Executing is not difficult, if there are no obstacles. Just like moving great distances isn’t difficult if you don’t have gravity or things in the way.
So let’s look at the obstacles, before we look at how to get good at the skills.
These are the most common obstacles to Getting Stuff Done (with some recommended fixes):
Habit of putting off starting, because it’s uncomfortable. This is procrastination — you putt off starting a task because it’s hard or you’re feeling overwhelmed or uncertain about the task. The fix is to make the start as small as possible, create conditions that make you more likely to start, and then to practice starting over and over until you get good.
The switching habit. Maybe you get started, but then constantly switch to other tasks. This is for the same reasons as procrastination — discomfort and uncertainty make you want to do something else, so you go to an easier task or your favorite distractions. Switching, switching, switching, leads to a lack of focus and constant busyness. The fix: create focus sessions, where you practice staying focused on one task for a short period of time (10 minutes, 15 minutes, etc.) until you get better at staying, at least for a little while.
Perfectionism. You put off starting (or finishing) because conditions aren’t perfect, or the work isn’t perfect. For example, you want to start a blog but can’t until you find the perfect platform, perfect theme, perfect schedule, and have all the time you want, a list of great ideas, and a perfect understanding of how to be a great blogger. Good luck with that! Or you write a blog post or article but don’t publish it because it’s not perfect yet (hint: you’re just experiencing uncertainty). The fix: commit to starting imperfectly, just starting even if things are messy, creating that shitty first draft, and cleaning things up later. You might need some accountability to commit to this.
Other people. Other people frustrate you, holding things up with their delays, making things more complicated, complaining, messing things up, being irritating. In truth, it can be hard to get things done when you rely on other people. But this is often a rationalization. The fix: take complete responsibility for your part, get good at doing your part, and step into a bigger leadership role where you help the whole team succeed, stretching yourself to be positive and whole-hearted with other people despite their shortcomings.
Distractions & interruptions. You get pulled away by constant distractions and interruptions. Some of those are under your control, others aren’t. The fix: create focus sessions of distraction-free time, where you turn off the Internet or get a site blocker and commit to just focusing on one thing for a short while. Talk to others about interruptions during this time (tell them if you have headphones on, they shouldn’t interrupt you). Turn off notifications during this time (it might only be for 20 minutes at a time). Finally, practice dealing with interruptions (that you can’t control) by letting go of what you were doing, turning mindfully and gratefully to the person interrupting you and giving them your full attention, then returning to your task and giving it your full attention again. This takes practice.
Being tired. You’re tired, hungry, low on energy, frustrated, lonely. These kinds of difficulties can make it hard to focus and get things done. Fix: Recognize when you’re in one of these states, and do what you need to get recharged (a short nap, walk, or meditation might help). Or do tasks that don’t require great energy and focus (answering emails, doing routine admin tasks, etc.). If it’s a long-term problem, fix your sleep and eating.
Fear, uncertainty, feeling overwhelmed & self-doubt. Lying at the heart of most of the obstacles above are these mental conditions — fear and uncertainty, which are really the same thing. Fix: Getting good at staying in fear and uncertainty without needing to shut down, run, avoid, get in control or lash out (the usual responses), is a key skill. More on this below.
This might feel like an overwhelming list of obstacles. But the fixes are relatively simple, and I’ll talk more about how to put together a simple program for getting good at overcoming these obstacles, and getting good at Getting Stuff Done in the process.
First, let’s look more at the skills you want to get better at.