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Defining What Done and Doing Look Like

Defining What Done and Doing Look Like
    From fjota on flickr

    I have been a productive worker wannabe for several years now. I have read a ton of books, prescribed GTD as much as I could, bought all the gear in the world that anyone recommended as being the best, and constantly failed at it. It wasn’t until I slowed down, settled with a set of tools and got back to the basics that I started to understand what being productive was.

    Being productive isn’t using your gear or being knowing the Getting Things Done flow chart inside and out. David Allen reminds us what being productive is at its most basic level:

    “You have to define what done means and what doing looks like.”

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    It’s really that simple. What I think is so amazing is that GTD is a very basic idea yet when we are thrown into the “rat race” of work and life, we easily forget to apply the basics. Either that or we have yet to master them. Let’s look closely at defining done and doing.

    Define What Done Means

    This was something that took a long time to “get”. I understood that defining a project was naming something that had more than one action to accomplish, but I still had trouble defining my outcomes with the project. Not so much with smaller things like, “schedule some time with a [insert friend name here] and catch up” but more along the lines of “development new web service testing suite for [insert web service here]”.

    There are hard edges with some projects while others are like a big ball of stuff just sitting there and taking up space. We have to be able to get through the stuff, find the things that are important, and then define what complete looks like. Luckily there is an awesome way to do this; use Mr. Allen’s 5 Phases of Project Planning. Here they are in a nutshell:

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    1. Define purpose and guiding principles. (Why is this being done?)
    2. What is the successful outcome? (What would it be like if this were totally successful?)
    3. Brainstorm (Get creative and write down and link anything that comes to mind about the project)
    4. Organizing (Create priorities and an order to the project)
    5. Identify next actions (keep reading for this)

    Now, like I said before, some project are pretty self-evident in what needs to happen. But there are many that are large and nebulous that need a clear outcome and a structure to complete. Once you define what “done” is, then you can move onto deciding what doing looks like.

    What Doing Looks like

    Coming up with the next action of a project may seem like its easy, but in practice can be very difficult. The biggest problem is that we tend to “over-generalize” our projects and tasks and add things to our lists like:

    • Plan birthday party for Amy
    • Create brand new web app for ‘X’
    • Lose your protruding gut

    These are some great things to accomplish, but they are far from being next actions. What we need to do is granularize our projects and get down to the “dummy level” with our tasks. We have talked about this many times before at Lifehack, but it needs repeating as this is the heart of getting more accomplished and being less stressed while doing it.

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    I liken this to the idea of “cranking widgets” and checking off easy todo tasks off your list one at time. This will eventually lead you to completely large scale projects while keeping yourself way less stressed.

    So, instead of “plan birthday party for Amy”, I’d better create a highly doable next action like, “draft a list of people to invite to Amy’s party.” Then I can get the ball rolling. In fact, all it takes to make a dead project move forward is identifying a single next action that you could do given the right context.

    That’s what doing looks like.

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    It’s all about the basics

    Like I said before, I know that if you are a GTD or productivity kind of guy or gal that this stuff is pretty basic. But the thing is that staying productive is all about mastering the basics. When life and work sets in and you are bombardo with the “real world” it’s important to know the basics well and use them immediately.

    More by this author

    CM Smith

    A technologist and writer who shares advice on personal productivity, creativity and how to use technology to get things done.

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    Last Updated on March 31, 2020

    How To Break the Procrastination Cycle

    How To Break the Procrastination Cycle

    How often do you find yourself procrastinating? Do you wish you could procrastinate less? We all know how debilitating procrastination can make us feel, and it seems to be a challenge we all share. Procrastination is one of the biggest hindrances to moving forward and doing the things that we want to in life.

    There are many reasons why you might be procrastinating, and sometimes, it is really difficult to pinpoint why. You might be procrastinating because of something related to the past, present, or future (they are all intertwined), or it could be as simple as biological factors. Whatever the reason, most of us follow a cycle when we procrastinate, from the moment we decide to do something to actually getting it done, or in this case, not getting it done.

    The Vicious Procrastination Cycle

    For some reason, it helps to understand that we all go through the same thing, even though we often feel like the only person in the world who struggles with this. Do you resonate with the cycle below?

    1. Feeling Eager and Energized

    This is when you commit to taking a new action or getting something done. You are feeling confident and optimistic that, this time round, you will do it!

    2. Apprehension Starts to Come Up

    The beginning stages of optimism are starting to fade. There is still time, but you haven’t done anything yet, and you start to feel uneasy. You realize that you actually have to do something to get it done, and that good intentions are not enough.

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    3. Still No Action

    More time has passed. You still haven’t taken any action and probably have a lot of excuses why. You start to panic a little and wish you had started sooner. Your panic starts to turn into frustration and perhaps even irritability.

    4. Flicker of Hope Left

    You can still make it; there is a little time left and you ponder how you are going to get it done. The rush you get from leaving your task until the last minute gives you a flicker of hope. There is still time; you can do this!

    5. Fading Quickly

    Your hope starts to quickly fade as you try desperately to understand why you just can’t do this. You may feel desperate and have thoughts like, “What is wrong with me?” and “Why do I ALWAYS do this?” You feel discouraged, or perhaps angry and resentful at yourself.

    6. Vow to Yourself

    Once the feeling of anger or disappointment disappears, you most likely swear to yourself that this will never happen again; that this was the last time and next time will be different.

    Does this sound like you? Is the next time different? I understand the devastating effect that procrastination has on many lives, and for some, it is a really serious problem. You also have, on the other hand, those who procrastinate but it doesn’t affect them in any way. You know whether it is affecting you or not and whether it undermines your results.

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    How to Break the Procrastination Cycle

    Unless you break the cycle, you will keep reinforcing it!

    To break the cycle, you need to change the sequence of events. Here is my suggestion on how you can effectively break the vicious cycle you are in!

    1. Feeling Eager and Energized

    This is when you commit to taking a new action or getting something done. You are feeling confident and optimistic that, this time round, you will do it! The first stage is always the same.

    2. Plan

    Thinking alone will not help; you need to plan your actions. I always put my deadlines one or two days in advance because you know Murphy’s Law! Take into consideration everything that you need to do, how long it will take you, and what you will need to get it done, then plan the individual steps.

    3. Resistance

    Just because you planned doesn’t mean that this time is guaranteed to be different. You will most likely still feel the resistance so expect this. This stage is key to identifying why you are procrastinating, so when you feel the resistance, try to identify it immediately.

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    What is causing you to hesitate in this moment? What do you feel?  Write them down if it helps.

    4. Confront Those Feelings

    Once you have identified what could possibly be holding you back, for example, fear of failure, lack of motivation, etc. You need to work on lessening the resistance.

    Ask yourself, “What do I need to do to move forward? What would make it easier?” If you find that you fear something, overcoming that fear is not something that will happen overnight — keep this in mind.

    5. Put Results Before Comfort

    You need to keep moving forward and put results before comfort. Take action, even if it is only for 10 minutes. The key is to break the cycle and not reinforce it. You have more control that you think.

    6. Repeat

    Repeat steps 3-5 until you achieve what you first set out to do.

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    Final Thoughts

    Change doesn’t happen overnight, and if you have some deeper underlying reasons why you procrastinate, it may take longer to finally break the cycle.

    If procrastination is holding you back in life, it is better to deal with it now than to deal with the negative consequences later on. It is not a question of comfort anymore; it is a question of results. What is more important to you?

    Learn more about how to stop procrastinating here: What Is Procrastination and How to Stop It (The Complete Guide)

    Featured photo credit: Luke Chesser via unsplash.com

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