A phrase I hear fairly regularly is the sheepishly delivered, “Sorry, I’ve been meaning to do that”. It is a very Irish thing to say I reckon. What it really means is that there was an intention that had not yet turned into an action.
Do you “mean to” too? Do you find yourself repeatedly thinking about something you need to do, making mental note after mental note, and usually remembering it when you’re not in a position to do it? When asked by your boss/colleague/partner/friend if it’s done, do you meekly say, “No. I have been meaning to, but haven’t done it yet”?
I reckon leaving things in your head is one of the main reasons why the “I’ve been meaning to” phenomenon occurs. Your brain is amazing, and can store many millions of things, but it is terrible at remembering stuff at the right time. So how do we stop using our head and move from Intention to Action? I reckon there are four stages, each building on the last and increasing the chances of you doing something before it becomes urgent, or an issue.
1. Make it visible – Step 1 is not rocket science. Get it out of your head and write it down, either on paper, or electronically. This makes the action visible and will increase the chances of it getting done. But just writing it down may not be enough. If it ends up buried in a list, or a notebook, or on a sticky note, you may still forget. Just writing it down relies on you remembering to actively look at the task to do it.
2. Make a time – By writing the task down, and making a time to do it, we are starting to manage the action in a more systemised way. All actions need your time to get done, so allocating some of that time increases the chances of traction. You might schedule time in your calendar, or schedule a task into a dated list so that the action appears on the appropriate day for you to do. This sort of ‘trigger’ reminder really brings your action management to a new level.
3. Make it a priority – Taking the additional step of prioritising the task will increase your desire to get it done. We all have a lot to do every day, and it is easy to procrastinate about some of this work. When we prioritise our lists, we start to commit to what is really important. A great way to make your big priorities really stand out is to copy them from your task list into your calendar and schedule a specific time when you will do that work. Don’t do this with every task in your task list, just with the key priorities.
4. Make it happen – The final step is to do it. If it was worth capturing, scheduling and prioritising, it is worth fighting for. My friend and mentor Pete Cook talks about fighting for three priorities every day in his book The New Rules of Management. Identify three high-impact priorities every day, and fight for them. Sometimes the fight is with others (negotiation), and sometimes it is with yourself (procrastination).
Turning intention into action is essential if we want to have an impact in our role, and our lives. We feel more fulfilled, and we achieve greater things when we work in this way. I hope you have found this newsletter useful. I have been meaning to write it for a while (Boom, boom).