When someone is a master at something, the fundamentals are managed so swiftly or unconsciously that it’s hard to see the steps that are necessary. Imagine you’re watching a superb chef getting ready for a dinner party. Do you see the inspiration for the recipes to try? Or the sources for the special ingredients–the calculations for the portions–the planned schedule so that everything is ready at the right time? Maybe that chef’s to-do list said “make dinner” but she understands that’s shorthand for all the actions required to complete the project.

David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, says ”Your mind goes through five steps to accomplish virtually any task:

  1.    Defining purpose and principle
  2.    Outcome visioning
  3.    Brainstorming
  4.    Organizing
  5.    Identifying next actions

Continuing with the dinner example the chef might decide

  1.    The purpose is to wow my guests with tastes they’ve never imagined and spare no expense
  2.    The outcome I want: they will fund my catering business. I’ll use that new book I just got for ideas
  3.    I need to pre-order the exotic ingredients and I’ll stop by the bakery on my way to the fish market
  4.    Next actions: send invitations, make list, finish shopping, meal preparation, table setting, open wine

Most of the time we skate through our daily chores and don’t think about the individual actions. We have a routine. Get up, do yoga, eat breakfast, go to the office, work with clients. We go through it without stopping to notice the meta process. It just works.

But what about when it doesn’t?

Say you’ve set aside 90 minutes on Monday to get your newsletter done. It’s right there in the calendar– 11:00 am Newsletter. You show up and stare at your screen. A blinking cursor and the sound of crickets. Your whole schedule will get thrown off if this takes too long. Panic starts to set in, and we all know how well fear serves the creative process.

That’s the time to remind yourself that content creation, like any project, needs to be broken down into steps. Allen’s outline above is a good place to start. Here’s my take on it:

  1.    What are you intending to do? What’s the ultimate purpose? What are your guiding principles?
  2.    When it’s completed what do you want to have? What’s your desired outcome?
  3.    What are some ways you can accomplish that? What examples, stories, research might you include?
  4.    What needs to happen first? Do you have all the elements? In what order should you present the ideas?
  5.    What are the next actions? Write the SFD* (Shitty First Draft) step away, walk in nature, take another stab at it, run it past a trusted colleague

Large vague to-dos can seem much less daunting when broken down into actionable steps. If you’re feeling blocked don’t picture it as a solid concrete wall. Imagine the barrier is a cargo net and all you have to do is cut one rope at a time.

*Coined by Anne Lamott by way of Stella Orange

Liz Sumner | Productivity Coach

Liz works with competent, capable individuals who know what to do but aren’t making the kind of progress they want on their goals. She helps them remove the resistance that keeps them from moving forward and achieving what they truly want. Visit lizsumner.com to find out how.