Published by Kathy Paauw
Productivity Consultant
Certified Business & Personal Coach

Paauwer Tools is a Monthly Ezine
March 2005
Issue 61


 The Ripple Effect:
Small Steps Lead to Big Results


“We are what we repeatedly do.
Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.”

-Aristotle
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In honor of National Procrastination Week (the first week in March) and March Forth Day (on March 4th, of course), I dedicate my March issue of Paauwer Tools to the subject of procrastination. Why? Because this single habit is the root of so many of the problems that plague all of us at one time or another – challenges with managing our time, relationships, projects, and information.

Procrastination is doing low-priority tasks and activities instead of the high-priority ones which so often contribute the most to our success. For some, procrastination becomes a harmful habit which impedes personal and professional development.

If procrastination is so harmful, why do we do it? We tend to put off doing things for the following reasons:

  • They are unpleasant to do.
  • They are difficult or complex to do.
  • They involve making tough decisions that can be overwhelming.

When we don’t want to do something that is unpleasant or difficult, we find less important things to do that will keep us “busy” so we have an excuse for why we didn’t get around to it. But putting something off does not make it go away, and postponing it often just makes it worse. As someone once said, “Killing time murders opportunities.”

We’ve just completed the second month of the year, and we have ten more months to go. It’s not too late for rededicating yourself to that New Year’s resolution! I’ll share a key to success that I’ve learned from my own life experiences...

If you want to make big changes in your life, start by making small ones.

What small change have you made recently that yielded positive results for you? By thinking about what is working, you are focusing on the positive.  I wrote more about this in last month’s newsletter.  Remember that we attract whatever we choose to give our attention to -- whether wanted or unwanted. When we focus on what we want, we are more likely to attract it into our lives.

Unlike a long list of unrealistic New Year’s resolutions that usually get broken before the end of January, small changes can create a ripple effect of another small change, followed by another. In other words, small changes can lead to other related changes. Next thing you know, you’ve generated an unstoppable tidal wave!

If you have not set a New Year’s resolution for yourself, or if you’ve already abandoned the resolutions you set in January, it’s not too late to start fresh now.  Ask yourself this question: 

 

What’s one thing that, if you did consistently, would make the greatest positive difference in your life?

I asked a client (I'll call her Kate) this question a couple of years ago during a coaching call. Her initial response was that she wanted to start taking the train to her downtown office instead of driving her car in horrible rush-hour traffic. But Kate said she could not do that because she often needed the car to get to meetings during her workday. I asked her if there were other means of transportation available to her (subway, taxi, etc.) on days she had appointments that were not walking distance from her office.
  
Kate was not sure how it would work, but she was willing to commit to a one-month trial period.  I spoke with her at the end of her first week. She recognized how this one change was already having a tremendous positive impact on her life. Over time, the impact grew larger. The ripple effect was doing its thing!

 

Here are some of the benefits Kate experienced by deciding to take the train to work instead of driving:

  • Kate was able to sleep 30 minutes later each day, since she actually got to the office faster by taking the train.
  • Kate saved enough money in gas and parking fees to pay for her coaching sessions with me.
  • Kate had time for her professional reading, which she did in the mornings on her way to work.
  • Kate had time for pleasure reading on the way home. (She had not read a novel in years!)
  • Because she had to catch the train home at a specific time, Kate started leaving her office at a set time instead of staying for "just a few more minutes" (which was never just a few minutes!).
  • Kate started conducting more of her business using technology (teleconference calls and webinars), which saved her a lot of time that she used to spend getting to and from meetings. Others appreciated this time and travel cost savings, too!
  • By leaving the driving to someone else, Kate's stress level was much lower when she got to the office and returned home.
  • Kate's additional sleep and reduced stress levels gave her added energy, and she started working out at a nearby health club a few evenings a week. Before, she barely had the energy to get home and rarely ventured out at night.
  • Kate met a wonderful man at her train stop near her home, and they started dating. At last report, a long-term future looked promising!

I could keep listing the effects this one change had on Kate's life. It's a perfect example of the ripple effect in action -- all of this by making one change, which led to another, and another.


How do you eat an elephant?

       

Remember that one of the key reasons many people procrastinate is because something is difficult or complex. In other words, it feels too big to know where or how to begin. Even the biggest projects are really just a series of small ones. I often ask my clients, “How do you eat an elephant?” … One bite at a time!

Once you break a project into bite-size pieces, determine when you want to have it completed by, and then create a timeline with benchmarks for each bite of the project. Make it as quantifiable as possible, by using numbers (make five calls daily vs. make more calls daily) and dates or deadlines. Then build in some accountability by telling someone else about your intention. Keep your intentions in written form in front of you so you can keep re-focusing on them when you get off track. Then carve out protected time on your calendar to allow time to complete the tasks you've identified.

My daughter is a senior in high school, and she has been preparing for college since last May, along with the assistance of an excellent College Planning Coach, whom she met with weekly by phone. My husband and I are so grateful that someone else was able to help her navigate through this process and hold her accountable to the timeline they created. The whole process is quite a responsibility for an 18-year-old to undertake, even with assistance!

I’ll use this college planning “project” as an example of how to eat an elephant. Although the sample timeline below does not contain every step involved, it’s enough to demonstrate how the process works. Final deadlines or completion dates are noted.

Project Name:  Gaining Admission to the College of my Dreams

  • Create a list of qualities and criteria for the College of my Dreams – 6/1
  • Research colleges – create a master list of possibilities & do research online – 6/15
  • Narrow list – boil down the master list to 15 colleges; ask colleges to send literature – 8/15
  • Build strategy for senior year (types of courses or activities needed to augment resume) – 8/31
  • Create first draft of high school resume – 8/31
  • Create first draft of essay (for application) – 9/15
  • Ask 2 academic teachers to write Letters of Recommendation – 9/15
  • Do more research on the shorter list and narrow it down to final colleges to apply to – 9/15
  • Register for SAT exam – 9/9
  • Take SAT exam – 10/11
  • Attend National College Fair – 11/8
  • Review Early Decision/Early Action deadlines – 11/25
  • Finalize high school resume – 12/1
  • Finalize college writing sample – 12/1
  • Schedule interviews; create interview portfolio – 12/2
  • Submit applications for Early Decision/Early Action colleges – 12/15
  • Complete applications due (regular decision) – 1/15
  • Scholarship applications due – 1/15
  • Review college offers as they come in; schedule college visits to colleges I want to visit – 4/15
  • Notify colleges of my decision -- 5/1

Here’s a simple three-step process for you to try:

  1. Name your “elephants.”
  2. Select one and break it down into bite-size pieces that are more manageable. Write these steps down in the order in which they need to be completed.
  3. Assign start and completion dates for each item on your task list. Enter these dates into your calendar so you remember when it’s time to do them.

As you focus on one bite at a time, you’ll be amazed at how this simple three-step process can get you unstuck and along your way with an important project you’ve been avoiding.

For more articles about overcoming procrastination, visit my newsletter articles from previous years:

 

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Copyright 2005 Kathy Paauw, All Rights Reserved.