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Five Things (That Might Be) Stopping You From Getting Things Done


You’ve got lots of brilliant ideas waiting to come to life and a list of things that simply have to get done. The trouble is, you struggle to execute them.

This can leave you frustrated and unsure about what to do next. It can also cause you to walk away from big dreams and goals.

Identifying what’s preventing you from making progress will help you turn your goals into reality. With that in mind, here are five things that might be standing in your way

#1 - You’re Too General About What You Want To Accomplish.

Specificity produces results. Just like when you go to a doctor for a diagnosis, the more specific you are about how you feel, any pain you have, etc., the better the doctor can treat you.

The same is true when it comes to getting things done. The more specific you are about what you want and why it’s important, the more likely it is that the thing will get done.

Often, in our zeal to accomplish things, we toss out ideas or “throw them over a wall” to others without the appropriate context or expectations – and that’s where things start to get muddled.

Do This Instead: Take time to define the context, parameters, and expected result you want and communicate them. Use the Five W’s (Who, What, When, Where, and Why) to help you get specific. If you’re delegating, be clear about whether you’re delegating authority, i.e. the ability to make decisions, or only delegating task execution.

For example, which of these is clearer?

“Team, we need to get the new section of the website launched ASAP.”

“Team, we need to add the new service section to the website. Let’s be sure to include testimonials, new copy, and images. And let’s set a date to have all of this updated by the end of the month before my next speaking engagement.”

#2 - Not Assigning Ownership And Deadlines. ​

To paraphrase Beyoncé, “If you want it, then you better put a date on it.” Frequently, we identify work but fail to give that work an owner or a deadline. What tends to happen next is that the work sits…doesn’t get done.

Do This Instead: Each time you identify a “to do,” give it an owner – even if it’s you – and a date. Things get done when someone owns them and there’s a finite expectation of when they should be accomplished by.

#3 - Too Much Activity, Not Enough Focus.

Because business moves fast, we often find ourselves in a flurry of “we’ve got to do x, y, and z” without clear objectives or priorities for getting x, y, and z done.

With all these “to-dos” spinning around and overwhelming us, it’s common to get slowed down because we’re often wondering, “Do I do this thing or that thing first?” and “What about this thing over here?” 

We can get caught up in a cycle of “being busy”, but struggle to actually move the needle forward in a way that matters as Asana’s global Anatomy of Work Index shows. 

Do This Instead: Identify what you’re strategically trying to accomplish, and figure out how the different activities fit together to get there. Be relentless about prioritizing – this reduces the noise of activity and acts as a filter for taking action. And use a task management tool to keep things straight, manage deadlines, and quell the crazy.

#4 - "I Don't Have Time" Or "I Don't Feel the Need" To Plan.

Execution often gets delayed or never happens because there was never a plan to begin with.

Maybe you’ve felt like you couldn’t take the time or that it wasn’t worth it to make a plan because things might change … or perhaps you’re just not comfortable with planning.

Whether the reason, planning is paramount. Not only does research show that for every 1 minute you spend planning, you save 8 minutes in execution, but countless examples in business and life prove that it pays to plan.

Do This Instead: Start seeing planning as a productivity booster, and get in the habit of defining what you’re trying to do and how to get it done. A plan doesn’t need to be a big Excel spreadsheet. It can be as simple as several steps on a sticky note. The important thing is to engage in the activity of planning and commit to writing your plan down. If you’re not comfortable doing this activity to promote getting things done, get someone to help you.

#5 - Not Seeing Execution As A Leadership Responsibility.

Many of us are driven to win or feel pressure to achieve, and because of this, we run fast and often don’t slow down long enough to lead our contractors, employees, or partners.

But leaders set the rhythm of an entire organization. Even if you’re not in the day-to-day or doing all the things (and I hope you’re not!), you set the tone for how execution happens.

Leaders who establish a rhythm of business (i.e. a business cadence based on key timelines and processes) set their organizations up to execute more effectively.

Think of your business as a dance – specifically two different types: a waltz and a mosh pit.

With a waltz, there’s a prescribed set of steps and no matter how many people are on a dance floor, they rotate in harmony without bumping into one another. In a mosh pit, everybody is doing their own thing to the music. People collide and often get injured.

Not seeing execution as a leadership responsibility often results in a mini-mosh pit of activity because there are no “rules“ of the business dance, e.g. standard operating procedures, communication expectations, and clear accountability.  This, in turn, makes it hard to get things done. 

Do This Instead: Embrace enabling execution as part of your leadership, and clearly define a culture and rhythm of business that support people in getting things done. Not all leaders are great at this. If that’s you, get people to help you create this and hold you accountable.

Big dreams and big goals amount to nothing without execution. Learning to recognize what might be standing in the way of getting things done puts you in a stronger position to turn those big dreams and goals into reality.

Do any of these five things hold you back from executing? Do other things get in the way? Let me know in the comments below.

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