Audio: Just Do It! [Time – 15:47, File Size – 14.9 MB]
It is my intent in this post to convince you of the tremendous liberating power of simply taking action. I want to encourage you to get moving… to get unstuck… to just do it! If you and your project team members are sometimes plagued with fits of analysis paralysis or procrastination, accompanied by worry over all the bad things that might happen when you take action, then this post (podcast) is for you. Let’s start with some a couple of powerful quotes:
“A good idea if not acted upon produces terrible psychological pain. But a good idea acted upon brings enormous mental satisfaction. Got a good idea? Then do something about it. Use action to cure fear and gain confidence. Here’s something to remember: Actions feed and strengthen confidence; inaction in all forms feeds fear. To fight fear, act. To increase fear — wait, put off, postpone… Jot that down in your success rule book right now. Action cures fear.” – David J. Schwartz in The Magic of Thinking Big.
Think about it. What Schwartz says makes sense! How often have you spent days and days putting off an action because you feared some dire consequences, only to find out later (after you acted) that these consequences were simply not real! In the meantime, for days, you lived through the agony of dreading your negative fantasy!
So… you say you know what to do, but are just feeling hesitant about it? Maybe you’ve convinced yourself that you need to do “a little more homework” before you get started. Okay. It’s always good to think through a problem before you act. But remember this from Dale Carnegie in How to Stop Worrying and Start Living: “… knowledge isn’t power until it is applied; [my] purpose …is to remind you of what you already know and to kick you in the shins and inspire you to do something about applying it.” Carnegie also says: “Spit on your hands and get busy. Your blood will start circulating; your mind will start ticking–and pretty soon this whole positive upsurge of life in your body will drive worry from your mind. Get busy. Keep busy.”
Castor Beans and Procrastination
Here’s an example of how I’ve let procrastination ruin my own peace of mind: In Southern California where I live, castor beans are to the plant world what cockroaches are to the insect world. They are invasive, extremely aggressive about staying alive and procreating, and almost impossible to eliminate once they get a foothold on your property. They produce large, ugly leaves; choke out everything near them; and soon tower 8 or 10 feet over the yard like some kind of berserk bamboo colony, dropping spiny, barbed, and poisonous seeds that hit the ground and immediately go to work adding more plants to the colony! Now just behind the fence at the back of our beautiful, did-it-ourselves, landscaped back yard is an easement separating our property from our neighbor’s. Here, secluded from the view of both property owners, those sneaky castor bean plants sprout, grow, and gather momentum. Left unchecked, like we did one year when we left town for a several months, these guys can grow taller than the people who have to battle them. And once they get a few feet tall, they extend their tough roots deep into the ground. Removing them when they have grown even moderately large is a huge chore requiring a lot of cutting and digging and much scratching of forearms and hands. So everyone knows that the best way to deal with these things is to get them while they’re young, digging them out when they are small plants. And when you’re done, you can’t assume they’re gone for good. You have to check on them frequently because the seeds from an ancient crop that was allowed to go unchecked several years ago can lie in wait and spring to life when you least expect it.
Now I love sitting in my yard and enjoying a cup of coffee in the morning. My wife’s carefully staged flower plantings produce beautiful changing displays as one type of flower passes its prime and another begins blooming. And I love watching the bees, hummingbirds and finches work the blooms while the mockingbird sings his amazing melodies to lure a mate. It’s truly a peaceful place of renewal. Temporarily peaceful,that is… until I see, through the cracks between the fence slats, the little green castor bean plants bobbing in the sunshine. Then I groan, knowing what’s in store for me. Getting rid of these things will take two ladders (one for my side of the fence and one hoisted over to the other side to get me down into the easement), moving some of the neighbor’s junk that he keeps throwing back there, then cutting the plants and digging out the root systems, and finally getting all the debris back over the fence and into the recycle bins. In other words, the whole process is a pain! So I look away. I watch my pretty flowers and birds, and I try to put this nasty, but necessary, chore out of my mind. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work. Now that I have spotted them, the irritating little plants sway in the breeze, peeking through the fence slats and taunt me. This goes on for several days. Each of my coffee breaks begins with peacefully enjoying the flowers and birds, then quickly turns to an annoying strain as I try to force myself to ignore the growing bean plants. Eventually, I assemble my tools and ladders and tackle the chore of removing these pests. But not before I’ve allowed them to spoil my coffee break for days on end. A couple of hours work… a couple hours of “just do it”… would have finished the job. And would have given me my peaceful coffee breaks a lot sooner.
Don’t Wait: Do It Now!
