“Things rarely get stuck because of lack of time. They get stuck because the doing of them has not been defined.”— David Allen
Goals are what our desires become when we set deadlines to them to make them a reality. Setting and achieving healthy goals is essential to our well-being and happiness. It’s important that the goals we commit to pursuing in our personal or professional endeavours take us forward in accomplishing our vision for our life as whole. Whilst we all have great ambitions and ideas in life, we often struggle to reach them or to keep up with the resolutions we make to reach them.
Some of us either get caught up in same repeated habitual patterns and expect different outcomes or get stuck in planning/strategising and fail to take action steps towards executing those ideas to get the desired outcome. What separates those few who achieve their goals from the majority who don’t is action. No matter how brilliant your ideas or plans are, if you are not prepared to take necessary action, they remain as wishes or dreams.
Most of the times, we start off strong by setting big goals and making resolutions to change, but that starts to fade with time. Planning, strategising and learning all are essential for goal-setting but they don’t alone produce result. It is in taking action with the knowledge that we learn that we will really be able to actualise the power that it holds.
When you have an inspiring idea or a concept that sounds exciting, or a desired change, taking action is what gets your goals to fruition. For instance, if you are trying to change your career path with limited successes, you need to take the next action of acquiring new skills and similarly if your goal is to lose weight, you can’t get started if you don’t take that first step of following a healthy diet.
However, you cannot measure your weight-loss goal by the activities like searching for better diet plans or reading on the topic/watching videos. What brings you closer to your goal is you actually taking the next action step of eating a healthy meal.
Why do we get into inaction habit?
Achieving success requires you go beyond simply acquiring skills or resources. All this can only get you so far. Change can only be made or you can only accomplish your goals once you actually take action on a consistent basis. We constantly do things but mostly only when we have to or when under pressure from others or ourselves. There are many reasons why we don’t get into action habit quickly in our pursuit of goals.
• When it comes to making positive change or impact, most of us underestimate incremental change over time. We think we should take massive action to create that change we intend to or to get things done. While taking bigger action steps is worth striving for, but this can often lead to procrastination or burning up your energy levels on the long run leading to inaction.
• We always come up with reasons why we should wait before we start like waiting for right conditions and circumstances. Waiting until you get over procrastination, self-doubt and fear also stops us from taking action steps towards our desired goals.
• Accomplishing goals takes time and the bigger the goal the longer it takes. Sometimes we underestimate the time it will take to complete a task and get frustrated when you don’t accomplish what you set out to do.
• When we are not consistent in our actions to accomplish our goals. Being consistent mostly depends on the time you dedicate and time frame you set to accomplish it.
• Many times you feel you are getting things done by planning, strategising – getting the discussions or conversations going or brainstorming ideas. Preparation makes us feel we are making progress without running the risk of failure and becomes a kind of procrastination.
• Lack of personal responsibility, commitment or victim mentality. Complaining or blaming is a sign that you aren’t willing to risk taking the action.
When you value ‘the thinking mindset’ more than ‘the doing mindset’ you might have many ideas but you might get into inaction habit. The important thing about getting things done in your work or personal life, be it changing your habits or in becoming more organised or in improving your outcomes is to plan your next action. Asking yourself, “What is the next action?” will guide your day-to-day activities that will enable you to fulfil your goals.
What is next action approach ?
An action plan determines, what needs to be done, by whom it needs to be done, when it needs to be done and what resources and inputs are needed to do it. Where as your next action is the one action step you need to take next to move closer to your main goal. It’s easy to set a goal and not work out all of the action steps needed to accomplish your goal, but simple action steps can make it easy to work on big goals.
Your next action is the most immediate physical, visible activity that takes you closer to your outcome. This clearly means your next action cannot depend on any other action. Asking yourself, “What’s my next action?” can help you break down complex tasks into simple and specific action-steps.
Why is it important?
Your preconceived ideas have very little to do with the real sequence of actions you need to obtain the desired outcome as they are mostly vague. Even though tasks in your to-do lists seem clear and simple, it is still important to determine which is the next actual action. If the action hasn’t got clear and has no specific meaning, you tend to pass over it in the moment of choosing what to do. Ambiguity creates stress and procrastination. But when you decide which is the exact next action and clearly define it, it provides clarity, focus and makes you less stressful.
Writing your next action list or plan for both of your short and long term goals can keep you in control of achieving them because small action steps taken overtime have the potential to make a big difference. Asking yourself, what’s the next action can become transformative in terms of your positive outcomes.
Your next action approach helps you determine, What needs to be done? Who should take action?When should this step be completed?what do you need to complete this step? Are there any potential challenges that may impede completion? How will you overcome them? You can accomplish your goals or objectives through detailed action steps that describe how and when these steps will be taken.
Next-action approach boosts your productivity
The greatest benefit of adopting next action approach is that it improves your productivity and your ability in getting things done. It creates new habits and activates information required to make measurable changes by eliminating unnecessary methods, techniques or processes that don’t work for you. Many undermine determining next action steps when it comes to long-term projects as they look at those outcomes as someday/maybe. But taking small action steps until it’s done can help you make necessary changes or to overcome procrastination or resistance to change.
Asking yourself “What’s the next action”brings personal responsibility at an individual level and provides clarity, direction and required resources like time, people and skills while working with others. In a collaborative work culture, asking “What’s the next action?” at the end of a discussion breeds accountability, so there is no angst of undecided action. You can allocate resources and responsibilities thereby increasing operational responsiveness of people involved in the tasks.
