Just Do the Thing: A Guide
How to stay focused on one big goal and stop getting sidetracked by shiny distractions
We exist to do things that matter.
Sadly, we often get caught up in ourselves and our idea of how things should be. We tend to lose sight of the Things being birthed through our efforts.
This guide is an antidote for your Thing-restricting thoughts & habits.
It’s easy to follow, but it is not actually written for you at all. Rather, it’s for the Thing inside you that’s trying to be born into the world. That Thing that’s nagging at you — it wants you to listen. This guide helps you hear.
By drawing your attention to the Thing coming through you, you can bypass your personal stops and find what really matters. I’ve used this approach with coaching clients, in mastermind groups, when consulting with large organizations, and in my own life and projects. It works.
From your grand life purpose to the most mundane of tasks, it sometimes helps to have something that walks you through what it takes to get to Done.
Remember: Done is where your Thing wants to be. And you’re just the person to get it there.
Please put this information to good use in your own life. There are great Things that want to come through you, but keep getting stuck along the way through you and into the world. Please let them run free so that the world around you may benefit!
How To Use This Guide
In order, start to finish. That works great!
Skip around as you like. That works too!
Either way, bookmarking this right now is the best of ideas. That way you can read a bit, then go DO something. You’ll see a prompt like this to remind you that your Thing needs you to stay on target.
When you do come back later and read some more, then you can go DO something again with renewed purpose and momentum.
After a while, you’ll start to notice what you do next, and how you feel. This is useful information, and the Thing that wants to come through you really needs you to be honest about it.
- Are you super productive?
- Are you procrastinating?
- Are you smiling and laughing?
- Are you vaguely annoyed?
Sure, you can easily read this whole guide in one sitting. But that’s not the point.
The point is to use this as a tool for enabling your greater intelligence. Then it can help you build the momentum that it takes to get your Thing out into the world — where it’s meant to be!
You’ve probably seen other productivity tools, tips, tricks, hacks, methodologies, etc. before. There’s a lot of great stuff out there. If you’re using some of it already, keep doing that. This guide likes to make friends and plays nicely with others.
If you happen to take any particular sentence personally, please know that it was not meant that way. If you lose your objectivity, know that your values and beliefs are important… and it’s time to move on and not get stuck. Keep going.
Tools tend to work best when you actually use them.
So do that.
Just do the Thing.
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.”
- Mark Twain
What is the Thing for me?
I’ll keep making reference to your Thing (aka the Thing). This is as specific and unambiguous as I can be without knowing what you’re up to.
But then I’m not the one who needs to know. You’re the one who needs to know.
So… what’s the very first thought that comes up when you think of your Thing?
Name it, out loud is best! Your thing wants to know “What’s my name?”
Now whenever you see the Thing, you know what it means.
Don’t like what you just named? Not to worry, you can swap it out for something better whenever you want. I won’t tell.
Skipped that part? If nothing comes to mind, that’s likely because too many Things are trying to crowd in at once and they get all jammed up in the doorway. It happens sometimes.
For now, take a breath and list out All The Things. Write them down someplace, and keep reading. At the end of every section, write more if you need, then pick one and circle it. Notice how each feels. You can change your mind as many times as needed, no worries. Just don’t try to cull the herd until after they’ve all been heard.
Or if you really don’t have even a single Thing in mind yet, that’s fine too. Just go with “Find my Thing” for now. You’ll get some ideas soon enough. Don’t censor them. Let ’em flow and make sense of the mess later.
It’s all good, and it gets way easier from here.
When you define Done, you’ll know what it looks like so that when you arrive there — you can stop. If you don’t know what Done looks like, you might stop just short of success (or put in waaaaaaay too much effort!) and never realize it.
Done has to be defined.
While you don’t have to define it before you start, in my experience, it’s a very good idea. So is writing it down (Hint! Hint!). Here are some questions to help:
- How will you know when your Thing is done?
- What will be measurably different in the world as a result?
- Who is one person that will notice (without you having to point anything out)?
- What is something that will be possible once the Thing is done that can’t happen until it is?
- Where will you be after the Thing is done? What will be better in your life?
Knowing what Done looks like also makes you admit to yourself when you’re changing direction. Changing direction is totally fine, as long as you know you’re doing it.
Stay conscious. Get to Done.
