Use the Next Step Method to Jumpstart Productivity

By July 12, 2014 No Comments

When tasked with important work that involves some sort of risk, it’s infinitely easier to do anything but actually work on it. When a project is nebulous and undefined, your mind becomes overwhelmed with the enormous “complexity” of it. So of course, instead of doing something, anything, toward working on that project, you do nothing.

Or you do something totally unrelated but that still makes you feel “productive,” even though they are low value tasks that aren’t an apples to apples comparison with the important work you want to do but can’t.

I struggle with this for a number of reasons. Maybe I’m scared to waste my time on a project if it comes to nothing (even though you can learn best through failure). Or maybe in our distraction-soaked world of notifications and dings and popups and unread email counts assaulting our focus like Chinese water torture (drip…drip…drip..), our environment is to blame. Mostly, however, it’s simply because I haven’t stopped to define what the next step in the project is.

Defining the next step is referred to in several productivity methods, such as Getting Things Done, but mainly in the context of “processing” new inputs. I’ve also found great success in using it to jumpstart productivity and create a tide of momentum in my work.

The next time you are stuck in a project or simply don’t feel like working on something you know you should, stop for a moment. Stop the swirling undefined tornado of thoughts and tasks related to the project. Focus everything down to a point of singularity: What is the next step?

Aim for as small and definable a step as possible. What is the next direct action that I need to take to move this project forward? Defining it is 90% of the way to success – but the last 10% is crucial.

Now you have to actually do the next step that you’ve defined. Do not do anything else until you’ve completed it. Don’t check email, don’t reply to that text.

At this point, one of two things will happen:

1. You will do it, which will make defining (and then doing) the next step easier through momentum and increased discipline.

2. You won’t do it, you’ll give in to fear and distraction, and have to start building momentum again from scratch.

Define the next step and do it. Then don’t break the chain of momentum and ride that wave of productivity for as long as possible.

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