When the idea to row across oceans first popped into my head, my first reaction was, “That’s perfect! This is the project I’ve been looking for!”

My second reaction was, “I can’t possibly. There’s no way. I’m just a management consultant.”

Roz uses Things for iPhone to administer To Do lists

But then I reached the dangerous stage of thinking, “Well, hypothetically, supposing I was going to row across an ocean, what would I need to do? Who would I ask about it? What books would I read? What courses would I take? What would I need to buy? How much money would I need?”

So I wrote a list. It was a very long list, but when I had finished it and looked at each of the items, none of them seemed too impossible. And the whole project started to seem frighteningly do-able.

I still take the same approach. I’ve always been a list-maker, and to be honest, I don’t know how anybody ever gets anything done without them. Whenever starting a new project, I make a list of everything I need to do. I use the Things application (by Cultured Code) to manage my To Do lists on MacBook and iPhone, so that I can capture ideas whenever they occur to me. There are lots of other apps that are also good – Omnifocus is another one. Or even a notebook and pen. The main thing is to never underestimate the power of making a list.

If anything on the list seems too big and daunting, it means I haven’t broken it down into small enough steps. I often find that something sits around on my To Do list for a while, nagging at me but mysteriously remaining undone. It helps break the cycle of procrastination if I take a closer look at it and figure out the very first tiny action that will contribute to getting it done. It often turns out that I am lacking some vital information or need input from somebody else. Once that first tiny action appears as a separate item on the To Do list, I get past the blockage and the whole job gets checked off. As the saying goes, a job begun is a job half done.

But then I still suffered a major wobble when I got out onto the ocean. 3,000 miles suddenly seemed like an awfully long way. For a while I was quite dispirited, skipping shifts on the faulty logic that with so many miles to go, a few less each day wouldn’t make much difference. But it does. It all adds up – just as a few extra miles each day would have done. Once I got into a regular routine, the shirking stopped and the miles started to tick down. Routine helps me from asking myself whether I want to do something or not, which so often is not a helpful question. Best just to get on and do it. Anything can be achieved with the 3 Ds – Discipline, Determination and Dedication.

I’ve learned a lot from the Queen of Getting Things Done – my mother. She has an ability to buckle down and get on with things that I can only marvel at. There are some monumental tasks – and monumentally boring ones too – that she helps me out with, such as logging my business expenses. Her approach is to do a bit each day until the task is done. A regular routine like this can really help with large tasks – like rowing an ocean, for example. How do you eat an elephant? One mouthful at a time.

Along with procrastination, I have also suffered from perfectionism. I’ve had to get over it. There is a saying in the British military, known as the 7 Ps: Perfect Preparation and Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance. I disagree. If I waited until I was 100% prepared, I’d never have made it across an ocean. And I’m afraid to say that my book isn’t perfect either. But sometimes “good enough” is, well, good enough. Which is no excuse for being shoddy. It’s just the recognition that nothing is ever perfect, and by sweating the small stuff you can prevent a project from ever reaching fruition.

For further reading, I can highly recommend David Allen’s “Getting Things Done”. But really, it’s not rocket science. The best way to get things done – is to Just Do It!

– Make a list. If there is anything on the list you can’t do, break it down into smaller steps.

– Rhythm makes life easier – steady working rhythm, regular daily rhythm.

– How do you eat an elephant? One mouthful at a time.

– Don’t waste mental energy asking if you can do something. Just do it. You’ll surprise yourself.

– Life can be magical, but magic only gets you so far. Then you need discipline, determination and dedication.

– A job begun is a job half done

– Perfection is the enemy of productivity

20 Comments

  • Procrastination is only fun at the time of making the decision to not do stuff.

    Inspirational Roz and Rita! I like the idea of just doing something everyday.
    Disagree that your book is not perfect. It is. And I’m looking forward to the sequel.

  • When Viktor Belenko flew a MiG-25 into Japan in 1976 we learned a very valuable lesson about Soviet military procurement…”Better is the enemy of good enough!” We learned that what we presumed to be a vastly technologically superior aircraft was really kind of crude in some ways, because the Soviets knew it was, “…good enough” to beat the crap out of us some fronts.

    Good post, Roz, as always. Good advice for getting things done.

    Rozta’ Bill

  • Roz, I think I’ve got it! Two weeks ago I jumped from the plane and have been free-falling, thinking what I need to do to hit the ground running October 30th … assembling my parachute day by day, task by task, one leading to another, some identified already, snatching some new ones as they whiz by … and I am on target for a perfect landing.

