“Ok, on the weekend I’m going to do EVERYTHING I’ve been saying I want to do. Literally, once I just have ONE full weekend where I don’t have anything else to do, I’m going to get my shit together and start living the life I want to, whether that’s eating healthier or doing fulfilling hobbies instead of zonking out to Futurama reruns.”
As you know, that never happens. The weekend is gone. You find yourself spending sunday dreading work and “resting” so you can handle the week better.
That’s not how life or your brain works. And we all know “I’ll start next week” actually means never.
Time to throw out the “I’ll fix my life when I have time” mentality and starting handling it now.
Getting your shit together, for the purposes of this post, basically means living the life you want to live, balancing obligations with fulfillment. This could mean:
- Reading a book instead of watching TV
- Cleaning the house instead of dwelling on the fact that you should clean the house
- Or meal prepping for next week instead of conveniently getting burgers after a long day of work
Getting your shit together means doing the things you’ve thought about doing, and told yourself you were going to do many times, yet still haven’t done for some reason.
It’s not about planning to get shit done, but acting on the things you want to do or need to do rather than deliberating about them extensively.
That’s all well and good, but if you’re scatterbrained like me, it’s hard to keep your head on straight to take action. It’s hard to remember everything you need to do (unless it’s 3am, then you remember EVERYTHING you’ve ever needed to do. Thanks brain.).
So how do you conquer messy brain?
It just so happens, that’s exactly what I’m going to show you in this post. Fancy that!
Not that I’ve got my whole life together, oh no no no! Faaaaar from it. But I’ve made strides. And I want to share with you how I’ve made those strides. I'm probably the most unorganized person ever, but I have managed to put in the work to make time for and balance :
- Training clients online and in person
- Writing every day
- Teaching English full time
- Studying and Practicing Chinese everyday
- Maintaining my level of Spanish speaking
- Training myself 4 times a week
- Meal prepping
- Having a social life
- Not being a shitty husband
Definitely not trying to brag, and like I said, I still have a long way to go before my actions line up with how I want to act. But over the years I've learned how to do all these things without feeling like I'm drowning.
In short, my head is a very messy, cluttered place. You probably don’t want to look in there. ‘Tis a silly place.
If you tend to think way too damn much about every single decision, committing to a long term project just magnifies the level of indecision and consequently inaction.
Today, I’m going to give you a system to combat this, to help you act on your procrastinations, and get shit done in a progressive, realistic, and effective way that takes into account the tendencies of a scattered brain.
You may feel like your brain is always going a million directions at once. That might be your reality right now, but coming from personal experience, this won’t always be the case.
If you have the wrong perspective, the most perfectest strategy in the world is useless. Because your brain ultimately makes decisions based on your perspective. So adopting the right attitude is like, mega important.
Speaking of perspective...
Stop waiting until you “feel like it.”
I hear this all the time from people when talking about why they don’t write, paint, or hone their photography skills. “I feel like I could be great, but I just never feel like doing it.”
But why does “feeling like it” matter? You do things you don’t feel like doing all the time.
"I don’t feel like paying rent this month."
"I don’t feel like making dinner or cleaning the house even though I told my partner I would."
"I don’t feel like listening to Taylor Swift all day."
Your impulses and feelings are way too unreliable and inconsistent to depend on for action.
Getting your life together requires you do what needs to be done whether you feel like it or not.
It’s the same with fat loss.
If you just eat whatever you feel like ALL THE TIME, or only go to the gym when you feel like it, you’re not going to lose weight.
One of the most detrimental myths about motivation is that it precedes action. In reality, action precedes motivation. Josh Hillis wrote a fantastic piece on this topic you can check out here.
The point is, take consistent action regardless of how you’re feeling. Even when you implement the motivational hacks from later in this post, you’re not always going to feel motivated at the prospect of being productive.
People who reach their goals do so by persistently working at it even when motivation is low.
Trying to do everything at once is a big mistake
And it’s way too common. Humans simply suck at multi-tasking, regardless of what their resume says.
Especially if you’re unorganized, attempting everything will leave you with nothing because you’ll revert back to your old habits when you inevitably lose track of everything you said you would do.
Luckily though, you don’t have to get everything done right now. All that’s necessary is to start. Then, commit to work at it in some capacity every single day at whatever capacity is sustainable. Simply keep practicing and resist the urge to do everything at once.
“If it’s important do it everyday. If not, don’t do it at all”-Dan Gable.
Change is always a process, a series of small wins, whether you’re changing your diet or changing your relationship with stress.
So you need to be consistent in your actions. To be consistent, don’t let perfect be the enemy of better because repeated imperfect action always beats “perfect” inaction.
