Decide when

Amy: "Could you please proofread my article for me?"

Beth: "Sure, just send it over!"

Three days later...

Amy: "Do you have feedback on the article?"

Beth: "I haven't had time to read it. But I will." 

Amy: "It's due today!"

The scenario's made up, but I'll guess it's familiar to many people reading it. Perhaps you identify with Amy, who counted on a friend and is now disappointed. Or maybe you feel empathy for Beth, who intends to read the article but just hasn't had time. Or maybe your heart goes out to both friends because you've been in each of their positions. 

I have lots of experience being disappointed like Amy, but I've also spent a fair amount of time in Beth's shoes, genuinely intending to do something and then not following through. My number one recommendation for Beth is to decide when she is going to work on something. The easiest way to do that is to have all the facts. 

Let's look at another way this conversation could have played out:

Amy: "Could you please proofread my article for me?"

Beth: "When do you need it done?"

Amy: "It's due on Thursday so I'm hoping to have it by Wednesday afternoon."

Beth: "And how long is it?"

Amy: "It's 1200 words."

Beth: "Okay, I can do that. I will read it during my daughter's ballet practice tomorrow and send feedback tomorrow night."

Three days later...

Amy: "Thanks so much for your feedback on the article!"

Beth: "You're welcome. Glad I could help."

Feels better, doesn't it? Of course, if Beth really doesn't have the time, she should say no. But if she wants to help Amy, she needs to decide when she's going to be able to follow through on the commitment when she makes the commitment

Here's the formula.

  1. Be clear about what you're committing to - and clear that you want to do it.

  2. Know when what you're committing to has to be done. 

  3. Decide when you'll do what you're committing to do. It helps to know how long the task will take.

  4. Do what you're committed to do when you're committed to doing it.

This strategy has helped me time and again, with tasks of all different sizes. When I'm talking with a client and committing to a report or a proposal, I'm picturing myself working on it at a specific time. When my husband asks me to get milk, I decide when and where I'll get it (and I'll even say it out loud). This helps me remember to do it instead of walking into the house empty-handed. And after I've listed everything on one of my brain release lists, I get to the important task of figuring out when I will do each of the things that I've listed. If I can't find the time or make the time for a particular task, that means either (a) it should get removed from the list because it's not that important, or (b) something else has to get bumped from the schedule to allow time for this new task.

It turns out there's an official name for it: "An implementation intention is a self-regulatory strategy in the form of an "if-then plan" that can lead to better goal attainment, as well as help in habit and behavior modification. It is subordinate to goal intentions as it specifies the when, where and how portions of goal-directed behavior." Thank you, Wikipedia!

Whatever you want to call it, it's worth a try. Take a look at your to-do list and determine when you will turn those to-dos into ta-das!

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