So if you clicked through to read this post, I’m going to make a couple of educated guesses about you.
Maybe you’re smart and motivated and passionate. With all kinds of cool things you’d like to get done. But somehow when it comes to doing them, you just . . . don’t.
Maybe you’re great at ideas but lousy at execution. Talk a good game but don’t get the results you want. Spend a lot of time thinking about where you want to go, but not much time actually moving your ass down the road that would take you there.
You, my friend, are a flake. Congratulations.
We are a worldwide force. If we could all get ourselves moving in the same direction, we would change the world. Of course, as you and I know, that will never happen.
I’m going to tell you now that you should stand proud. Flakes can be awesome.
A lot of us are creative and smart. (All that time coming up with excuses for losing our homework has trained our brains.)
We’re often very funny. Maybe even charming. We look at the world with an interesting set of lenses. We’re curious. A lot of us tend to pick up new things very quickly.
Now for the not-awesome part
What we lack is focus. Everything looks good to us. We want dinner in Rome and a dive trip to Fiji. Most of us care more about experiences than about stuff. But because we don’t take care of the “stuff” aspect of life, we don’t have the experiences we really want to have.
That, and we tend to lack this “drive” thing. We have desire, but we don’t know how to engage drive. The wheels are turning, but the car ain’t going forward.
My friend, if you are a flake, you need to learn how to get things done. Getting things done (meeting goals, completing projects, all that irritating junk productive people do) will let you have better experiences.
We live in a world made of stuff. So it gets pretty painful when we blow stuff off. But you actually can learn how to get things done. Here’s how.
First: What do you want out of it?
You’re not going to get a damned thing done until you actually know what you want to get out of it.
I know this is making your eyes roll into the back of your head. You know all about this visualizing your goals business. You may have even forced yourself to write down exactly where you want to be in five years, 10 years, and 20 years, with all the little details that will make it real to you.
That’s a good thing to do, but I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about something much more general. (Much flakier, in fact.)
Just know what you want to get out of the thing you’re thinking about doing.
Do you want to do it to make some money? OK, why do you want money? What does that get you?
Sit down with a pen and paper (or a keyboard if you absolutely must, but pen and paper do something interesting to your brain’s deep wiring) and answer the question:
What do I want out of this thing?
You can describe a scenario, or visualize images, or focus on how you’ll feel or what the material facts will be. If you adopt too much of someone else’s formula, it won’t feel real to you. Just answer the question in a way that makes you say, “Oh, yeah. That’s it. That’s actually exactly it.”
Then, get real
Now it’s time for something that the self-helpers don’t usually talk about.
I got this from Robert Fritz’s terrific book, Path of Least Resistance￼, and I have found it to absolutely rock. Fritz calls it the “Pivotal Technique,” which I think is an apt label. If you need to turn yourself around in a major way, this is how you can do it.
- Step 1. Get nice and clear about what you want.
- Step 2. Get completely, impeccably, bullshit-free clear about where you are now, with respect to that.
That’s it, just those two. Simple but not easy.
Put another way:
Understand exactly what you want. Understand exactly where you are. Notice the difference.
Please note that there is not a follow-up step called “beat yourself to a bloody stump about not being where you want to be.”
If you’re in New York and you want to go to San Francisco, how much good does it do to beat yourself up about what a lame-ass you are not to be in San Francisco? How far west does that actually move you?
Not one millimeter? Hmm, interesting.
Now, figure out what’s next
All those annoying productivity people will tell you that the next step is to make a map that goes from here to there.
The map has all the steps you’ll need to take. Those steps are probably broken into sub-steps. Along the way, you’ll identify the resources you’ll need to develop and the avenues that are most likely to get you to your goal. You’ll get a good understanding of the constraints and maybe even start to work out a critical path.
Get real. You are a flake. You are not going to do all that. In fact, just the thought makes you want to go grab an ice cream, doesn’t it?
And here’s another thing. You don’t know the whole map. You’ve probably never been to this place you want to go. So what makes you think you can map it out? You can’t.
The best you can do from where you are now is to get a sense of where “kinda-sorta the right direction” is.
Flakes are flaky because the map seems impossible. Productive people are productive because the map seems real.