How to develop the habit of next action approach
Developing your next action approach or an action plan can help you change your goals or vision into reality and increases your efficiency and accountability at an individual or professional level. You can empower yourself by applying next-action technique to decide and effectively manage or move things forward in pursuit of your goals. Here are certain things to consider for the next action approach
Know your why, how and what
So many of us get trapped in doing something for the sake of doing something or keeping ourselves busy. Without knowing your ‘why’, you will lack motivation. Similarly, asking ‘how’ and ‘what’ can give you momentum and direction for your next action steps. If you are not clear about what you want to achieve, you are setting yourself up for failure. Once you know why you are doing what you are doing, and if it is measurable, planning your next actions can become more meaningful. Your next actions can be about operationalising each one of your goals. They can be your priority tasks or subgoals like acquiring necessary resources.
Set objective outcomes
When it comes adopting new skills or resources, simply measuring your goal by the number of activities you do, you’re not going to be productive for long because you could carry on learning forever but never get closer to your end goal of a measurable outcome. Instead if you measure your outcome by a set objective outcome, planning your next action will be more productive in terms of your main desired outcome.
For instance, in the above weight-loss goal, setting a target for number of calories and achieving it as your next action can be more productive than number of activities you pursue towards it. When you confine your goals to a time limit, you will be committed to meeting deadlines and will boost your morale to plan your next action steps. Only you can decide what your next action steps can be that are aligned with the goals you are pursuing.
Thinking in terms of What are my short-term, medium and long-term goals? How specific can be my action steps? What are the milestones I am aiming for? What sub-goals I can set that takes me towards my desired outcome? In what timeframe my goals are achievable? Can help you make your next actions more relevant and measurable.
Consider areas you need to make change
Are your goals personal like weight loss or professional like getting more things done while working with a team ? Are you solving a problem in the moment? Or Are you working towards a long, medium or short-term goal? Are you aiming a change in your outcomes? Considering the areas you are working for or want to make changes can make your next action tasks more attainable. Analyse where you are and where you want to be before you move on to the next action step. If you are working with others, assessing whether Is your role and responsibility clearly defined? What exactly should you do to realise your goal on a daily basis? What is the time schedule for when each step must be completed? Can help you set milestones or mini goals leading up to the main goal.
Choose an appropriate action step in the moment
Sometimes, to fulfil a task, your next action list may contain number of possibilities. So to choose the most appropriate action in the moment, you can filter your tasks based on the context you are in. The context is the physical place or situation you are in. For instance, if you are working on your project you cannot do things you have to do at home. This reduces the list of actions to those that really are at your fingertips. The second filter can be based on how much time you have.
If you have one hour, your next action list can be limited to those actions that require an hour. The next filter can be based on what your energy level is right now? Certain tasks require more effort or focus and others like making calls or answering mails don’t need much effort. There are also times you seem more enthusiastic to do a particular task like early hours of the day. So you can reduce the possibilities to those action steps that fit your mood and energy levels. Your next action has to be minute enough so that it can be done at once and should be of a single context.
Eliminate non-doable action steps
Sometimes a long-term goal can sit on our to-do list for a long time without getting done. That’s because taking one massive actionable step or to decide to do it at once can be stressful and confusing. You can only take one physical action step at a time and work towards its completion. Asking yourself, ‘What’s the very next physical action that can be taken with my long-term goals?’ can help you to come up with next actions pertaining to them. But again there could be many next actions.
The key is to list all the tasks and write out the specific actions you will take to accomplish them. Now identify your highest priority tasks/actions that will have more impact on helping you achieving your goal. “What is the most important next action step you can take?” By asking this very question, you can eliminate from your list all other actions that cannot be completed right now.
Non-doable actions can clutter your mind and distract you from what you can actually do right now. All that can be on your next action plan can be things that are doable in now. Ensure that your next action list has things that can actually be done and not vague terms. Once a particular action is complete, you can add the next new action. When you decide on the basis of what can be done right now, you are choosing and working on actionable steps one at a time towards your long term goals.
Review your progress
Give your actions enough time to play out and change your actions if they aren’t giving you your desired results. The amount of time you depends on the goal itself. If it’s a long-term goal, it will take few months to a year to see the desired change. Set mini goals to track and evaluate your progress.
Look for some indicators to see if you are moving in the right track. You can review them by asking yourself, What have you been doing to achieve a goal in the past few months? Why haven’t you been able to reach the goal? Are your actions too limited? List out all your reasons. What different next action steps can you take moving forward? What new action steps you can try out? How can you choose your next action to overcome the obstacles blocking you?
You can review on a daily, weekly or a monthly basis. You can also do short review sessions daily and long review sessions monthly or weekly. Continuously reviewing how your current actions contribute to the problem and changing or replacing these actions can help you to stick to most effective methods and in experimenting new next action approaches.
Questions to self-reflect on your next action approach:
What can I do right now to take even the smallest step towards achieving my most important goal?
Does my next action list reflect my short-term and long-term goals?
What is my next action step required to complete each of your goals?
Is my next action in alignment with the set deadline of my tasks?
Do I have all necessary resources for my next action list?
What’s my next action on my big-picture goals on daily basis?
What alternative next action steps or changes do I have to take to achieve my goals?
It’s important to differentiate impulsive actions without direction and well determined and thought out actions that bring your more desired outcomes. Before you jump into taking aimless next action steps in the wrong direction, use the above criteria to decide your next action steps. Running your to-do and next action lists through “What’s the most important next action step I can take right now?” can quickly put you into the action stage rather than thinking stage instead of procrastinating on something because there are things that have to be decided that we don’t want to think about. And you are not faced with many decisions but one that is task oriented and you can decide more of what can be done right now.
Actions create habits for success and when you develop the next action approach, you can create a positive change that’s aligned with your priorities while committing and being consistent in your efforts to accomplish a desired goal.