    What amazes me is I would never have jumped without a complete plan just a few years ago. This time, I just knew I needed to seize this opportunity and make it succeed, and the pieces are falling into place. Current task is lining up friends to rendez-vous at the appointed time and place. What are we doing? Taking the http://j.mp/MillionLetterMarch to http://j.mp/DCSanityRally

    Love your stories and advice.

  • Thanks for all the great comments. So glad that this resonated. Always a little nerve-wracking putting these things out there, so relieved that it a) made sense, and b) was helpful – although I suspect that my commentators so far already knew all this good stuff!

  • dearest Roz – straight forward wisdom, gifted in a warm and smile-enducing way as ever. Thanks for the gift of your seeing, feeling and sharing beauty-fully. Btw I did the “Getting things Done” course with David Allen – good, practical, workable stuff. I probably need to work more with Things, to help it work for me, as I’ve somewhat abandoned my Things lists at the mo’. They became rather daunting in quantity…. so I tend to ‘get on with’ whatever is top of mind (= heart/gut) each day. Little post-its below the screen on my iMac give me a ‘for today’ reminder. Perhaps not as strategic as it might be… and tends to work in keeping me smiling. Any thoughts?
    Love to you dear inspiration. See you soon? Romy

  • Thanks for the flattery Roz! Did you know that people in South Africa will be listening to you, and talking about you, tonight? At a meeting of a group of University of the Third Age(U3A)a presentation will be given, by two members who have been impressed by what they have seen of you on your website. The ripple effect at work.

  • Ah, just what I needed. I’ve been facing a seemingly insoluble problem the last few weeks. But it wasn’t insoluble, just complicated. And I needed someone to give me the “baby steps” lecture, on breaking things down into smaller pieces. So thank you Roz, and thank you Rita, for your wonderful words, and inspiration. Reminds me of a quote by John M. Perkins which I read several years ago: “The problem is not that you have a problem. The problem is that you do not believe you can find a solution. Most of our problems are not as serious as we at first suspect.” By the way … my
    “problem” went away, as soon as I broke it down into ten seemingly easy-to-deal-with parts. Thanks again!

  • Roz – perfect. This series is wonderful, as always! It caught me at just the right moment, and a friend, as well. Love those lists!

  • Dearest Roz I truthfully think That You are even more than awesome!!!
    I congrats for doing all the things you have done so far, keep going You are Awesome!!!!

  • Hi Roz,

    First let me say thank you for cluing me in on how cool an iPhone is. In short (because I can go very long indeed): I love this gadget. Also, I fully understand your love of lists. Once you get the first thing on paper, the second thing that needs to get done inevitably pops up, then the third until the end. I recommend backwards planning-something you clued in on when you wrote your obituary. If you work on visualizing where you want to be and visualizing backwards from there, it can be very helpful in the planning process. Indeed, the only problem is you may overload your ability to note all the planning details.

    The US Army’s version of the 7 P’s is a lot more useful than the Brits’ and uses only 6 P’s: Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance. Which is odd because the British Army in Op TELIC was the soul of common sense. (Well except their Division CG making up eccentric sayings like “Monumental Rolling Goat” and “Wet Towel Adventure” in their meetings.)

    Finally, I use an iPhone app called “Spending” which is a customizable app for tracking just that.

  • Thanks for all the great comments. Especially pleased to hear that Richard in Austin found this helpful. In fact, come to think of it, even *I* found this helpful. I wrote it a few weeks ago, and had kind of forgotten my own advice. Wow, I can be smart sometimes, but then I forget….! As Richard says, the problem is when we don’t believe we can find a solution!

  • Was drinking Yogi Tea with three friends. This is what our tea labels read:

    You must live for something higher, bigger and better than you.

    Be so happy that when others look at you they become happy too.

    Bliss is a constant state of mind, undisturbed by gain or loss.

  • Excellent timing, Al. I’m about to transition from being a one-woman-and-her-mother team into a semi-official Team Roz. So i’m going to try out Doodle to find a convenient time for our weekly conference call. Not easy when we’re spread across at least 8 time zones, but worth a try!

  • Sorry to keep posting so much stuff, but the doodle.com reminded me of another great web site. I thought you and readers would like http://www.topp.org/about_topp if you haven’t yet seen it. It shows the fascinating movement of GPS tagged migratory ocean critters over several years. Be sure to check out the great white sharks as they party at the “shark cafe”! Sure am glad you didn’t row into that!

    • As it happens, I was on the TOPP website back in 2007. I had a few of their tags on my boat – so I know it well. Very cool!

  • Other than saving the world as an paragon of organization, what might we expect from you after the final pull lands you on The Sceptered Isle in 2012?
    Time must hold the answer, but I would like a hint.

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