One Easy Tip to Help You Finally Get 'That Thing' Done!
We’ve all had that unpleasant experience of spending an entire day (or weeks or months) thinking about ‘that thing’ we need to do… and not doing it. You might even wake up one day (or lots of days) and think “Today’s the day I’m finally going to do ‘that thing’!”... only to go to bed that night wondering WTF happened. Chances are you were either avoiding something unpleasant, boring, stressful, or confusing; or you weren’t really avoiding ‘that thing’, it’s something you’d really love to get it done but ‘everything else’ keeps getting in the way!
FTF can either stand for “Feared Things First” or “First Things First”, either way it works the same way.
1) Acknowledge Your Struggle with ‘That Thing’
You know how in movies when two people duel, they have an underlying respect for one another because each is a mighty foe to the other? Do that, but with ‘that thing’. Like this: “Oh, hello pile of tax papers that have been collecting dust on my desk for 3 months even though I thought putting them there would make me get my taxes done. You are a worthy opponent! You have bested me for months, but rest assured I will prevail against you! Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but one day. And ideally that day is today! Or maybe tomorrow!” In any case, acknowledge that this is a challenge and also that you can rise to the occasion and overcome it, even if you don’t yet know how - you have the capacity to do it, and that’s important!
Besides, that sort of attitude sure beats the hell out of the self-talk which usually happens in these situations. Something more like: “Oh look, it’s the pile of tax papers I can’t seem to work through no matter how many times I decide I’m going to do it. I’m afraid of literal paper. I suck and am the worst. Okay, time to get those taxes done.” Unsurprisingly, thinking about yourself in an Eeyore-like manner does nothing for motivation and productivity (you probably already knew that!)
2) Schedule Time Early Into Your Day(s) To Work on ‘That Thing’
Usually when I suggest this, I immediately receive a cease and desist letter from someone who does not identify as a morning person. I respect all you night owls, even though I am not one. Some of my best friends are night owls (not literally, though I wish!). You need to set aside some time as early into your day as possible. That might mean right after waking up at 7am or it might mean after breakfast at 11am or it might mean immediately after waking up and that time is 1pm for you. It doesn’t really matter, the ‘first’ part is all relative.
This has two benefits: One, you avoid the trap of running out of time, whether accidentally or on purpose. And two, once completed, you can bask in the glory of your own accomplishment, which not only makes you feel good about yourself, it frees up the precious mental energy you were using up mentally reminding (or yelling at) yourself about needing to do ‘that thing.’ And that can be enough to boost your confidence or encourage you to take the next step, if there is one, or move onto something else you want to get done.
If ‘that thing’ is a one-off task, like you need to clean out your closet full of 'whatnot' that you’ve been meaning to do for months and now the door no longer closes, getting to it first thing for one or two days will suffice. You can make it a weekend job! You don’t want to spend your weekend cleaning out your closet? Me neither, but if you set aside one or two hours on each day, and doing it first thing (i.e. as early as you are willing to do it), that means more enjoyment of the rest of the day once you are done!
If it’s an ongoing task like writing a book or maintaining an exercise routine, that’s a bit trickier because it requires a sustained effort. Somehow you’ll need to prioritize those tasks before other things get in the way. People often experience resistance to this, and that’s where exploring your relationship with time, money, self-worth, etc. will come in handy. Your resistance might be in the form of, “How can I justify spending an hour every morning working on my book, a passion project that ‘doesn’t matter’ when I have paid work to do and that’s what I ‘should’ be spending my time on?” There’s lots to unpack there, and consciously working through those beliefs will help. (For now I will just say: passion projects matter because they contribute to a happy and meaningful life and give you energy, which you absolutely deserve. But that’s a whole other blog post!)
You might not be able to do FTF every day for that ongoing project, but on the days you do get it done, you’ll get more done than if you leave it and completely run out of time or steam or energy to do it later.
To use the above example of doing’s one taxes, I am not too proud to admit that I avoid doing my taxes like a champ! I have used FTF in different ways to help me work around my own nonsense in this area of my life. When it’s time to file my taxes, I look through my schedule for 2-3 opportunities each week where I can work on my taxes for one hour, over a couple of weeks. I use that time to go through my papers, tabulate things, email my accountant a million times then talk to her on the phone, because she always phones after receiving an email, something I have never understood. Do those tasks bleed into other times of day? Yes, occasionally, such as when I am receiving one of the aforementioned phone calls. But after that first hour (which is the hardest!), there is momentum and I can see my efforts taking me closer to the end and that is helpful.
Recognizing that while this works really well, I still dislike it taking so much time to complete. In wanting to do better for my Future Self, I decided to ‘get my shit together’ with keeping track of my tax stuff during the year. Unsurprisingly, simply promising myself that I would ‘get my shit together’ did not magically work as I had initially hoped. What worked was: going through my calendar and scheduling 4 appointments with myself at the beginning of a day at the end of every quarter (in April, July, October, December and January… there’s a bonus one in December because business taxes are lots of extra special fun so more time is needed at year end). Sometimes I had to shuffle the specific day due to ‘stuff going on’, but since it was already in my schedule, it got moved to another day and time instead of completely forgotten about until the end of the year.
And the most amazing thing happened! Not only did I show up to those appointments with myself and do the required tasks (i.e. downloading invoices, organizing receipts, calculating expenses, etc.), I actually enjoyed it! That was a genuine surprise. Sometimes the ‘win’ of FTF is simply that you do ‘that thing’. It’s not more fun, it’s just done (and that counts for a lot!). Other times it can make an unpleasant task something you actually enjoy because of the good feelings that come with finally ‘getting my shit together!’ I’m not excited about completing my taxes this year, but I’m not dreading it either. I feel a lot more prepared and it all happened because I did the Feared Thing First. FTF FTW!