are condemned to be mired in the hell of our own total disorder for eternity? No, I don’t think so. I think the difference lies in the fact that the perfectly ordered people have learned the difference between three different types of urgency:

1) stuff that needs to be done straightaway

2) stuff that has a deadline sometime in the future

3) stuff that needs to be done but doesn’t have a deadline

Orderly people know how to deal with each of these. Disordered people on the other hand only know how deal with the first – the stuff that needs to be dealt with straightaway. Anything that doesn’t need to be done straightaway gets postponed until it does need to be done straightaway! That’s why a disordered person spends their life in a state of constant rush and pressure. Rush and pressure are the only ways they can get anything done. Anything with a deadline gets left until the last moment, and anything without a deadline never gets done at all. That’s why disorder is so fatal to your effectiveness, because the really important initiatives that will take your life, business or job forward rarely have deadlines.

Let’s have a look at how the ordered person deals with these three. We might then be able to imitate them and hopefully become models of order and effectiveness ourselves. What’s their secret? It is that they deal with each of the three types of urgency in a different way. Let’s see how they deal with each in turn:

Stuff that needs to be done straightaway. They do this straightaway, just like you and I do. The difference is that they have everything else under control, so the interruption causes far less disruption to the rest of their work.

Stuff with a deadline. This is where the ordered people work in a completely different way from you and me. We tend to leave everything to the last minute. They on the other hand use all the time that is available to get a project completed. If they have two weeks to write a report, they will use the full two weeks to research it and write it up properly, instead of winging it in the last two days like the rest of us do!

Stuff without a deadline. Orderly people know how to deal with this too. They will tackle these things one at a time. We disorderly people do it a different way – we either never get around to doing any of them, or we try to do all of them at once. Either way it’s a disaster. The orderly person’s way is to list the things they want to do and then decide what order they are going to do them in. Then they knock them off one at a time. That’s the way to move forward.

Plus or Minus?

Do you find that you have difficulty doing all the items on your task list? Perhaps you keep getting stuck because you are resisting some of the items. One way of overcoming this, which I have often written about in this newsletter, is to break bigger tasks down into smaller steps. In fact the most important step is always the first one.

The secret is to pitch your first step so that you don’t mind doing it. So for example if you have a difficult report to write, the item “Write report” might get you resisting hard. On the other hand “Write outline of report headings” might seem easy.

The trouble is that you often don’t succeed in identifying that you are resisting an item until too late. At the end of the day you find you haven’t even made a start on it. Instead you have spent the day on trivial displacement activities. Ideally every item on your list would be pitched just below your level of resistance, and then you could really power through the list.

There is a very simple technique for achieving this. Once you have written out your task list for the day, just run down the list and mark each item with a plus or a minus, depending whether you feel positive or negative towards that item.

So you might end up with a list like this:

- Write report
+ Phone John
- Write new company strategy document
- Organise Charity Ball
and so on

Here there’s no problem phoning John, but you are feeling negative towards the other three items. The next step is to cross each of these three items out and write in a new item which cuts the task down smaller. Then check the new items again to see whether they are plus or minus. So your list might now look like this:

+ Phone John
+ Write outline of report headings
+ Write letter inviting colleagues’ input for strategy document
- Set up Charity Ball Committee

Now you have three plus items and one minus item. Break the minus item down further and you final list looks like this:

+ Phone John
+ Write outline of report headings
+ Write letter inviting colleagues’ input for strategy document
+ List names of potential Committee members

Because you are now feeling no resistance towards this list, you can zoom through it. You will either finish or make a good start on all your tasks and will now be able take them to the next stage.

One tip: if you take a lengthy break from actioning your list, make sure you re-evaluate your plusses and minusses on returning to it. It is surprising how resistance can increase overnight!


Being myself by nature a completely disorganized and weak willed person, I have never been too keen on the idea of depending on willpower to make changes in my life. My experience is that if I leave something up to willpower alone it will sooner rather than later come crashing down around my ears – however sincere the resolutions which I have made!

My coaching clients often start off by saying that they need to have more self-discipline. What they usually mean by that is that they think they ought to be able to keep to a set of rules by exercising their will power. If they fail to do so they will accuse themselves of lacking self-discipline. For them self- discipline equals “good” and the lack of it equals “bad”. If they fail they will beat themselves up by saying things like “I’m absolutely hopeless at this sort of thing” or “I’ve got no will power at all”.