The flakes are actually right, but a fat lot of good that does us. The productivity people follow their imaginary map, and because they’re doing something, they get somewhere. (Curse you, productivity people!)
Don’t worry, there’s a way out
All you have to do is figure out what’s next. This comes from good old David Allen’s Getting Things Done￼, which is a terrific system if you’re mentally ill enough to do all the ritual.
Just get an idea of what one action you should take next that will take you kinda-sorta in the right direction.
If you’re going to San Francisco from New York, your next action might be “get on Mapquest to figure out what roads go west out of town.” Or it could be “call Greyhound and see what a ticket will cost me.” Or it might even be “wait until the sun goes down to see where west is.”
Those are all legit. They all set you up to start moving in the right direction.
Your brain might start blaring like a smoke alarm with 2,000 things you need to do next. You can’t do 2,000 things right now. Write down the things you think are at least somewhat important. Then pick just one to do next.
Allen is very smart about this. It has to be the single next thing to take action on. Not “get $900 for an airline ticket,” but “check Craigslist tomorrow morning for temp job” or “send mom a birthday card so I can hit her up for money next week.”
If you can’t do it in 20 minutes, it’s probably not the next action. Find the next action.
Do what you feel like
The flake’s superpower is that we are very good at doing what we feel like.
If you figure out your next action to take, and you don’t just get up and do it right away, do the Pivotal Technique again.
Understand what you want, and why you want it. Understand where you are now. Notice the difference.
Then do what you feel like.
Just keep cycling through that. As a flake, your brain is very good at protecting you from things you don’t want. If you don’t feel like moving kinda-sorta in the direction of your thing, there’s something about it you don’t want.
A useful flake technique is to say something to yourself along the lines of:
OK, unconscious mind, gigantic pain in the ass that you are, thanks for keeping me from doing something I don’t want to do. Could you do me one more favor and let me know what about it I don’t like? Thanks.
Ask yourself that question out loud before you go to bed. Maybe write it down on a piece of paper as well. Then forget about it and see what pops into your head the next day.
Once you can see what you don’t like, you’ll figure out a way around it. Flakes are excellent at figuring out ways around things.
Don’t misplace your brilliant insights
As a flake, you are ruled by your unconscious mind more than the person is. Because of this, I can promise that you will get useful answers to your questions. Your unconscious mind is actually a lot smarter than your conscious mind is. So you’ve got that going for you.
But, again because you’re a flake, you’ll probably lose track of those answers.
In fact, you’ve come up with terrific answers and lost them again many times already. It’s just how we flakes work.
So set up a flake-friendly way to keep everything. I call mine the compost pile. All the notes and ramblings and scribbles go in there, and eventually some of it composts into something I can use.
Flakes throughout history have used notebooks for this, and they’re not bad, but they’re hard to go back into. It might take hours to find that genius insight you had two years ago that will absolutely solve the nasty problem you’re facing right now.
So I like software. At the moment, my favorite tool for this is Evernote. I keep blog post ideas, gardening plans, backups of eBooks I’ve bought, plans for world domination, kettlebell workouts, etc. in there. And I keep pinned notes about the very next actions to take on various things I want to get done, and a few bullet points about what I want to focus on right now.
By the way, I try not to focus on any more than around four general areas at any one time, or everything tends to immediately grind to a halt. When I get ideas for projects outside my three or four focus points, I throw ‘em into the compost pile. These are your biggest, most complex, most important “Need to Happen” projects.
Little tasks can usually be squeezed in around the edges, but keep your primary projects … primary.
The plan in 7 reasonably painless steps
- When you’ve got something to do, figure out what you really want to get out of it.
- Do the Pivotal Technique. Think about what you want, then get clear about where you are right this minute. Notice the difference.
- Figure out the next action.
- Do what you feel like.
- Rinse, lather, repeat.
- Start a compost pile for ideas, notes, plans, and insights.
- Stick to a few primary areas of focus — three or four is a good number for a lot of people.
My beloved fellow flakes, what kind of things are you trying to get done now? Making any progress? I’d love to hear about it in the conversation over on Google-Plus …
Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on Sonia’s personal blog, Remarkable Communication, back in 2011.
Since that time, she has gotten a hell of a lot of things done using this system. Does she remain a complete and total flake? Damn straight she is, and proud of it.
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