I worked full-time while I went to university full-time. The schedule was grueling. I’ve often been asked how I managed to do that; up until recently the answer has been I didn’t know with a shrug. I’ve even watched and admired others who seem to accomplish so much and wondered, “How do they get it all done?“ Recently, I was talking to a friend who studied under similarly challenging circumstances. And he said, he just got on with it. Then I realized it was that simple. Why? Because as Bruce Lee said, “…spend too much time thinking about a thing, you’ll never get it done.” So I just showed up. I didn’t analyze. I didn’t questions anything. I didn’t ruminate about how hard it is or will be. So there you have it, that’s the secret to getting things done. Now here are the mechanics of getting things done.
“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”
Have a meaningful intention.
I’ve noticed in my own life and heard the same thing in talking with countless others that when we find something that we truly love, we don’t let circumstances hold us back from pursuing it. We don’t even see the circumstances. When you have that feeling you know you’ve found a meaningful intention. Unfortunately because of obligations and our ideas of how things should be, we often loose track of what sets our souls on fire, so we must sit down and re-remember what we like. This is especially true when we look at everyday things. I used to say that I didn’t plan my career, it just happened, but in reality I followed my passion. (Here’s more about breathing passion into your life) But I lost site of what I loved at work as more as more thing that had to be done surrounded that core thing that attracted me in the first place. So, the first step is to reconnect and get reacquainted with what you really love. Find that something that really lights you up. I’ve sat down and made lists of things I love or carried a notebook and noted down when ever I saw something that made me say, “Ooh.” Or, “Ah.” Pay attention and track to your present moments experiences.
Organize your life.
While all thoughts will eventually turn into something, the idea here is to position yourself to receive what you truly want. Just after I received my acceptance letter into university, I accepted a new job because it was swing shift. The bulk of my courses were offered during the day. The new job paid the bills and enabled me to take my required classes. While it was an obvious choice, it didn’t feel like a strategic decision per say. Nevertheless, it is a very intentional way of living. Of course, my friends were going to university. And the things I liked to do for fun fit into this weird schedule, like going to concerts, museums and the cinema. So no grit, disciple or willpower was needed. My life was organized in a way that supported what I wanted to do. You might say that college years are special. Those years are not like real life. But experience has taught me and confirmed again and again that whenever I ask, “Why not?” I find a solution. Often it’s fear of what might be that stops us from exploring the possibilities. When you feel fear pause and think about it; is it a real threat or are you reacting. Have a real heart to heart with yourself them move forward. Slow down, so you have time to respond instead of mindlessly reacting.
Have a plan.
Once you’ve resolved to go for it, you can’t get it all done hoping that everything works out. I had a plan. In fact, upfront before I even registered for my first course, I plotted out all of my required courses by semester on a spreadsheet. Studying the requirements I picked courses that seemed interesting. If it turned out that there really wasn’t an interesting course that fulfilled a requirement, I planned on taking that during a semester that was filled with more engaging courses. Likewise I made an effort to not take too many demanding courses at one time; I spread hard those courses across the semesters as much as possible. When that exercise was finished, I more or less knew which courses I was going to follow, when I was going to take it and how long it would take me to complete my course work and graduate. Once everything was in full motion no thinking was needed or required. I had a spreadsheet. How you organize your plan matters less, there are countless methods, but having a plan is crucial. Plot your course of action. Practice being deliberate.
The best of plans often need tweaking. When enrollment rolled around, it was not unusual that for my plan to not work out because there are required classes that everyone who attends the University of California must fulfill and those course were sometimes full by the time my turn to register arrived. It was then that I’d turn to my handy dandy spreadsheet, choose one of my other required courses, update my spreadsheet and move on. With time I also refined my approach to picking courses. One semester I took a renaissance architecture course to fulfill my art and literature requirement; I took a renaissance art history course to fulfill my historical studies requirement and Italian Humanism to fulfill a major requirement. That made my life so much easier. From then on I started to take courses from similar periods because I didn’t have to learn a lot of new information; I was looking more or less during the same periods of time, often with the same people, themes and circumstance from different perspectives. Either build flexibility into your plan or at least be open to it from the beginnings. When something unexpected happens, because eventually it will, you are prepared to adapt, change or incorporate better ways as you go along. Focus on what you do want, but don’t be tied to how you’ll get there.
The final key to getting things done is the easiest and most difficult. Don’t think, analyze or worry about it. Just do it. Tina Fey says, “You can’t be that kid standing at the top of the waterslide, overthinking it. You have to go down the chute.” Why should we not think about, or at least not listen to, what’s goes on in our heads without review? Shannon L. Alder wrote about other’s people views of us, but it applies equally to what we think about ourselves and our situations, “You will begin to read into everything incorrectly and find yourself lost in a delusional story stitched together from the crumbs of over analyzed words once spoken, misunderstandings or speculation.” Isn’t that true? I had a goal, a plan, a support system and a little flexibility built in, what good would thinking do after that? None. After all the other steps are in place, thinking is only second-guessing and is not helpful, so resist! Focus on the present moment as it is, no conjecture allowed.
We end where we started—with not thinking—so that you too can be one of those who get it all done. We also finish here because usually after we’ve done something that seemed impossible we don’t remember how we did it. We just say, “We got on with it,” because it’s difficult to accept or remember or recognize that we didn’t think about what we were doing. And it’s unfortunate that we forget, what may be the most important step, because later in life this memory lapse is what stops us from repeating that success in other areas.
Now, think back. What was that one thing you did that changed the course of your life? Usually we stumble on the this in our 20’s before we learn what we can’t do, or to be afraid or forget that if we did it once we can do it again… How did you do it?