However ideas of “good” and “bad” aren’t really much help to the person who wants to be more organized. Willpower on its own will never make anyone organized if they aren’t already. Think of something you are really good at – did you achieve it by willpower alone? I suggest it’s most unlikely that you did – there would have been all sorts of other factors in play.

Basically human beings tend to follow the path of least resistance. So if it’s easier to do the right thing, then the right thing is what you will do. If it’s easier to do the wrong thing, then the wrong thing is what you will do. This means that the secret to doing the “right thing” (however you define that) is to look at how you can arrange things so that it is easier to do the right thing rather than the wrong thing. To do this you need to pay attention to the way you are structuring your life and work.

Let’s look at a simple example of this. When you are working in an office as an employee, you will usually succeed in getting up and traveling to work more or less on time. But imagine that you leave this employment and decide to set up your own business as a home worker. Is it easy to get up and start work at the same time each day? For most people the answer is “No it’s not!”

What’s the difference between the two scenarios? In both you are the same person with the same talents, skills and failings. The only difference is the structure. In order to start work on time as a home worker you have to replicate some of the structure that you had as an office worker. Remember what you are aiming to do is to make it so that starting work at the right time is easier for you than starting at the wrong time. There are many ways in which you can achieve this. An example would be to always make your first appointment for the day at your official starting time. Then the embarrassment and inconvenience of being late would make it easier for you to be on time. Remember I said “make it easiER”, not “make it easy”!

Think of something you habitually fail to do the way you would like to do it. Examine why it is easier for you to do it wrong. How could you change the structure so it would be easier to do it right?


Space Invaders

These days computer games are all incredibly complicated. But some of us are old enough to remember the simplicity of the original Space Invaders game. As you may recall the lines of invaders gradually got closer and closer while getting faster and faster. You couldn’t let them get too close or you ended up being overwhelmed.

It occurred to me the other day that my schedule is rather like that. All the deadlines for my projects gradually march closer and closer seeming to get faster and faster the nearer they get, until I am overwhelmed with the effort of dealing with them all.

And it also occurred to me that the solution is the same as it is with Space Invaders. You have to shoot down as many of the items as you can while they are still a good way off.

The ideal is to start dealing with any project as soon as you are tasked with it. If you have two weeks to get a report written, use the whole two weeks instead of trying to write it in a panic in the last couple of days. It will also have the advantage that you will produce much higher quality work as well as being less stressed about it.

Instead of dealing with all the urgent things first, try dealing with the least urgent things first. That way they will never become urgent!

The 30-Day Challenge

Is there something in your life in which you’d really like to make a real change, but somehow you can never find the time? One way of doing it is to see how much difference you can make in 30 days. You aim is to keep going for 30 days, no more. You are far more likely to be able to find the energy and enthusiasm needed if you know that your commitment is only for a limited period like thirty days, rather than for the rest of your life!

Here are some of the challenges you might like to set yourself (only one at a time though!)

How many books can you read in 30 days?

How well organised can you make your office in 30 days?

How many prospects can you call in 30 days?

How many friends can you call in 30 days?

How many cigarettes can you NOT smoke in 30 days? (based on your present average daily consumption)

How many push-ups can you work up to in 30 days?

Once the thirty days are up, it’s up to you whether you continue or not. Most likely you will have made a habit of it by then and will continue without really having to think about it. Maybe you’ll breathe a sigh of relief and stop doing it. Whichever way, you are now ready for your next 30-day challenge!

Getting to Your Goals: Step Two

Getting to Your Goals: Step Two

In the previous posting on this subject, I said that initially all you need to know about your goal is enough to recognise it when you get there. What happens next?

The second step towards getting to your goal is to know where you are. This is a step which we often overlook. If you imagine that you are trying to map read your way from Point A to Point B, if you don’t know exactly where you are on the map you are lost. Without knowing where you are relative to Point B, you can’t find your way to it.

So with any goal, a realistic appraisal of the situation as it is at the moment is essential. This must not only include the physical facts about the situation but also your feelings about it. Not admitting your fears or other emotions about the goal, may lead to your trying to take a path which is not right for you. This means you goal will ultimately founder because your unacknowledged resistance will lead you to sabotage your own efforts. There is more about this in the article “Guilty Goals” on my website. If you didn’t follow the link I gave to it in this week’s special announcement, then I suggest you do so now (click here). It tells you how to remove your feelings of ambivalence about a goal.

Of course you need the physical facts about your current situation as well. For instance if you goal is to get out of debt, then you need to reckon up just exactly how much debt you are in, what the interest rates you are paying are, and how much of your earnings are going as debt payments. Without this vital information your efforts to get out of debt will always be pie-in-the-sky.

