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Make a real difference this year!

Happy New Year… we hope you’re keeping well and enjoying life, despite the challenges that COVID-19 continues to provide!

Are you wondering how best to start the year and make a real difference? We’re not big fans of New Year’s resolutions, but we do like to pause and think about what we’re going to do differently. It’s easy to just keep doing what we did last year, but we find that this is often a good time to try something different. We love the quote attributed to Einstein, that ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results’.

Last year, like the year before, was full of disruption, and it is unfortunately looking like this year will not be that much different. We are conscious that many of us are probably feeling overwhelmed as we struggle into another year of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. So what is something we can do that will make a real difference but not add to our overwhelm?

While John was relaxing over the summer holidays, he read the book The one thing: The surprisingly simple truth behind extraordinary results. The theme of the book is that less is more. Do not try to focus on too many things—instead choose the one thing that is going to make the greatest positive difference and focus on that. A key quote from the book says ‘Until my one thing is done—everything else is a distraction!’.

In a previous episode about time management, we mentioned the concept of eating the frog at the beginning of the day. In other words, get your most unpleasant task out of the way first, so everything else is then better. And as Mark Twain said, if there are two frogs, eat the bigger one first!

So, in the spirit of improv, let’s say ‘Yes and…’. Let’s combine those two ideas by choosing just one thing to focus on, and make it the one thing you would least like to do. Now, just hold onto that thought for a moment.

Have you heard of the Pomodoro technique? This is where you decide on a task that needs to be done, set a timer for 25 minutes and work on that task until the timer rings. Pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato, and apparently the technique gets its name from a tomato shaped kitchen timer that the creator of the technique, Francesco Cirillo had on his desk! Anyway, fast forward to the 21st century and everyone is time-poor and we struggle with limited attention spans, so the original 25 minutes is often reduced to just 15 minutes. Regardless, the idea is to spend a certain length of time focused on one thing.

Fifteen minutes seems just enough time to get our teeth into something without it seeming overwhelming. You will be surprised at what you can achieve in that short time span, especially if you need to write something. In that case, you can start by jotting your thoughts down as a mini-mindmap. You can identify the top level headings, then break them down into second-level headings and maybe make a start of the third-level ones. You do what you can in a 15 minute burst, and then put it to one side. Later, you might pick it up again and devote another 15 minutes to fleshing out your ideas into sentences and then paragraphs.

So now let’s combine all three ideas together… choose one thing, our most unpleasant task, and we spend just 15 minutes making a start. That’s what we are suggesting you try this year. It is small and it is realistic.

John says he tends to suffer from what he calls ‘Blank page syndrome’. He can really struggle to know where to start when he needs to write something. John (and Denise!) are much happier editing something we have written earlier, or better still, something that someone else has written! It is easy to see ways to tweak it and make it better. Mark Twain, who we mentioned earlier, had some good advice. He said ‘The secret of getting ahead is getting started’. It is better to make a start and do a little bit every day, rather than just thinking about it and never actually getting around to doing it.

So if you’re looking to make a difference this year, and don’t want to feel overwhelmed by New Year’s resolutions, try this new approach. Choose one thing, your most unpleasant task, and spend just 15 minutes making a start.

John used this process to develop this episode, and has the mind map to prove it! We think you’ll be surprised how much of a positive difference this simple idea can make to our lives. If we keep choosing the most unpleasant but most worthwhile task, we will be making headway in no time at all, and feeling the positive effects of achieving progress.

We hope you like this idea! But before you go, let us know your thoughts! How do you approach the New Year? Do you like making resolutions, and if so, how do you keep them? Or tell us your secret for dealing with procrastination. Add a comment below and share your ideas with us.

We hope you have a great year and we look forward to sharing more ideas with you again soon. All the best until we meet again!

Keller, G., & Papasan, J. (2019). The one thing: The surprisingly simple truth behind extraordinary results. John Murray Learning.

Tracy, B. (2017). Eat that frog!: 21 great ways to stop procrastinating and get more done in less time. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

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Graham Harris
Graham Harris
2 years ago

Great advice John and Denise – really look forward to these Enablers of Change sessions. I too am not a big fan of New Year resolutions and I really like the advice provided in this session to get to work on the unpleasant things first – get started and dedicate some time to getting it out of the way. Looking forward to the APEN 2022 Conference next week.

2 years ago

John and Denise thanks for the advice. Launching into 2022 has been much tougher than previous years so your advice is great and very timely. I can add to the concept of procrastination – decision fatigue. If I have to make some big decisions I try to do it early in the day before decision fatigue sets in as a hundred small, inconsequential decisions can still be exhausting. So if I leave big decisions til later in the day, my fuel tank is empty and a decision seems impossible. It also means I don’t dwell on the issue all day… Read more »

2 years ago

Great advice and just what was needed today. I love the eat that frog concept. Will work on that one for sure. Have a great 2022.

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