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From Decision to action

"Ideas without action are worthless." Harvey Mackay

Today's Blog (#52) is about making the transition from decision-making to acting. The whole point of making decisions is to act upon them.

Finalising a decision is sometimes relieving but other times the process of deciding is draining and a sense of anti-climax seeps in. This is particularly the case where a process has been drawn out or bureaucratic (have you ever got planning permission?!).

What stops us from starting?

Execution is hard. It takes a lot of mental bandwidth, particularly at the start. There are a number of mental obstacles that can crop up.

1) Overwhelm: It feels daunting and complex. Where do I even start?

2) Analysis Paralysis (a future blog): What if I have left out an important consideration?

3) Tiredness: It's taken so long to get here - I'm out of energy.

4) Doubt: Can I actually deliver this?

Whilst there are good reasons not to be complacent about execution, your mind does tend to construct stories that stops you from getting on with it. This is procrastination in action. Your brain likes to avoid cognitive stress and sees execution as a lot of mental effort. However, delaying the inevitable is a bad deal. The constant stress of not having started is far worse than the actual doing (I am definitely not immune from this).

External barriers

It's not just mental barriers that stop us from proceeding. Often there are organisational barriers too.

1) Bureaucracy: Endless processes that seem to have been designed poorly

2) Risk aversion: there is a fear of something going wrong

3) Lack of alignment: People are not bought in, or would not benefit on the upside of this project.

A clear plan is the best way to get you and those around you going towards the finish line although beware - over-planning is another form of procrastination! I remember, once when I was revising for my A levels at the local library I was sat next to a seemingly diligent girl. She spent three hours putting together a revision plan for that week, colouring it in etc. I suspect she was avoiding the actual work with the justification that she was making progress.

Three steps to to get started

1) Chunk it up: The feeling of overwhelm is reduced by asking yourself the question, 'what are the steps between here and completion'. The very first step can be something very trivial. It gives you momentum. The journey has now started.

2) Put some timings on it: An idea is abstract, a plan is real. Planning helps re-frame your mind from hypothetical to achievable. Timings make that even more real. Diarising steps and integrating it into your calendar makes it even more tangible before your diary gets booked up with lower priorities.

3) Put some names by it: Now you have what needs to be done, by when and by whom. It will also have the impact of allowing others who are involved know when they will need to spend time on it, giving them some warning. A common failure in planning is not giving people advance warning, this is not good for goodwill and buy-in. Think of the opposite - asking a busy person to drop what they are doing to work on your priority - it's surprising how few people do this bit well.

Finally, just follow the steps and keep your procrastination at bay. It is my experience that motivation follows momentum, which makes subsequent steps more straightforward.

So what?

How is this all relevant to decision-making? Here are three take-aways I want to leave you with before we pick it up next week:

1) The whole point of decision-making is to turn it into action. Our mind sometimes shies away from action by making us procrastinate. We also feel organisational barriers and need to work through them to progress.

2) Put together a plan and take an abstract idea from hypothetical to real.

3) A good plan, shows who does what when. This allows you and others involved to plan your time and gives people advance warning which is key to creating goodwill and buy-in.

Thank you for joining. Next week - 'The Anatomy of a decision - bringing it all together'. Don't forget to sign up to the subscription list.

Other blogs in the 'Anatomy of a decision series'


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