Another very important fact which you need to take account of is your own history in dealing with similar projects. You would be surprised how many people try endlessly to start up new projects of the same type at which they have consistently failed in the past.

And remember: you don’t just need to know where you are when you start the project. You need to know where you are throughout the project. Monitoring progress is absolutely essential. It used to amaze me when business owners told me that they only knew how their businesses were doing when they got the half-yearly balance sheet from their accountants. How can one possibly run a business like that? Yet I came across it so often that I stopped being amazed!

Ok, so now you have taken the first step and defined your goal enough to recognise it when you get it. You have taken the second step and identified exactly where you are in relation to the goal. In the next post I will deal with what the third step is that you need to get moving on your project.


Getting to Your Goals: Step One

In my last post I talked about how to sharpen up vague goals. But just how much do we need to know about a goal in order to achieve it? Do you need a detailed picture of the goal plus a detailed route map before you can get moving?

You may well need a detailed picture of the goal at some stage and you may need a detailed plan too, but you do not need them in order to get going. Imagine for example that you had an enormous goal like building a bridge between the English mainland and the Isle of Wight. To get the bridge built you are obviously going to need detailed specification and plans. But you won’t have these at the beginning of the process. In fact when you first decide on the project you will probably have little more in your head than “A bridge between the mainland and the Isle of Wight”. There are a huge number of stages to go through before you get to the detailed specifications. You need to research it, get political support, and do a thousand and one other things before you get to the stage of a detailed plan. At each of these stages the whole situation may change dramatically.

To get moving on a goal the essential thing to know is that you can recognise it when you get there. A bridge is a fairly recognisable thing, so you should be able to recognise it when you have built it! It doesn’t matter what type of bridge it is or exactly which points of the mainland and the Isle of Wight it joins together, it’s still going to be a bridge. You might even end up with a tunnel instead of a bridge and still feel that you have achieved your aim.

Most of us are not likely to be in charge of projects of this size from first conception to execution. But if a detailed plan is not needed initially for a huge project like a bridge, then it’s not needed for our comparatively tiny projects either. All we need to know about our goal at first is enough to be able to recognise it when we get there. It may help our motivation to visualise the goal in detail, but don’t confuse the details with the goal itself!


Guilty Goals

Do you really want your goals to come true?

My second book How to Make Your Dreams Come True seemed to be a book that people either loved or hated. It never sold particularly well, although many people thought it was brilliant. In the end I came to the conclusion that one of the main problems was the title. It didn’t have the immediate “yes, I need that” factor of Get Everything Done and Still Have Time to Play.

In fact the more I thought about it the more I realised that people would be very ambivalent about the idea of making their dreams come true. Dreams are funny things. I think we are always haunted by the fairy stories we heard as children in which people are given three wishes which always end in disaster. “Be careful of what you wish for – you might get it”.

Some dreams are nightmares, and some dreams we suspect would be nightmares if they came true. It may be great to have dreams of being rich and famous and surrounded by lovers, but what’s your spouse or partner going to think about it if it starts to turn into reality – or your friends – or your parents? In fact do you really want the responsibility of being rich and attractive all the time? Look at the mess so many “celebrities” get themselves into.

So what can we do about our “guilty” dreams? If we try to turn them into goals, they are just going to become “guilty” goals. If we are guilty about them then we will be half hearted. Yet they probably contain some very important truths about the things that we value so it would be a shame to just sit on them for ever and feel that we had wasted our lives.

One exercise I’ve always found valuable in this sort of situation is to examine the negative feelings we have about a goal. It’s a good idea first of all to examine why we want the goal in the first place. So let’s have a look at a fairly common goal: “I want to start my own business”. First list all the reasons why you want to do this. Then list all the reasons why you don’t want to do it. The two lists might come out something like this:

I want to have my own business because:

I hate working for a boss

I want to be able to set my own working hours

I’ve got some great ideas for products

I want to make more money

It’ll give me a greater sense of achievement

Etc etc


I don’t want to have my own business because:

It’ll involve a lot of work

I won’t have the security of a regular salary

My family won’t like it

It’ll take a long time to get going

I might lose all my money

Etc etc.

The secret now is to turn all these statements into positives. The question to ask yourself is “That’s what I don’t want. What do I want?”

In the first list all the statements are already positive except for the first one “I hate working for a boss.” So you don’t want to work for a boss. What do you want? “I want to work for myself”. You now have a positive statement in place of the negative one.

