Tactics for the Over-committed: Four Ways to Stay on Track and Stay Productive

There are some months when I rock my goals every day. I blast right on through each of my daily and weekly tasks, and sometimes even have energy to tack on a few more for good measure.

Do All the Things Meme

Blam! Take that, To-Do List!!

Other months, I peck at my goals like chickens in the yard foraging for bugs.

April has been one of those months. My dear friend, Crystal King, launched a book this month, a novel called Feast of Sorrow. She researched, wrote it, shopped it, and reworked it based on professional feedback over about ten years. About 18 months ago, she got the call from Touchstone, the publisher who picked it up. Since then, she’s been working tirelessly with a small army of people to get all the little details right, including additional edits, blurbs, acknowledgments, and accompaniments (like working with top chefs to create a companion cookbook). And then there was the publicity: photo shoots, interviews, and social media coverage everywhere. She live-streamed her launch party on Facebook, fer cryin’ out loud. I’m not sure where she gets the energy! Here I am, just barely able to publish a blog post!

I’m sure you can relate. With so much going on in our lives, it’s easy to lose the grip on our intentions and get swept up in the meetings, errands, chores, jobs, etc. You wake up in the morning and say, “today, I’m going to get (that thing) done!” and before you know it, it’s bedtime and you’re left thinking…

Koala captioned "Wait, what?"

I’ve had kind of a “Wait, what?” sort of month. I can blame being sick for two weeks or job-related stress, but the truth is, I just bit off a little more than I could chew.

However, determined to pull myself out of this funk and get my productivity juices flowing again, I’m employing the following the tactics below to ensure that May isn’t a repeat of April, goal-wise.

Scale Back or Let Go.

Have you bitten off more than you can chew? Said yes too many times when a “sorry, no” would’ve been wiser? Can you print your To-Do list in Volumes 1 and 2 (or 3 and 4)?  Letting go – at least temporarily – of a well-intentioned goal might help. It doesn’t hurt to scale back if you find yourself overwhelmed due to life’s little curveballs. Doing so frees you up to spend quality time on other things. Next month, I’ll be cutting one or two things off my list and not looking back. At some point, you just have to work with what you’ve got – and limited time and energy are often what we’ve got.

Practice accountability.

When I tell my fantastic accountability partner that I will do something, I either do it or ‘fess up to her. Since I like to admit failure about as much as I adore trips to the dentist, this works marvelously well for me. So if there is something you really need to get done but your mental chatter or the daily flutter of life keeps you from doing it, try announcing your intention to someone else and asking them to hold you to it.

Have a productivity plan.

Often, it’s not enough to say that you are going to do something. It helps to say when, and maybe even how. “Today I’m going to purge my closet” is a good start. “Today between 10 and 11 I’m going to purge 20 things from my closet” is better. Crystal didn’t get her book written by saying, “Oh, I think I’ll write today.” Many times she e-mailed me a plan. “I’m going to the library today to write for two hours.” See, it worked. I’m reading the evidence right now.

Reward Upon Completion.

Remember Pavlov and his dogs? Pavlov and his team worked with several dogs (you can see photos and read their names here) and the psychology textbook story goes that Pavlov would give a dog a treat and ring a bell at the same time, thereby conditioning the dogs to salivate at the sound of the bell*. These were apparently very nummy rewards (obviously NOT your average big-box store brand chunks of beef-flavored sawdust) and soon the dogs were saying, “Yes, please!” in dog-speak at the sound of the bell, even though Pavlov would withhold the treat. This proved two things:

  • One, rewards create powerful associations in our brains and,
  • Two, scientists can be jerks.

Dogs aren’t the only ones who love treats. Why do you do some things more than once? Because you were rewarded somehow for doing it. Something tasted great, so you ate it again. Something felt good, so you did it again (Crystal is already working on her second novel). Rewards boost the feel-good chemicals in our brains and get us on track to craving more of the behavior that resulted in the treat. “Life is short; eat dessert first” is a fun little saying but it won’t help you here. Putting the reward before the action does nothing to strengthen those neural pathways in your brain that associate the activity with the reward. If getting things done is a priority, try rewarding yourself directly after you’ve achieved your goal. I’m going to try this tonight by making my nachos after I get off the treadmill.

So, how are things going for you? Have you tried the accountability practice I yammer on so much about in my blogs? Has it worked for you? What do you do when you feel like productivity is something only other people have (you know, those people – those people who publish novels and stuff). 😉

And, as a post script, a big congratulations to Crystal on the launch of her debut novel, Feast of Sorrow, a book I hope is just the first of many grand tales she tells.

Cover of Crystal King's novel Feast of Sorrow.

You’ll laugh! You’ll cry! You’ll crave weird food!

*I read that it was actually not the bell that kicked off the dogs’ salivation but the sight of the scientists’ lab coats. This proves two things: One, dogs aren’t stupid; they know where they get their meals, and two, the experiment with the bell was completely unnecessary. Scientists, eh?


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8 Responses to Tactics for the Over-committed: Four Ways to Stay on Track and Stay Productive

  1. Crystal King says:

    You are the best. I wish I had time to employ these tactics, HA!

    • Leanna Widgren says:

      Ha! I think you do! A glass of wine after a planned writing session sounds like just the right tactic. It seems to be working for you!

  2. Sherry says:

    I believe my accountability is at zero! Maybe sunshine is what I need! Thanks for the thought provoking words dear Leanna,as usual,so enjoyable as well as interesting .

  3. Patrice says:

    Sounds as though your spring came in with a Wait What and is going out with a Lesson Learned! 🙂

    Your Pavlov’s dogs reference flashed me back to volunteering for psych studies at WSU and the realization that many were designed to dupe the subjects in the name of science. I clearly recall thinking, “When did lying become okay?” Understanding human patterns is not an easy process.

    Huge congratulations to Crystal! I look forward to her book making it to the top of my to-read list. (And it’s going to be great fun seeing *your* novel reach the public eye!)

    • Leanna Widgren says:

      I’m looking forward to May with the lessons of April tucked firmly under my belt! I look forward to reading YOUR published book someday, too!

  4. Melinda Widgren says:

    Great thoughts and actions. You had me at a disadvantage when you talked about making a ‘to do’ list. Can’t even manage that most days. Procrastinator, that’s me.
    Thanks for the great ideas and tell Miss Crystal congratulations!

    • Leanna Widgren says:

      I will! I can see your to-do list in my mind. The first task is, “Write to-do list.” HA!!