More important than any specific tactic, what’s important is that you implement your strategies, with patience, persistence, and objectivity.
Say you’re building a house, it’s your dream house. You’re stoked. You place all your hopes for happiness in building this house. If you rush the process your house is going to fall apart pretty quickly, which you don’t want. Obvs.
You have to stay focused on one thing at a time, and have the patience to not take on too much.
Focus and patience are two things that don’t come readily to those with a short attention span. Which, honestly, is kind of all of us given how fast we expect things to happen (“Why is this message sent to my phone from space taking so long!!!! Oh cruel fate!” gouges eyes out).
No focus/patience = no productivity = still doing the same ol’ shit and thinking about the things you want to do instead of doing them.
Luckily, focus is a skill. It can be built by practicing the tactics from this post. Maybe you’ll never be master yoda, maybe you will, but I do believe you can get better.
That’s because it’s the same. Getting better at one thing is the same as getting better at another thing. It’s all just building habits over time.
Basically, the fastest way to build momentum and create meaningful change is to start small and “add a little weight” each week. This is how you get more done in the gym and it’s also how you get more done in life.
Figure out what’s important to you and WHY
Decide what shit you actually want to get together. What do you want to work on? What do you want to get better at? Why?
This “why” is your motivation. Go deep. No, deeper.
I want to lose 10 lbs. Why? Because I want to feel more fit Why? Because I want to feel more confident in my favorite shirt. Why? Because I’m lonely and want a girlfriend. Why? WHY?! WHYYYYYY!?!!?!
Find the root of why you want your shit to be together. If you find yourself procrastinating or watching Adventure Time instead of learning a language/reading/drawing/being productive remind yourself of your why.
This is how you stay motivated. Know your WHY.
Remind yourself why you don’t want to take the easy way out.
Take a look at your lifestyle.
What kind of life do you want to live? Why aren’t you living it?
It’s so much easier to watch tv after a long day than crack open a book, make art, or start that new side project you've been thinking about.
But easy doesn’t equal fulfilling does it? I doubt you’re going to regret not watching more TV on your deathbed.
Resisting the easier option initially is a matter of powering through your hang-ups -- stop deliberating and do. That said, reminding yourself WHYyyYYyyYY can be really helpful here.
So when you’re struggling to do the things, remind yourself of your motivations and how happy you were the last time you overcame the powerful forces of convenience.
Develop a routine
When are you the most productive? When do you find yourself the most mentally fresh? That’s when you should get your shit done.
This is how the to-do list gets to-do'ed -- with routine, with habits. Set yourself up for success with a rock solid routine you follow religiously. The things you need to do everyday to get your shit together go here.
That way no matter what happens the rest of the day, you’ll get the important stuff done.
This also trains your brain to be in “productive/creative mode” at this same time every day.
For me it’s in the morning, so I make a point of doing things that need creative energy in the morning i.e. writing and coming up with my puns to irritate my wife for that day.
Whatever you do the most consistently will have the most impact. So the importance of a routine cannot be understated. The little things you do everyday compound over time.
A few beers after work once is going to have an unnoticeable impact on your body. A few beers after work everyday for 3 years though is going to have quite the impact on your physique, health, and bank account.
Same thing with with working on any endeavor. Those 5 minutes a day learning a language or playing an instrument will snowball. Make your shit part of your everyday routine because 10 minutes everyday is way more powerful than 70 minutes once a week.
Make a to do list and stick to it
First off, a to-do list is useless if you don’t use it. This goes back to all the mindset stuff. Be proactive in tackling your to-do list. Making a solid to-do list obviously won’t do the work for you, but it can help you feel more focused and less overwhelmed.
Only commit to tasks you know you’ll complete, otherwise you build the habit of ignoring your to do list.
Always have a physical running to do list to hold you accountable and to keep track of everything. There’s tons of different ways to do this. So my way is by no means the only way, but I can say it’s worked for at least one person.
For me, it’s just a sticky on my desktop. I open this sticky every day first thing in the morning.
I actually like the digital option here because I can just have one consistent, ongoing list. Having this on my desktop staring me in the face helps remind me of what I need to do and keep track of how well I’m doing and what I need to work on.
I have a few sections:
- Daily tasks
- Weekly tasks
- Odd one outs: Things you just have to do once
- Tasks I want to add to my routine in the future, but don’t have enough brainspace for right now
- Odd one outs I need to do, but will not commit to doing today
Commit to just 1 thing per day to start off with. Do more if you’re feeling it, but the goal here is consistent action every day. Make your daily/weekly goals manageable and unintimidating so you get it done son.