 I hate working for a boss I want to work for myself

The second list is full of negatives. Try the same technique on them. Take the first item on the list “It’ll involve a lot of work”. So you don’t want it to involve a lot of work. What do you want? You may have to think a bit before coming up with the right answer for you. It might be “I want my work to be challenging and rewarding” or “I want to have a good balance between work and play” or whatever is important to you.

It’ll involve a lot of work I want to have a good balance between work and play

Be careful though if your answer is another negative, e.g. “I don’t want to do any work at all”. In that case you need to ask the question again: So I don’t want to do any work at all, what do I want? Your answer might be “I want to sail round the world” or “I want to lie in bed all day”. Either way, you have discovered something important about yourself!

Once you’ve completed the exercise, you will now have one list of positive things which you want about this goal. Looking at these you can begin to see how you could create a goal which you could be one hundred per cent committed to rather than guilty about.


Listen to Your Heart

“Wisdom consists in doing the next thing you have to do, doing it with your whole heart, and finding delight in doing it.” Meister Eckhart.

I’ve written before about the benefits of having a rule that you will only accept new commitments to which you can say a whole-hearted “yes”. In accordance with this rule, a simple way of finding out whether you really want to agree to something is to ask yourself the question: “Can I say a whole-hearted yes to this?” If you decide that you can’t, then that gives you a straightforward and honest way of declining: “I have a rule that I only take on commitments which I can support whole-heartedly, and I don’t feel I can in these circumstances”.

Today I’m going to spend a little time writing about the importance of the heart in our daily lives. I mean by this the heart in the psychological or spiritual sense, though one doesn’t want to rule out entirely the role of the heart as an anatomical organ. Consider how quickly and sensitively your heart rate and blood pressure respond to your feelings and emotions. We all know exactly what we mean by the expression “whole-hearted” but I think most of us would have difficulty explaining exactly what being “whole-hearted” actually consists of in anatomical or psychological terms. I’m certainly not qualified to talk about what is meant by “heart” in this context in terms of psychology or neuroscience. But the one thing I am sure about is that when we use the common expressions which feature the word “heart”, we mean something which is a combination of our minds, our bodies, our intellects, our feelings and emotions. In other words we are getting near to the core of who we really are or, as the saying goes, we are “getting to the heart of the matter”.

Some similar phrases which we use every day are: “His heart wasn’t in it”; “She put her whole heart into it”; “It was a half-hearted attempt”. The one thing that all these phrases have in common is that they imply that a “whole-hearted” commitment is desirable and a “half-hearted” one is undesirable. Doing things half-heartedly doesn’t produce good results or impress one’s fellow workers, and a half- hearted person is one who is bored, uncommitted and not enjoying their work.

Unfortunately for all sorts of reasons many of us find ourselves in situations where we don’t have our hearts in what we are doing. This is not good for the work or for the other people involved – and it’s not good for us. In this sort of situation the best question to ask yourself is “What is my heart saying?” I have known people who are afraid to ask that question because they are frightened of what the answer will be, but it is a general rule of life that it is always better to face up to things than try to bury them. The answer may be that you need to make a fresh commitment to the situation, or possibly that you need to extract yourself from the situation altogether.

This question “What is my heart saying?” is very versatile. Its usefulness isn’t just confined to finding out what you really feel about a situation. You can also use it for making decisions, for checking out impulses or sudden impressions, or simply for getting directions as to what to do next.


Little and Often!

Have you ever had the following scenario happen to you? You are given large task with a deadline several weeks off. Maybe it’s to write a report or an essay. Because you don’t have to do it immediately and of course you have loads of work already, you put it off “for now”. And before you know it, you wake up one morning to the fact that the deadline is almost upon you and you have to get the task done as an emergency.

Many people have a tendency to lurch from emergency to emergency. But how many of their “emergencies” are genuinely urgent and how many owe their urgency to the fact that they have been left till the last minute as in this scenario? If we could deal with things on time so that the only emergencies we have are genuine ones, wouldn’t we find it a lot easier to control our work?

When you are given a task which doesn’t need to be done immediately, don’t put it off. You will do far better to start work on it as soon as possible and to do some work on it daily. Resolve to make full use of all the time you have before the deadline instead of putting it off till the last minute. This way you will be giving yourself time to work on the subject in a way which allows your brain to develop it at its own best pace. You will find that the project is much more easily completed this way.

This is the way our minds like working. It’s also when you think of it the way that our bodies like to work too. If you want to get fit, you know that the best way is regular exercise at least three times a week. Occasional huge bursts of exercise achieve very little, and can even be dangerous.