If your Thing isn’t very important, I politely suggest you pick another Thing. Seriously.
I mean, I can see why you’d have trouble getting an unimportant Thing done. It isn’t worth your time, right?
If procrastination is a problem, double-check that the Thing is actually important — and that it’s important to you.
You only live for so long. You only have so much energy. You only get 24 hours in a day, and obviously, there are better things to be doing with them.
I’m not judging. I’m simply noticing the wise judgment already present here. You can’t fake this.
Now is a great occasion to stop struggling and let the unimportant stuff fall away. Go do something YOU think is important. Please. Make the world a happier place.
If you’re not attracted to Your Thing, you’re less likely to do it. This is not rocket science.
You have two options:
- Find a more attractive Thing; or
- Love the Thing you’re with
Both are great options.
Chances are you aren’t the only person in the whole wide world with such a Thing in mind. Sometimes it feels that way, but it isn’t. Things tend to get around and your allegiance won’t change this.
Don’t beat yourself up. Pick a thing you like. After all, it’s going to be your new best friend.
Be Specific. Specific Things can get specifically done. General Things may get generally done, but more often don’t. Why is that?
You know how to focus, or at least you know what it means. It may or may not happen frequently in your life, but you’ve tasted it before.
Focus requires our presence and engagement. We can focus well on one thing at a time, but not so well on more than that.
For example, try this:
- Focus on something within reach.
- Now focus on something far away.
- Now focus on the tip of your nose.
- Now focus on all three at once.
Doesn’t work so good, right?
This is why it helps to be specific. Know exactly what your Thing is, and focus on it in one spot. Maybe what you can focus on today isn’t all your Thing is or ever will ever be, but it’s all you can specifically focus on right now. And that’s enough. That’s plenty!
When picking a Thing, try not to go too grandiose.
It’s all well and good to pick a Thing like “world peace.” This Thing likely qualifies as being important, attractive, and specific. But that takes the whole wide world to accomplish. Right? As such, it’s simply not something that you as one person can just go do. So how could you make this something more, well, doable?
You could start with something small, and the smaller the better. Building on our little successes allows us to build momentum and work up to bigger things.
What if instead of world peace, you picked a peaceful home? Or a peaceful workplace? Or a peaceful mind? If any of these sound daunting, you can be sure that world peace is a long way off. Maybe one minute of peace is more your size for now. Great!
Need examples of doable Things? Look around you. Don’t worry, it’s not cheating to pick exactly the same Thing as someone else. There’s a lot to be done.
You learned about the importance of Defining Done, and hopefully wrote down a definition for yourself. What was that again?
Right. Now’s a great time to revisit it. Maybe give it an update if you’d like.
Here’s another place where Done comes in real handy. Once you know what Done looks like, you can choose how to estimate your progress toward it. What are the mini-Dones that lead to the big Done?
These are your measurements.
Of course, Things can be measured in many different ways. So which is best?
Whatever keeps you moving toward Done. Remember that the time you take to measure is time that you take away from your Thing. Your Thing is not getting any closer to Done while you stop and coordinate with other people or update a spreadsheet that calculates progress or reorganize your calendar, etc.
Cut that out. Or at least minimize it. Don’t focus on the distance between The-Thing-now and Done. Focus on Done. And measure your progress simply.
What is the fastest, easiest, cheapest way to measure the distance between how-things-are-right-now and your Done Thing? Do that. And don’t change how you measure unless you change your Thing. Even bad measurements are usually better than what it costs to stop to change them.
Resist the temptation to know more every time it costs you doing more. If you’ve already got something that’s important, attractive, specific, and doable, then you only have to measure it enough to keep it moving.
So keep it moving.
Doing the Thing
“If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you’ll never get it done.”
- Bruce Lee
Pick one thing.
Pick the next thing.
This is a system that is simple and effective for doing your Thing.
Pick several things.
Try and do them all at once.
Get confused and/or overwhelmed and/or distracted.
This is a system that is simple and effective for driving you nuts. But not for doing your Thing. See the difference?
There are also other alternatives. Like this one:
Pick one thing.
Look for something bright and shiny.
Do that instead.
This is neither simple nor effective, though it may be creative.
Might I suggest you look at the first version again? There are lots of better places to get creative.
