"The undertaking of a new action brings new strength."

-- Evenius



It is axiomatic that we all know more than we do. Most of us know what we need to do, but we tend to not do it. Or we don't do it promptly. Often we can get overwhelmed by the amount of things needing to be done, and descend into overwhelm-paralysis simply because we can't decide which, out of all those projects, call for our attention first. As a result none of them get our active attention. We give them passive attention -- in other words we worry at them, think about them, let them gnaw at us in the small hours of the night. But we may not give them active attention. Active attention involves taking control, making decisions and (surprise!) acting upon those decisions.

Most useful, as my clients know well, is the question "What is the next step?" As clarified so vividly by organization guru David Allen (www.DavidCo.com) in his excellent books and tapes, this needs to be taken down to the smallest step, the most "granular", as he puts it, possible. Not "I need to arrange a workshop" or "I need to plan a party" but, quite literally, the very first thing that you need to do in order to start to make that plan. Do you need to pick a day? Do you need to check out dates with someone? Do you need to discover when a venue will be available? So what is the first thing you need to do to discover when the venue will be available? Is it to phone the manager of the venue? Or, getting still more granular, do you have to look up the phone number before you make that phone call?

Have we got there yet? Or do you need to find the phone book first <g>? Whatever it is, when you get to that point, the point where there is NOTHING ELSE standing between you and the action, then, and only then, have you reached the definition of your next action step.

Clarifying your next step achieves several things. First, it usually lets you see that taking action on the project, whatever it may be, does not involve a huge amount of time. It is quite frequently something that you can do in five minutes. There is no longer any excuse for putting it off until you "have time" for it.

Secondly, it can be amazing how much such a small step can give you momentum that will carry you forward to the steps that follow. After all, once you have the phone number in front of you -- does it not feel a bit ridiculous not to make the call? So, this next action step, small as it may have been, is likely to clear the way for the next, and then the next, so that you find yourself moving forward on a project that you might otherwise have
delayed until . . . .

Thirdly, it makes the list of things awaiting your attention very much easier. If you keep a list of projects on your to-do list (assuming that you have one -- and this is a debatable issue for which this is not the place), then every time you look at it you are faced with a list of multi-step projects, which is likely to lead to a feeling of overwhelm and panic. If, on the other hand, you keep the list of projects on a project list, and only a list of Next Action Steps, one for each project, on your to-do list, you are much less likely to go into overwhelm, much more likely to decide, "I can do this now, and this between those two appointments, and that one right after lunch" and so on.

In this way the action step approach not only moves us forward more effectively, but it also fends off the overwhelm followed by paralysis that seems to plague many folks in these days of multitasking, and of handling work loads that used to be done by three people, the other two of whom have since been subject to downsizing.

My challenge to you this month is to develop a Next Action Step for every project on your front and back burners.

If you were to start on project A today, what would the very first, smallest, most granular step be? Write it down.

And for project B? and C? and D?

This does not have to apply only to work projects. There is often as much overwhelm from home projects, family projects, and personal development as there is from work projects. Set them all out on a list, the smallest, the very first step for each.

Then prioritize. It may be that one project is so important that you need to focus on the next step for that project, and the next step, and the next step. With clarification of the steps needed, this may be much easier than you had anticipated.

Or it may be that after taking one step on your most important project you then have to wait for responses from other people, so that you are able to take a look at the next steps for other projects. Whether you focus on one, and plough into it at speed, or whether you choose to nibble away, one action step at a time, at many of your awaiting projects, is a matter for you to decide. It will depend on your circumstances and your own work style.

Either way, how many next action steps could you get through today? Or within the next week? Can you add them to your schedule?

Remember that each action step may be small, but, as we all know, the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, and until that step is taken, your journey cannot begin.

Copyright Diana Robinson 2004. For more information visit Diana's web site http://ChoiceCoach.com or contact her at Diana@ChoiceCoach.com

I am grateful for coming across this article from Diana. As I stare at my project list, I can choose to move into action by using the Action Steps, a very simple strategy that works.

This week:

1. Make your Next Action Step list and work it.

2. Assess the process. Does it work for you? Does it move your projects forward?

3. If yes, what do you need to put in place (the Next Action Step) to use the process on a regular basis?

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