Action without forethought leads to disastrous consequences; however, too much thinking results in procrastination. There’s a happy medium in there somewhere that every businessperson needs to tap within themselves and their employees. And–guess what–it all boils down to the thoughtful development and execution of processes that launch and guide activity.
Whether the hardest part of completing any project is getting started to maintaining momentum, the process for action requires benchmarks. Benchmarks break down the overarching objective into bite-sized pieces of accomplishment, which prevents team members from being overwhelmed by the magnitude of the whole effort. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and it’s not an oncoming train.
In Forbes, Amy Morin posits that people categorize time into “present” and “future.” Deadlines, of course, fall in the “future” category and, therefore, become out of sight and out of mind. She cites a study in which participants were given a 6-month deadline to complete a task. Some of the study participants received a deadline in the same calendar year, others in the next calendar year. Those whose deadline in the next calendar year procrastinated. The attitude of postponement worked with shorter deadlines, too.
Morin relates how, in another study, researchers experimented with the elasticity of time and procrastination through color coding. In short, deadlines coded the same color as the present day spurred immediate action; deadline coded a different color than the present day incited procrastination.
These studies highlight that several factors influence our perception of what needs to be done now and what can be postponed until some vague future date. Therefore, when developing a process to start a project and keep it on track, simplicity appears to work best. For instance, rather than color code different deadlines, perhaps color code each track for a particular part of the team: all HR tasks to red, all accounting tasks to blue, all administrative support tasks to green, all engineering design tasks to purple, and so forth. In that way, each part of the team receives visual continuity–all one color–and the single color keeps the subconscious focus on the now.
Another way to move from interminable thinking and dreaming to actual motivation and action is to turn abstract ideas into concrete steps for action. This plays into breaking down big objectives into bite-sized chunks of feasible accomplishment. Stating that you want to be wealthy won’t do anything more than inspire a feeling of discontent and idle daydreaming. If you break down that overarching goal into actions such as “I will do this for 30 minutes per day” will identify the behavioral change that you can tackled right away and achieve.
Rewards also motivate. Business coaches encourage job hunters to use a self-reward model to keep their clients motivated. Rewards need not be tangible. For instance, securing a desired number of interviews can yield a reward of an extra afternoon of reading that highly anticipated novel calling your name. Or having X number of networking meetings yields that late, lazy morning you’ve been hankering after.
Experts agree: too much thinking destroys motivation. If you don’t look before you leap, you’re likely to topple off that cliff. If you spend too much time examining the leap, you’ll talk yourself out of the adventure of a lifetime. Think the action through to understand what you need to do to accomplish it and move on to the next benchmark goal. No one runs a marathon after a lifetime of couch potato survival, but start out by walking 30 minutes a day and eventually increase distance and speed. You’ll reach that finish line.