Where To Start
There are many right answers to the question “Where do I start?” Here are a few:
- Wherever it’s easiest
- Wherever it’s hardest
- Wherever makes the most sense
- Wherever makes the most difference
- Wherever you feel pulled to
- Something that starts with the letter A
- Wherever your parents told you to start
- The opposite of wherever your parents told you to start
The truth is that where you start doesn’t matter. It truly has no relationship to your success. Your Thing couldn’t care less.
WHEN you start — now, this makes all the difference in the world!
When to Start
It is definitively and statistically true that you will never succeed at something you never begin. One-hundred percent of the time, you must Do The Thing in order to have done it. Now is the best time to start.
If you missed that opportunity — oh look! Here comes another one.
How to Start
Step 1: Remove all distractions
Instructions: Anything that might go “ding” will take you away from your Thing if it does. So temporarily eliminate such distractions from your world. Go fully offline. This means your phone, computer, watch, whatever.
Remember that people can be distracting, too. Create a barrier for a defined amount of focus time however, you can politely negotiate it.
Step 2: Set Reminder
Instructions: Create a countdown for the amount of time you have to spend in this distraction-less and unreachable mode. If it’s four hours or four minutes, do it and do it fully. A simple, self-contained timer is best.
Don’t forget to tell the anxious people who want your attention exactly when you’ll be back. They like that.
Now you’re ready.
Step 3: Just do the Thing
Where to Stop
Stop in the middle of something.
This may sound counter-intuitive but stay with me here.
A finished thought can make it challenging to know where to start next, but a half-finished thought tells you exactly where to begin when you pick up your Thing next. So be kind to your future self, and give them some momentum — and an easy target!
Writing something? Stop mid-sentence. You’ll know right were to start typing when you come back.
Making something? Stop and clean your tools, but get the next ones prepped so you can jump straight in with gusto.
Doing some other task? Leave the last step incomplete. It’s like it’s got a bullseye on it.
The only exception is when you’re Done. But Done is a one-time deal. You’ll know Done when a deadline arrives, or better yet when there is nothing left to do.
When to Stop
When do you stop doing The Thing?
When your timer goes off.
When you start yawning and blinking a lot. This often comes with watery eyes and a runny nose. Consider taking a break and setting your timer for less time next time.
If you or someone near you is in need of immediate medical attention. Absolutely, go tend to that. There may be other true emergencies you care to add here. Best to do so in advance.
Short of one of these three occurrences, KEEP DOING YOUR THING!
Either the Thing is that important, or you probably shouldn’t be doing it. Revisit the “Something Important” section if you need help with this.
How to Stop
It can be tempting to just keep doing and driving until done.
Don’t be seduced. This done isn’t the real Done.
To stop doing The Thing, disconnect from it. This is a supremely important point, please don’t underestimate it!
Ever have a bright idea about how to solve a problem you were working on earlier that day at the oh-so-convenient hour of 3 a.m.? Or go for a walk and come back with renewed energy and a fresh perspective? Gimme some of that sugar! YES!
Not Doing is an important part of Doing, and it often gets overlooked. After all, what if you’re fine, but it’s your Thing that needs a rest?
Shift your mental and physical state and go do something completely different. You and your Thing will come back to each other differently and better for having had some private me-time.
Avoidance & Distraction
(a.k.a. Not Doing The Thing)
“It’s not about knowing what to do, it’s about doing what you know.”
- Tony Robbins
Too Many Things!
Until now we’ve been focused on one Thing at a time. This is the ideal way to do it, especially for big, life-purpose kinds of Things. But it’s true there may be several smaller, project-level kinds of Things that you can toggle between. Take on one. Stay fully present and engaged, then switch over to the next with the same complete focus and commitment.
This is possible, but it’s also slippery. So watch your step.
In the “What is The Thing for Me?” section, we touched upon moments when All The Things try to fit through the same, small, Doing-space at the same time. Even a bunch of small Things will get stuck if there’s enough of them. And then nothing gets done.
The only way any of these Things can fit is if some of them (most of them!) learn to wait. But Things aren’t patient by nature so someone needs to direct traffic. Someone just like you.
Try reading this aloud:
“Three small Things! Yes, you there. This way please. No, not four little Things. You stay right there, you. Thanks. Wait! Oh, I’m sorry big Thing, but you’re gonna have to hold on until these three little Things get to Done. You’ll all get your turn.”
