When you are stuck in a project or you procrastinate – i.e. you say everyday you are going to do this task, but later … – asking yourself a very simple question can help you move on. This questions is : “What is the very next physical, visible action I need to take if I want to move forward in this mission?”
Why this very simple question helps you move on?
Because it helps you realise that the very next step to move on is probably a very little one that do not require tremendous time and energy and that none the less makes you move into the right direction. This huge mission you want to achieve looks intimidating when you see it as a whole, but when you move step by step, you split the mission in manageable parts, you can do these very quickly and get the energy provided by the satisfaction of having done something in the right direction after having waited for so long. This is giving you energy for the next steps.
David Allen, the best-selling author of “Getting things done, the art of stress-free productivity” is the most popular author who expressed this idea in a global system called GTD, for Getting Things Done. Of course anyone dealing with projects in a business environment ask herself the question regularly, generally accompanied by “Who is doing it?” and “What is the deadline?”. David Allen adresses the question in a very entertaining and practical way, that makes the reading of his book stimulating. For this specific topic, check the Chapter 12 ” The power of the Next Action Decision” in the updated version of GTD book.
Physical & Visible
I found in my personal experience the use of physical & visible action the most powerful part of this question. Each time I ask myself the question this way, I have to be extremely specific because I need to find something to do that is physical and visible. Being specific helps you really take action : you have not the excuse of something that is not clearly defined or too general to act. You act!
As you may know, I also sell Japanese Organic Matcha Tea. One of my product category is a full kit with all the material you need and the tea in one box you can offer to a friend or as business gift. I have a good price, high quality products but I am not satisfied by the packaging. I would like to have a more beautiful package.
My next action could be “Find a solution to improve the packaging for my kits”. With this, I cannot move on very far. What should I do to find this solution? Well, I know from previous analysis that I need to go into the direction of a cardboard boxes. I need to know the price and the feasibility of this solution. Who can give me a price and feasibility? Well, my supplier of cardboard boxes. So, what should I do? I need to take contact with him. And? More precisely? I will pay him a visit next week to explain him what I want. To do this I need to schedule a meeting. OK, so my very next action will be : Email John for a meeting next week about packaging for kits.
In my previous job, I was responsible for the Transport, Warehousing and Packaging department of a big industrial player in the Automotive sector. One type of projects my team and I had under our responsibility was to find, negotiate and prepare advanced warehouses for our customers.
None of these projects were perfectly implemented, each of them showed at least five things we could do better the next time. So we implemented a routine to write an After Action Review ( AAR, what they do in the Military after each operation) after each project implementation to make sure we would (1) express what we could do better, (2) express what we did right and (3) document our actions for the next time and maybe the next team members.
This type of report was the kind of task we routinely delayed, most of the time because we were exhausted after a go-live (or not willing to look at our own failures). So came the next action questions! What should I do, that is physical and visible to move-on in my AAR report?
I should find the time to sit down and write it. OK. What can I do to block some time in my crazy agenda for this? I can take my agenda and block one hour as soon as I find one free? OK, now that I have the time, what will be my very first action about that? I will brainstorm and take note of the things we did right and the things we could do better. OK, then I will share this list with my teammates to make sure I though about everything. So I’d better book a meeting with them shortly after I blocked my one hour on the topic. OK, so my next actions are just blocking one hour in my agenda and inviting my colleagues for a meeting short after that.
In this example, I also “use” – in a constructive manner – a healthy pressure from my colleagues : if we decide we meet each other next week on Wednesday, I want to make sure I have prepared the meeting and I am not going to disappoint my team. So chances are that I will not procrastinate anymore.
As we come close to the New Year’s resolutions, would you like to test this question on any of your current mission you are stuck in? I am curious about this : does it work for you? Do you see the power of such simple question in your specific case?
Let me know in the comments if you want!
References : Allen,D. “Getting Things Done, the Art of Stress-free productivity” Penguin Book, Business, 2015