What I’m suggesting in this exercise is that you do exactly the opposite of what most people instinctively do. We tend to work on the project with the shortest deadline, the one that appears to be the most urgent. Here I’m asking you to do the exact opposite.

Make a list of all the current projects you have with their deadlines. Take the one with the most distant deadline and start doing some work on it every day. You may be surprised at how quickly it gets done. How will you feel when you finish it ages before the deadline with no rush and no crisis?

Now start on the project with the next longest deadline. What would happen if you did this with every project? Would you be much less stressed than you are now?


An Easy Challenge Revisited

In my newsletter of 7 November I wrote about an easy challenge. At the same time I asked for feedback on how people got on with it. Some people, including myself, have found the exercise to be so valuable that I thought it would be worthwhile to revisit it. Perhaps those of you who didn’t give it a go first time will be inspired to give it a try. (If you want to refresh your memory about the original article, it can be read at view=64)

A lot of people were kind enough to give me feedback. I was surprised though that quite a few of them seemed to have rather missed the point of the exercise – perhaps I didn’t explain it as clearly as I might have. One person told me that she had tried the exercise for two days running, had failed both days to score any points and felt that she had learned all she needed to learn. Another reckoned he had succeeded because he had done everything he had put on his list for several days running. The items he had put on his list were such things as getting up in the morning, eating breakfast and travelling to work. A third person did the exercise for three days, scoring four or five points each day, but made no effort to increase his score.

All of the above missed the main point of the exercise, which is that it is intended to be progressive. And as with any exercise in which you are competing against yourself, you need a mixture of success and failure in order to get the most out of it. Think of this exercise as being the mental equivalent of doing push-ups every day. You are competing against yourself to do more each day. Some days you will succeed and some days you will fail – but over a period of time you will get stronger and stronger.

The exercise is designed to practise you in two skills until they are instinctive. The first is the skill of being able to draw up a completely realistic list of tasks for the next day. The second is to be able work through this list every day until completion. As your skill increases the list should get progressively longer every day until it includes every single thing that you have to do. Once you have reached that stage, you are in complete control of your work.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t do other things during the day which aren’t on your list. It’s just that you don’t score any points for them if you do. There is absolutely no point in cheating because all that happens if you do is that you are cheating yourself out of the benefit of the exercise. Things which qualify as cheating include adding or deleting items on the list during the day.

Is it possible to achieve this? Certainly it is in my experience. My own scores have been 15, 34, 26, 28, 27. More important than the scores themselves, each day’s list included everything that I had to do. That’s right – everything that I had to do in order to remain completely on top of my work.

How can you construct a realistic list which will cover everything you have to do? My new book “Do It Tomorrow” – due out approximately mid-2006 - will tell you, and so will the two seminars which I am running in January.


Vague Goals

A question I am often asked is how to set a goal when one is not really quite sure what one wants. As an example, someone may know that they want to get out of the work they are in at present, but have very little idea what they can do instead. A goal of “Get out of present job” isn’t really going to be very effective. “Find new career” may be a good starting point but is far too vague to help one to take effective action in the present (which is what all goals are about).

The problem most people have in this situation is that they have too much choice. There are thousands of different new careers out there and they can’t pin what they want down any more closely.

The important thing to realise here is that there is no one right job for them. There are probably loads of possible answers, which would satisfy them. The key here is to identify the things which must be in the final result if it is to be satisfactory. You don’t need to know everything about the final result, but what you do need to know is what is going to make it a satisfactory result rather than an unsatisfactory one.

So start asking yourself some questions about the new job. A good place to start is by writing down all the things you don’t want it to be, e.g.

I don’t want it to be in the city; I don’t want a long commute; I don’t want to have my boss on my back all the time; I don’t want to earn so little I can’t pay the bills, etc.

Then turn them round into positives: “I want to work in the country; I want to live close to the work; I want to be in control of my own work; I want to earn at least £x a year”

This can give you quite a detailed description of what is important to you about the job. You can then test out what is essential by asking yourself questions like “If everything else was right about the job, but the pay was the same as I’m getting now, would I be happy?”

You may have to go back and forth a few times, but this will give you the essentials of what you are looking for.

It’s really important to ask yourself these types of questions whatever you goal is. For instance if your goal is to write a book, is it important to you whether the book is a best-selling book or don’t you mind if only your friends and family ever read it? Obviously your answer to this question is going to make a lot of difference to the type of book you write and the action you are going to take in the present to start achieving your aim.

Remember that the whole point of goals is how they affect your actions in the present!

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