You may have to read this aloud every day for a while until all The Things get the message. They can be very persistent little buggers. It’s that little Thing Number Four you’ve really got to watch. And don’t forget that big Things generally require One Thing Only mode.
You’ve got this. Just remember who’s the boss.
Talking About The Thing
When you are talking about The Thing, you are not doing it. Because talking isn’t doing.
Even if your Thing involves some talking, you know when you’re really getting it done and when you’re not.
Call yourself on this. And often.
Your measurements will help. If you forgot how to measure your progress, go back to the “Something Measurable” section for a gentle reminder.
Just do the Thing.
Can you do the Thing with your mouth closed?
How about with your social media off?
How can you find out?
Planning the Thing
Some Things require a detailed plan to get to Done.
But not as many as you’d think.
The thinking part can quickly become its own problem. This distracts you from The Thing.
Replace questions like “What’s the best place to begin?” with “What’s the smallest, simplest, soonest way I can start?”
Replace questions like “Which part comes first?” with “What’s the cheapest way to test this out?”
Structuring The-Thing-That-Doesn’t-Exist-Yet is a hollow endeavor. Get a Thing going and let it tell you what it needs next. It’s your job to listen to your Thing, not to boss it around.
In this world of change where things get faster and faster, it is downright silly to think that you can know everything you need to finish your Thing before you even start. Maybe the world was that predictable at one time, but now? Yeah, not so much.
Planning Things in detail before starting them is a splendid way to fail. So don’t.
If you’ve defined Done, just start already. Pay attention to your Thing, it’s telling you what it needs next. Listen and plan as you go.
Buying stuff to do your Thing often feels good. This can even look like progress.
But it isn’t. Don’t get confused.
If only buying stuff made things easier! What a wonderful world this would be! But life isn’t like it is in the commercials.
Yes, we’ve all been marketed to for a long time, so long that we’ve even come to believe a lot of it. But The Thing does not believe, and it does not care about what tools you use or what toys you possess. It only cares about getting Done.
No matter how many tools or books you buy (including this one!) your Thing still needs you to focus with all your Doing energy.
While you’re reading or learning to use the shiny new toy you bought, your Thing is left waiting for you. Impatiently.
If your Thing really does need some stuff in order to exist, go borrow or rent the stuff. After you’ve tried this stuff and your Thing has decided it likes how this particular stuff tastes, then you can buy it.
Until then, avoid buying stuff! Lest the Thing spit it back out at you like a kid with a spoonful of well-intentioned “But it’s good for you!”
“I was gonna do the Thing, but I forgot.”
No, you didn’t. You failed to set a reminder is all. Oops, #ReminderFail!
Your brain is great at a whole bunch of stuff, but remembering is simply not one of them. That’s fine, there’s nothing wrong with you. Human brains just aren’t wired like that.
But you know what is? The manmade world. Man made a manmade world and wired it up to get things done.
“Plant the crops on this date, party on this one. Hey, look I invented the calendar!” Said one guy a long, long time ago.
“Do this first, then do that, then the other thing. Hey, look I made a list!” Said his mother.
Your brain need not struggle with the responsibility of remembering what’s on the calendar, that’s what the calendar is for. Likewise, lists are for listing things you can refer back to later. So stay out of their way and let them do their jobs.
It’s all they ever get to do, please don’t take this away from them.
If you do choose to assign your brain some mundane remembering tasks, it will probably only scream at you the whole time that you’re not doing what you told it to remember insisting that you should. Perhaps you’re familiar?
“Hey, this is your brain. Is it 2 p.m. yet? Check the time. Oh, okay. How about now? Right, sorry. How about now? Well… How about now? Do you remember what happens at 2 p.m.? Hey, don’t you dare forget what happens at 2 p.m.! You should really get ready for that.”
This is simply more stress than you need in your life.
Use a calendar for timing things. Use a list for listing things. Go ahead and forget the rest. Please.
Engineering a vision of the future is a very good game to play.
It is important to align your wants so that when you actually get what you want, you know it and can be happy about it.
Games like this one can be played infinitely, but doing so doesn’t help The Thing. Sure, play a round or two, but then stop playing.
You got Things to do, remember?