Now I realize that When you’re working with a project team, taking action can be a lot more complicated than removing weeds. On one of my project teams, for example, I had a writer who absolutely drove the client crazy. This person had two grad school degrees, plenty of publications to his credit, and a stellar track record… on paper. Unfortunately his one-on-one communications skills were terrible! With clients (especially women, for some reason) he was impatient, arrogant, abrasive, and sometimes flat out obstinent. Trouble was, by the time I found out how unbearably he was behaving with our female client, he had completed the research and a preliminary outline for the project component he had been assigned. If I were to fire him, a lot of time would be lost. So, I prolonged the agony by accompanying him on every meeting with the client and “keeping him in line” as best I could. Eventually the client reached her limit, as did I, and I replaced this guy with a kinder, gentler writer. True, it caused a delay in the project as the new person got up to speed. But the new person’s enthusiasm and the good will extended him by the client changed the whole atmosphere of the project. The bottom line: We all suffered more than we had to, because I didn’t “just do it” earlier! (And, by the way, that obnoxious writer I fired found himself a position working pretty much alone with “no one looking over his shoulder” as he put it. So even he benefited from the change!)
As Russell Simmons says in his book, Do You!: “Stalling leads to sickness. But taking steps, even baby steps, always leads to success.”
Sounds good. But sometimes, especially when the situation you are facing is complex, it can be extremely difficult to get unstuck and take action. If you find yourself stuck, consider these specific recommendations for getting moving from Dale Carnegie:
“Experience has proved to me, time after time, the enormous value of arriving at a decision. It is the failure to arrive at a fixed purpose, the inability to stop going around and round in maddening circles, that drives men to nervous breakdowns and living hells. I find that fifty per cent of my worries vanishes once I arrive at a clear, definite decision; and another forty per cent usually vanishes once I start to carry out that decision.
So, I banish about 90 per cent of my worries by taking these four steps:
1. Writing down precisely what I am worried about.
2. Writing down what I can do about it.
3. Deciding what to do.
4. Starting immediately to carry out that decision.”
This is a brilliant approach! And it addresses the demands of even the most analytical among us, because it uses a logical, systematic series of steps. The key, however, is that you “just do it!” You need to actually take these steps! As Dr. Phil tells us in his Life Law #5: “Life rewards action. [You need to] make careful decisions and then pull the trigger. Learn that the world couldn’t care less about thoughts without actions.” (From Dr. Phil McGraw’s Life Strategies: Doing What Works, Doing What Matters)
And so what if you make a mistake? We learn from mistakes. In fact, we can’t learn anything without making mistakes. As Ralph Waldo Emerson says, “All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.”
So no matter what, we neet to keep moving… we must take action. In the words of Calvin Coolidge: “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination are omnipotent. The slogan ‘press on’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”
So get out there and “just do it!”
Reflect on these questions:
- Looking back, have you ever been “stuck” when working on a project? How did you get unstuck? If fear was involved, how did you overcome it?
- Is there someone on your project team who is:
- suffering from analysis paralysis?
- waiting, afraid to take action, until they get that special input from that special person?
- just plain scared to take action until all the conditions are “perfect?”
- Have other people in your organization ever been similarly immobilized? How did they get unstuck and move on?
Ask your team:
- In what areas of this project are you feeling stuck?
- Which project tasks are you most afraid of working on or most afraid of completing in an unsatisfactory form?
- What specific help, support, encouragement, or resources do you need to overcome these fears and to get unstuck?
- Which project tasks are you most likely to put off doing… Which ones are you most likely to procrastinate in completing?
- What one thing could senior management or project management or the customer/client provide that would get you moving and keep you moving?
- What’s preventing you from asking for this?
Project Manager Challenges
- Think about the responses to the previous Reflections and Team Challenges. Make a “to do” list of things you should be doing to eliminate the factors that are preventing the project team members from “just doing it.”
- Think about Dale Carnegie’s four-step process for banishing worry and indecision and for stimulating action.
- Create a worksheet titled “Just Do It: Banish Worry” that presents a modified version of Carnegie’s four steps listed as follows:
- Precisely what are you worried about? [Be specific.]
- What can you do about this thing that worries you? [Make a list of options. Be specific.
- Decide what to do. [Choose among the options.]
- Take action. Now!
- Sit down with anyone on your team who is stuck and who should be taking action. Introduce them to the “Just Do It: Banish Worry” worksheet and help them use this tool to get moving on their project and “just do it!”
- If it makes sense, consider having “stuck” project team members work out of sequence, start in the middle, go help someone who’s already got momentum try building a prototype or outline or do anything concrete and engaging that will help them turn their worries into action.
- Go to PhilosophersNotes and download the full notes and MP3 versions of the following books:
- The Magic of Thinking Big – David J. Schwartz
- Dale Carnegie’s How to Stop Worrying and Start Living
- Russell Simmons’ Do You!
- The Selected Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson
- Or go to Amazon.com and search for books from all these authors: