WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO FOLLOW THROUGH?
Following through simply means finishing what you set out to do. It’s a concept that is simple in theory, but is complex and challenging in reality.
The Phases of Follow-Through
It’s easy to mistake your ability to follow through with a test of your self-discipline, but there’s a lot more to it than that. It’s more than a test of will-power and just doing what you said you’ll do. Successfully following-through on your tasks or goals is a multi-phase process, and each of these phases comes with a different set of challenges and strategies. Let’s look at some of those phases:
- Intention – It all begins with the intention to do something. This could be a life-time goal like climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, or as simple as completing an item on your to-do list, like finally writing that blog post you’ve been avoiding (am I talking to myself right now? Yes. Yes I am).
- First Steps – You have to begin somewhere. Sometimes this is the hardest part – just working up the gumption to DO IT. Other times, this is the easy bit, especially if it’s new and exciting.
- The Wall – I’m borrowing a running term here, because that’s how I relate to life. When running a marathon, at some point or another, every runner (maybe not the elites – I can’t speak for them) hits what’s called ‘the wall’. Everyone hits it at a different point of the race (for me, it is usually around mile 22). It happens when you’re exhausted from having already run many miles, but you know you still have several miles to go and your entire body is telling you to quit. That it can’t physically go any further.
The point is, sometimes we face a metaphorical wall when it comes to finishing the things we’ve started. The initial hype and energy wears off, it’s no longer fun and exciting, but there’s still a long way to go before it’s finished. This is the wall.
- Finish line – Ok, another runner’s term for you here, but I don’t think it needs too much explaining. This is the stage when the end is in sight and you finally get to cross that finish line.
Understanding these phases and which one you’re in is important when it comes to identifying why you are struggling to follow-through and what to do about it.
Let’s start with intention. First and foremost, you have to understand your WHY.
Understand & Know Your WHY
I’ve talked about this before and I’ll talk about it again. Your motivation is going to falter and fail you if you can’t clearly identify WHY you are doing what you’re doing.
Before you set out to do anything, begin by asking yourself why it matters to you. What are the benefits that will make it worth your time and effort? Setting your priorities straight will go a long way to helping you to stay focused on your tasks when the going gets tough.
Make a Plan
Once you understand what your motivation is, it’s time to make a plan. Ask yourself the following questions to help plan how you’ll get from start to finish and prepare for the some of the challenges that may get in your way:
- What is my goal?
- How will I know I’ve accomplished what I set out to do? (AKA, what is my finish line?)
- What is most likely to keep me from reaching my goal? Think about possible distractions or other challenges.
- What can I do to prevent these from hindering my progress? For example, if you are worried about digital distractions, this might mean putting your phone in a different room or installing an app blocker.
- What do I think is a realistic time frame for reaching my goal? Add extra time to account for distractions and unforeseen challenges.
- How many breaks should I plan for along the way? Taking breaks along the way will re-energize you and keep you from burning out before the task is done. I can’t emphasise this enough – DON’T SKIP YOUR BREAKS
Just Do It
Sometimes the hardest thing is just starting. You feel overwhelmed just thinking about it and you don’t even know where to start.
Let me give you a tip:
It doesn’t matter WHERE you start, just that you DO.
Seriously, just start somewhere and the rest will follow. If you’re really not sure where to begin, start by googling it. Skim a few articles online or ask a friend for advice, then choose one or two simple steps that you can start on now and DO IT.
If you’re an expert procrastinator and really struggling to get down to business, choose a nice treat for yourself as a reward, set a 5-10 minute timer, and reward yourself after you’ve worked on it for 5-10 minutes. Oftentimes, you’ll find that even a short amount of time is enough to get the momentum going and break that pattern of avoidance.
TIP: The reward could be as simple as time scrolling on your phone or a nice dessert
It’s All in Your Head
This is the tough part – your resolve is waning, and your motivation levels don’t seem to match the amount of work you have left. You may or may not be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but if you can, it’s probably still a long way off.
This is the part where you start to blame yourself for not being disciplined enough, for being too lazy, and the self guilt piles higher and higher.
First of all, it’s normal to hit the wall and feel this way, so remember there’s nothing wrong with you. All you need are some better tools in your toolbox to get you through the tough part.
Here are a few tricks that might help:
Remember your WHY
I know – you already know what your WHY is, but by this point, your emotional connection to your WHY has probably faded quite a lot. If you have your WHY written down somewhere, go dig it up and read it again. If not, take some time to write down your why and remind yourself why you’re doing this in the first place. The motivation this will provide is critical for getting past the wall.
Clarify the plan
Take some time to look at what you have left to do between now and reaching the finish line. Outline the bigger steps involved, then hone in specifically on the next few steps in front of you. This will help you see the bigger picture again and spot the light at the end of the tunnel, as well as give you clear next steps to help keep you moving.
Change of setting & timing
Try changing up your environment to make it feel like a bit of a fresh start. If it’s desk work, try working at a coffee shop for the day (I say as I sit at a little booth in my local café), putting on a fresh new playlist, or getting yourself a fancy drink while you work. If you’re trying to get fit, try changing up your routine – run a different route, try some different machines or a different exercise class. The point is, find a way to change the setting and make it feel new again.
Know when to take a break
If you have been working non-stop, and you’re exhausted and generally burnt out, it’s probably time to cut yourself some slack and rest. This can be a really hard decision to make for ourselves, so if you’re tempted to try to keep working through it, try this:
Imagine you were talking to a friend and the roles were reversed. They are tired and burnt out, but determined to keep pushing through it. Would you advise them to rest, or encourage them to keep going and not give up? Listen to your own advice.
Remember, it is scientifically proven that taking breaks restores your energy and helps you to think more clearly and efficiently afterwards. Often times, when it comes to working, LESS IS MORE.
Set a timer
Speaking of taking breaks, try monitoring your work-rest routine with a timer. Set a timer for 50 minutes and work until the timer goes off. Now, this part is important: STOP AS SOON AS THE TIMER GOES OFF. If you’re in the zone you should still stop – this will make it easier for you to pick up where you left off when you come back to it. Then, take a 10-minute break (use a timer). Rinse & repeat.
Alternatively, you can try the Pomodoro Technique which looks like this:
- Work for 25 minutes
- Take a 5 minute break
- Repeat x 4
- After the 4th Pomodoro, take a 15-30 minute break
There are a few ways to do this:
- Tell a friend, colleague, or spouse your plan. Either ask them to check in on you along the way, or promise them you will check in with them at certain intervals to let them know your progress. They’ll probably be happy that you asked and trust them enough to be an accountability partner to you.
- Get someone else involved. Find someone to work out with to help hold you accountable. If you work from home, find someone else who does too and ‘go to work’ together a couple of days a week. Sometimes the camaraderie is enough to keep you motivated and on task.
- Post your goals or tasks on social media and invite your followers to check in with you to make sure you’ve done it.
- Record yourself working. You might be surprised by how much putting a camera on yourself will make you more conscious of how you’re spending your time and help you to be more accountable to yourself.
Ask for help
If you’re overwhelmed and burnt out, consider delegating tasks, asking a friend or family member for help with the kids, or find someone who’s more experienced who has been where you are and ask for advice.
When you finally cross your proverbial finish line, remember to stop and celebrate! Take some time to look back at how far you’ve come and to soak in the victory. Reward yourself, and give yourself a rest before you move on to your next big thing.
Have any tips of your own? Share them below!
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