Balance is a dynamic act, it’s not something you do once and move on. At any snapshot in time we may appear balanced, or not. It’s the snapshots grouped together that we care about. Work-life balance is averaged over time.
So what timeframe are we talking here? Do you want work-life balance in a day? In an hour? In a year? In a lifetime?
If you intensely pour yourself into The Thing until it is complete, then take a break for a while and do something completely different. Does it matter whether that is a month or a decade?
If yes, then yes.
Know what it takes to achieve and maintain your definition of work-life balance. Kind of like with Defining Done.
If no, then shut up about work-life balance already, you’ll never have it because it’s obviously not that important to you when compared with The Thing.
That’s okay too. You get to choose.
You do not have the power to manage time, nobody does.
Time was here before you arrived, you were born into it, not the other way around. So don’t talk about time management as if you can do something about it.
Time will go on no matter what you do or don’t do.
So stop trying to manage time. Focus on managing your actions.
Actions speak much louder; loud enough that even your Thing can hear.
You do not have the power to manage your priorities, nobody does.
Priorities are a matter of context — of what life gives you or takes away. For instance, you may have never considered prioritizing the air that you breathe. Yet deprived of breath, you have no greater priority than — your… next… breath!
This isn’t because you failed to prioritize breathing in advance, it’s because the moment changed. Suddenly something of importance arose that was always important but that you’d never really noticed before.
It’s this way with many needs. Happens all the time my friend.
Your priorities may be important to you, but the time you spend reprioritizing delays you from actually doing your Thing.
The Thing doesn’t notice your priorities, it only notices what you Do.
The Beauty of Giving Up
Is there a value difference between a Thing that’s Done and one that’s merely Dropped?
Perhaps. But when the goal is to have nothing left to do, then they are equal. If only the endorphin release was, too.
You may feel more justified in working a Thing through to Done than in dropping that Thing you’ve already put so much effort into. Giving up on The-Thing-that-has-been-important-before-but-isn’t-now can be a hard decision.
Yet it is the easiest path to The Thing that’s most important.
What Thing do you want to serve?
Which serves the world better?
Questions like this are great ones to ask — especially while you’re not in conflict with your Thing.
If you’re feeling frustrated, you are temporarily disqualified from deciding if it’s time to Drop your Thing. You don’t get to give up just yet, but you do get to take a break (if your Thing will let you). Go do that.
Getting Back on Track
“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.”
- Vincent Van Gogh
As I write this, I should be writing something else.
I’m supposed to be writing up a detailed report, it’s something I’ve committed to and it is due Monday. Today is Saturday, and oh my, it’s a lovely day outside!
But instead of writing my report or enjoying the great outdoors, I just wrote up a podcast, registered a domain name, and made a bunch of notes about an unrelated business strategy I’m considering.
These are all decent enough things to do, but they’re not urgent like my report is. And the more time I spend not writing my report, the less weekend there is, and the less I’ll get to enjoy it.
Hey, I just noticed what time it is!
What time is it?
Time to do The Thing.
Always Practicing Something
We are always practicing something.
Whether you mean to or not, you’re always reinforcing some behavior. How you behave around your Thing is something you’re practicing too.
Your Thing derives much of its self-esteem from how you treat it. It learns what you think of it by how you think about it every day.
How do you think about The Thing?
Practice makes perfect.
Pushing Your Buttons
This guide may press some of your buttons.
So be it. So does life, right?
When your buttons get pushed, don’t get mad at the silly words. Don’t get mad at your Thing. And please don’t get mad at your life. Simply learn to deal.
There are lots of great resources out there to help you learn to deal. There’s counseling, self-help books, workshops, hotlines, etc. If you need some support references, the internet is at your fingertips!
How you feel about the tasks that add up to Done isn’t really relevant. You don’t have to like them. You just have to like The Thing you’re working toward.
For instance, I really don’t like doing my taxes every year. But I do like being able to legally operate a business with a minimum of interference from government authorities. One leads to the other.
Don’t focus on the button being pressed. Focus on what it does.
Keep your eyes on the Thing. It doesn’t care about your emotions, it cares what you do.
Today’s First Domino
Forget what made sense yesterday, go with what makes sense today.
Fancy project management software and behavior tracking data may tell you how to better estimate projects in spite of your blind spots. But they don’t tell you much about the project itself. This Thing has a life of its own.
