But over the last 10 years (I'm almost 50 now) I feel like I've finally found a solution that works for me. In the sense that I've been consistently using this same system for about 9 years and 50 weeks longer than I've ever stuck with Tony Robbins, Steven Covey or GTD, and despite my own horrible procrastination addiction, I've finally made great progress towards achieving my goals.
Or specifically, I've achieved a goal a few weeks ago to "Create and Launch an App", which I first wrote down and set out to accomplish about 5 years ago.
I know a lot of people would say that's a stupid long time - and I agree - but I'm proud of myself and feel great because sticking with a big project (one I had no clue how to do when I started) and seeing it through until I can say I've reached the goal I set out for, is something I've never, ever come remotely close to achieving before.
I'll tell you what worked for me.
I first started about a decade ago by essentially creating a Scrum board. Mind you, I had no idea what Scrum was at the time - I only first heard of it a few years ago when trying to figure out how to build an app.
But I had a struggling computer consulting business at the time (and still do, still struggling), and I had what I felt like were a million ideas swimming around in my head of what I could try to do to fix it. And I knew I was taking basically zero action on any of them.
So, for the umpteenth time, I decided to get the ideas out of my head and onto paper, where I might get clarity and not lose track of what needed to be done.
I've already tried notebooks, post-its, Outlook, organizers...
This time I went with 3x5 Index Cards. One card for each idea.
Turns out I needed significantly less than a million index cards. It was closer to a half-dozen. I came up with about 6 big ideas I could try, and each had a few sub-actions listed I could take. I started by sticking the cards to my whiteboard in a To-Do column, but there were so few cards, I just stacked them up and kept them on my desk.
So, now when I sat at my PC doing absolutely nothing productive as usual, I would look at the little stack of index cards beneath my monitor, and I'd tell myself, "pick one, and work on it for 30 min." Sometimes I would. I'd set a timer for 30 minutes, which I found is very doable for me. Often it goes by so fast, I decide to do another 30 minutes. And it's short enough that I'm able to resist distractions or wandering off. Using a timer and working short time blocks really helps to keep me honest and focused.
But then I have this horrible tendency, where I will go "index card blind" for a couple days (despite them being right in front of my face). I let my laziness take hold and I ignore my cards. And with each day of not working, it just gets harder to get back into it. Often I think I use as a mental excuse to myself, "I can't recall where I left off" or "I don't remember what I need to do next". I could make things so mentally cloudy for myself, even with a plan written down in front of me.
And so I saw myself headed down the same path I always do... start a project and just let it die a few weeks later.
But lucky for me, this time around I had this struggling computer business to fix (and a family to provide for), which injected some much needed motivation.
Not yet ready to give up on my index cards, I tried again. But this time, when I'd finish working, I'd flip the card over and write a line or two about what I did and where I left off.
This did the trick.
Before I knew it, I had a growing stack of index cards in front of me as I continued to add lines of progress. Keeping a written record of what I was doing took away my excuse of not knowing where I left off or what to do next. And seeing this growing stack of cards growing made me want to keep adding to them. Also, I think seeing my long-term progress on paper also fed into my desire to keep a journal, something I wanted and tried to do many times but was never able to stick with.
Unfortunately though, while my stack of cards was growing, my business wasn't, and about 5 years ago I decided it was time to start a new stack of cards with a plan to get me out of this effing computer business that I'm clearly not cut out for.
So I hooked up with an old-school direct response marketer here on WF, who agreed to teach me how to create and sell an info product.
The plan was I would create a small info product, which I could give away for free and build a list. Then I would create a better product and sell it to my list. Repeat as needed.
It took me about 3 months (or about 29 hours if you'd prefer to count that way) to create my first product, a free report teaching my Index Card system. I gave away a few hundred copies and I promised my readers I'd be delivering a follow up product - though I had no real idea what that follow-up product was going to be yet.
After some brainstorming, I decided my next product would be a digital version of my index card system. This would make notes neater and easier to keep, easier to review, and I would be able to get instant totals of my progress, like how many actual total hours I was spending, how much time I was goofing off, or seeing how many actual days I was skipping when taking one of my extended breaks.
Even though I had no clue how to create an app (and no intention of learning how to code one myself), I put together a stack of cards outlining everything I could think of that I'd need to do, that I could do, and I got started. Working 30 minutes at a time.
At that pace - around 30-90 min. a day, with about 4-5 times as many days off than on, it took me about 5 years to get this app created and launched.
And now I can finally, proudly say I've reached a big goal. It's a first for me. I plan to be a lot quicker to my next one ("Not Be a 51 Year Old Computer Consultant"). Now that I'm actually able to use this app of mine, I have no doubt I'll get it done!
So, if I can offer any advice:
- Write down a goal and a basic plan to get there.
- Find the amount of time you're most comfortable working without breaks, and use a timer to work in those time blocks as often as possible.
- Keep notes of your progress.
Good luck with your own progress!