When you finish a task, put an “x” next to it. Seeing a ton of x’s can be motivating because you can see how much you’ve got done. This’ll make you want to get even more done.
A tale of two strategies: The frog and the snowball
There are two ways of thinking when it comes to prioritizing your to do list. They both work.
Strategy 1: Eat the biggest frog first
If you had a giant plate of frogs you had to finish, which frog would you eat first. Probably, the biggest one.
The logic here is if you tackle the biggest task first you get the hardest thing out of the way. This is especially useful if you have a long list of tasks. It makes sense to tackle the most complicated task when you have the most energy.
Strategy 2: Snowball
I personally think this is a better place for most people to start.
Pick a task so small you know with 100% certainty you’ll do it. This is a better route for people who tend to fall into the perfectionist camp -- who get so intimidated by their lofty goals they end up doing absolutely nothing.
Make taking action so unintimidating getting started seems like a joke.
“Psh, I can OBVIOUSLY do that. That’s too easy!”
Good! You want it to be too easy so you actually start knocking stuff off your to do list instead of talking about how much stuff you have to get done.
If you want to do more you can. This is simply how you commit to what you’re going to get done on a given day. Set yourself up for success by picking something easy, one snowflake if you will, which quickly turns into a giant snowball if you keep at it.
I use this strategy every time I find myself putting off household chores... which is all the time. “I’ll just sweep the living room for now. I’ll mop and do the dishes later.” One hour later the house is spotless and I’m on my hands and knees scrubbing the floor with a toothbrush. Sometimes it just takes a little mental trickery to get moving.
Momentum is everything. Whichever strategy gets you to act consistently, mindfully, and intentionally is rad.
You may find one strategy works better in some areas and/or at different times in your life. Experiment between the two, just not at the same time!
Get an accountabili-buddy, somebody who also wants to start a new behavior and change something about their life. Check in with them everyday and be supportive.
*Motivational myth busting note: habit policing doesn't work. Habit policing is basically when you, under good intentions, use shame to try and help someone change. It’s like if I’m trying to lose weight and you call me out whenever I eat a cheeseburger. This makes me feel embarrassed and controlled. The more people feel controlled, the less likely they’ll be to authentically change their behaviors.
To be an awesome accountabili-buddy, simply be there to listen and provide help if and when your buddy asks for it. Check in on them and see how they’re doing and they do the same for you.
Other random tips
- Work offline
- Delete all social media from your phone
- Leave your phone in the other room when you’re working
- Take a drink of water every time you catch yourself compulsively opening windows that aren’t what you’re working on.
Is this the only way of doing things?
No, of course not, this is just what’s worked for me and my clients.
Like I said, getting shit done is getting shit done, whether that “shit" is dropping body fat, finally writing that blog post, or getting over your embarrassment and paying the late fee for your overdue copy of Twilight. While I obviously used my own messy experience for this post, much of this was drawn from watching the success of my clients in changing their own habits to build the life they want. That doesn’t mean this is the only way.
If you have anything that’s helped you out a ton, please post it in the comments! Because that way you can help someone build their own best life.
Putting it all together
- Get rid of this notion you need to "feel like it"
- Commit to patiently tackling one mini goal at a time
- Know your why
- Create a daily routine of getting your shit together
- Make a master to-do list to prioritize and organize tasks
- Take note of what productivity strategies work well for you
- Recruit a friend to join you on your journey
- Keep practicing and getting better. None of this matters if you only take action for a week.
Further reading about productivity:
Now, the last thing I want you to do is spend a ton of time reading about productivity instead of being productive. That said, here are some awesome pieces you can refer to later if you need motivation, perspective, or ideas.
Plus, these authors are way smarter than me so I’d feel like I was holding out on you if I didn’t include them. Now go forth and check one thing off your to do list!
- Shark Habits by Dan John
- Is Perfectionism Your Greatest Motivator Or Biggest Enemy by Dr. Lisa Lewis
- The Bettercast by Coach Steve-o
Other stuff you might like
- What To Do When Stress Is Ruining Your Life
- The Overthinker's Guide To Fitness Nutrition And Sleep
- Make Dieting Stress Free With Pink Elephants
Meditating is practicing the skill of focus. You literally train your brain not to get dsitracted and to remain centered on what you’;re doing. I can’t say how big of a difference just a few minutes in the morning has impacted my life, wellbeing, and personal growth. But if you don’t want to implement this habit that’s cool too, but I’d highly recommend putting in the time and effort of meditating, even if just for 1 minute a day while the coffee is brewing.