Have your ever run around putting out fires all day, racing to appointments, plowing through emails, and getting to 5 or 6 PM with the sick realization that you haven’t even started the most important work of the day – like prospecting?
Behavioral science is showing us that humans are addicted to novelty. The email ends up feeding that addiction. Whether it’s the ding of a new email or the ping of a Facebook message, we stop everything to check it out.
From the book, Atomic Habits, there is a common mistake that often happens to too many of us. The error has to do with the difference between being in motion and taking action. They sound similar, but they’re not the same.
When you’re in motion, you’re planning and strategizing and learning. Those are all good things, but they don’t produce a result. Action, on the other hand, is the type of behavior that will deliver an outcome.
Here’s a couple of practical examples:
- If I outline 20 ideas for articles I want to write, that’s motion.
- If I write and publish an article, that’s action.
- If I email 10 new leads for my business and start conversations with them, that’s motion.
- When I set an appointment, that’s action.
- If I search for a better diet plan and read a few books on the topic, that’s motion.
- If I eat a healthy meal, that’s action.
Sometimes motion is useful, yet it will never produce an outcome by itself. It doesn’t matter how many times you talk to the personal trainer, that motion will never get you in shape. Only the action of working out will get the result you’re looking to achieve.
If the motion doesn’t lead to results, why do we do it?
Sometimes we do it because we need to plan or learn more. But more often than not, we do it because motion allows us to feel like we’re making progress without running the risk of failure.
Most of us are experts at avoiding criticism. It doesn’t feel right to fail or to be judged publicly, so we tend to avoid situations where that might happen. And that’s the biggest reason why you slip into motion rather than taking action: you want to delay failure.
It’s easy to be in motion and convince yourself that you’re still making progress. You think, “I’ve got conversations going with four potential clients right now. This is good. We’re moving in the right direction.”
Motion makes you feel like you’re getting things done. But really, you’re just preparing to get something done. When preparation becomes a form of procrastination, you need to change something. You don’t want to be planning merely. You want to be practicing.
Sendhil Mullainathan suggests thinking about our schedules as less like a pantry that we cram anything and everything into, and more like an art gallery where we intentionally decide what is most important and how to arrange it so that everything fits. He recommends setting alerts to help us remember what’s important when we start to fall into the scarcity trap.
“Once we’re short on time, we’re already in a bad situation,” Shah says. “But if we learn to manage the time beforehand, we can keep that from happening in the future.”
Some ideas to get out of motion and into action:
- Work expands to the time you give it: Set a specific time for each task.
- Set a schedule for your actions: Basic time blocking.
- Pick a date to shift you from motion to action: set hard deadlines.
- Switch your feelings: “I don’t feel like it” to “Let’s get this done!”