Just hold your attention on your intention.
Answer one or more of the following questions:
- What is the one task that you can take on and complete in one sitting that would make the most difference?
- What would provide the most leverage, the most momentum with the energy you have right now?
- What is the lead domino for today?
Now go do this.
Your Thing only wants that much, but it demands it of you.
Other People’s Decisions
You do not get to make decisions for other people, sorry.
Try and you will only frustrate yourself and those you seek to make decisions for.
With a clear intention, you can enroll others into participating — or at least have a shot at it. But remember that they’re going to do whatever they’re going to do. The Thing is powerful, but it has no real power over other people. They might not even get along.
Also, be mindful of this when setting goals and choosing Things, as on Something Doable.
Goals like “I want to be the best such-and-such” or “I want to win this award” are results that may or may not come from you being the best ‘you’ that you can be, or doing right by your Thing. You don’t control the awards committee, you don’t control who else is competing, you don’t decide when the rules should change. That’s their Thing, let them have it!
You don’t want their Thing anyway. You’ve got yours.
What was its name again?
Your brain can get confused, play tricks, and second guess, but your nearby teeth do not have this problem. Your teeth don’t care how often you think about brushing them. They are only affected when you do.
If you consistently treat your teeth well, chances are they will perform for you consistently. Brush your teeth inconsistently (or not at all), and it shows.
This is a small litmus test the rest of the world performs upon us constantly. Every time we smile, in fact. That’s when the world sees our followthrough.
Do you want to be someone who requires extensive work just to mask the pain of your inconsistency? Or do you want to do the right thing, day after day, and have it show effortlessly without any need for expensive repairs?
Smile. What stories do your teeth (or your Thing) tell about you?
Don’t forget that your followthrough is all of you that your Thing ever gets to see.
On Your Marks…
The most critical hour in your day is the first one. It could be 5–6 am or 12–1 pm, makes no difference.
Your Thing does not need you to be a morning person. However, it does need to see evidence of your Thingly intentions pretty early on, within about 59.0265 minutes of consciousness or thereabouts.
It doesn’t take much. Just setting your Top 3 most important tasks each day is enough. Best to do this when you’re fresh — before you get caught up in the day.
If you can’t or don’t get some intention into your first hour, it’s not the end of the world. But it is very likely the end of your momentum.
Sure, you can try to pick it up later, but you’re doing it the hard way and your Thing knows the difference.
If your Thing doesn’t inspire you to get up in the morning (or whenever it is that do you get up), that’s a big clue. It’s likely time to re-evaluate the Thing that you’re doing. Check back with the “Something Attractive” section and see if that helps.
Having a simple routine at the beginning of every day is a real asset.
Some people meditate. Some people have a cup of coffee and a cigarette. Some people exercise. Some people write freely for a few minutes.
The action itself doesn’t matter. What matters is that you can use it to greet yourself.
Like a musical instrument, you need to tune it before it will play well. Like a scientific instrument, you need to calibrate it before you can trust it to tell you the truth.
Notice how you are in this simple act. Then you can trust your responses and really play as your Thing requires.
The just in Just Do The Thing also means not doing other things.
Because you can’t give your all to something and still have your all left over to give to something else. You can only give the remainder of what’s left. Even if you’re young and energetic, or are into caffeine or other stimulants, the clock is still ticking.
This guide is not about making the best of what’s left of you or your resources. The Thing that you’re doing, it is Something Important! It deserves better than just top billing, it deserves your full attention and intention.
If not, then admit it to your Thing and stop teasing it. Go find something that tells you what you want to hear. This guide just tells you how it really is.
You have a Thing that will either get to Done, or will not.
Your Thing gets done when you do it…and it doesn’t get done when you don’t.
Any time you spend doing something that’s not your Thing is time you took away from your Thing. Like a lover, your Thing is likely to get jealous and may treat you badly. If you have a real-life lover, they may do the same in return. Negotiate as best you can for a healthy and sustainable life, then ask yourself:
Are you doing your Thing, or aren’t you?
Your Thing will not be consoled, and it will not be fooled.
“I never see what has been done; I only see what remains to be done.”
And so the moral of the story is…
Don’t do the things around The Thing.
Don’t bother with the thing that leads to The Thing.
Don’t ask to do The Thing.
Just Do The Thing!