Make It Actionable

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The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small, manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.

Mark Twain

A number of years ago, when I was working in the corporate world I had the opportunity to take a class called, “Getting Things Done”.   This course was based on the book, “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity”, by David Allen.    As part of taking this course, I was given 3 work days to implement the process we learned in the course, and if you understand the nature of corporate America, you will understand this type of time allocation is very unusual.

And I have to say, the long lasting impact of this course on my productivity has been significant.

The single biggest lesson I learned was the art of making things actionable.  Getting things to an actionable state, means taking a task and reducing it to the next available action.   We don’t even realize how much time we spend trying to accomplish a task, only to find that we can’t figure out where to start or how to navigate what feels murky and undefined.   To improve productivity, Allen states that you need to get to the next actionable step.

The way we get to the next actionable step is to explore what is keeping us from moving forward.  What question, what information, what permission, what data is needed to move from stuck into forward movement?   


An example for you:

Angelika needs to send an email out to her clients informing them of an upcoming class.   She has all of the course information read to be put into an email.  She has her list of clients she is sending it to and she has the date.   She has been struggling with getting started because she wants to create an offer for them to be able to invite a friend, but her scheduling system does not have an easy way to do a BOGO offer. She is ready, but she is also stuck.

What is holding Angelika back from getting this email out?   

She doesn’t know how to move forward in creating the BOGO offer she wants.   Once she has this information, she can get her email ready to be sent out. 

Which of the following is her next actionable step?

a. Scrap the BOGO offer idea it is just slowing her down.

b. Ask for help from Tech Support for her SchedulingSystem – how can she do a BOGO in the system.

c. Writing her email and getting that done.

d. Put together her email list of clients.

Next Steps

For Mary, the next thing is “B”: Reach out to Tech Support, as they may have a way to accomplish the BOGO offer.  That one action frees her energy and attention to write her email content and get everything ready.   Once she has an answer from Tech Support, she can then take another action by DECIDING if she wants to implement their solution, devise a new offer or scrap the idea altogether.


What is holding YOU back?

Consider whether you have anything you are tossing around in your head, trying to figure it out or find a solution for.    Thinking about things is important, but it can also be what holds you back from moving to important actions in your work, relationships and goals.

When you can boil what feels overwhelming or huge down to actionable steps, then you can move from spinning or feeling stuck into forward action.   

Here are some examples of simple actionable steps:

  1. Call someone rather than write an email – it can take less time and you can get the answer or insight you need to move forward.
  2. Ask for help from an expert, rather than think you have to figure it out on your own.
  3. Get it out of your head – writing down all of the things you are thinking about is a great ACTION STEP.  When it is out of your head and on paper you can see things more clearly and often that is enough to help you get unstuck.
  4. Discard/Toss what you don’t need – be willing to get rid of the clutter.  If you don’t know what it is – toss it.  If it doesn’t have an action for you – toss it.    Clutter can be a huge distraction and energy drain.
  5. Give it 5 min.   If there is something you feel you need to do or attend to that really is not a priority, give it 5 minutes.   Whether it is thinking about something, watching a video, reading an email or something else – putting a time constraint for your energy and attention is helpful to help you manage your productivity.

What other simple actions can you think of?

Share it below in the comments.

Remember, we are all doing the best we can each day.   There are tools and resources to help us put our time, energy and attention into what we really want, versus feeling overwhelmed by expectations and obligations (whether real or our own stories).   

I strongly recommend David Allen’s work.  He focuses on how we improve productivity, rather than managing time. The results are hugely impactful – even when you only implement some of what he shares!   Are you familiar with David Allen? Please share your thoughts too.

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