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I have a problem with not being able to move from idea to execution. By idea, I mean a detailed, specific plan on what to do and how to do it. I make lots of plans, but rarely follow through with them, often times not even starting. I just feel unable to start working.

For example, take college exams. In college, specially during the end, I would read the question paper, and start thinking about how I'd answer each question, and which questions would I pick if there were a choice, and so on. This is normal for a lot of people, but with me, I'd spend upto a third of the allotted time in this. And then when I'd finally start answering, I'd do the same to each question. Often times I'd have the perfect(or a really good) answer in my head, but when I'd start writing it down, I'd forget the good bits, and this would lead to sub standard answers.

I do the same to my personal projects, and to other things like say, writing a blog post, or even writing this question. I obsess over details, and things that are many steps ahead of where I need to be to start working. I'd go online and research about how to solve problems that I haven't even run into yet. But after all that is done, I still can't get myself upto starting work. It feels tiring to start executing my plans, as if it were a big mental effort to plan everything and now I need a break.

It doesn't help that I have multiple ideas, and that my mind is racing off in many different directions at the same time, jumping from thought to thought, when I try and sit down to work.

Are there any good techniques that I could apply and improve my productivity?

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3 Answers

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There are two approaches I suggest to you. First is to follow a specific model for how you plan. It sounds like you make plans, but they are in the area of fine details. You may benefit from starting your plans with a "big picture" view of what you want to accomplish, the why am I doing this reminder. One approach to this that works for me is David Allen's GTD Natural Planning Model. You can search for that on Google to get a lot of examples, here's one worth looking at: http://www.gtdtimes.com/2011/05/20/mom-gets-the-right-things-done-with-the-natural-planning-model/

The steps to the Natural Planning Model are:

  1. Define Purpose and Principles
  2. Outcome Visioning
  3. Brainstorming
  4. Organizing
  5. Identifying Next Actions

With practice, those steps may take only a couple of minutes.

The other technique that may help you is timeboxing. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeboxing for details. Simply, decide how long you will allot for an activity, and then hold yourself to it. Set alarms and timers if necessary to force yourself to move to another activity. Yes, work quality may suffer - but not enough to matter in the vast majority of cases.

One specific tip on writing tasks -- I (almost) never look at a task as "write something". Instead, it is "draft something", "edit something" and possibly "finalize something". By breaking the task down into those pieces, I don't get stuck editing while drafting, and the entire piece moves along much faster.

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I'd say the for both exams and other ideas/plans in general, physically getting things on down on paper is the key to making progress.

For an exam, outline your ideas on paper. Even if it's just a single-word outline, it solidifies your plan a bit and allows you to more effectively move on and eventually finish the task at hand.

As for other ideas in general, it really helps me to write down a to-do list, first by bulleting abstract goals of things to do, and then subheadings of the specific actions I can take in order to complete the goal. This is particularly effective as you can always look at this and see what you can do right now at this moment.

And if you have the trouble where you rationalize procrastination by equivocating "thinking about doing things" to actually "doing things", then writing down those plans mitigates this procrastination to a certain extent by removing the excuse that you still need to "plan", as the plan is laid out right in front of you, and you're faced with either outright refusing to do what is in front of you, or simply doing what you need to do :)

Best of luck.

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College is over, don't think I'll be taking an exam ever again :) Guess I should've been more clear about that. But still, good advice for future visitors who might have a similar problem –  elssar Feb 9 '13 at 1:30
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I know it, I like to make plan, how many question should I answer per day to be ready till exam date and then I can plan how I will answer the questions, but I don't start to do it. Or I look at the different sources of interesting information for me and I plan that I will study them everyday in the evening. But I just spend a lot of time by preparing the list of sources and never sit down to really study them.

Actually, if I make a complete plan, I see everything as a mandatory. I have to do it. And that takes my motivation away.

I found out, that the best how to solve it, is just stopping doing perfect plans and start really do what is needed. And start do it from that point you are most interested in now. After a while, you can rich the zone (or flow) and you will easily continue with other parts of your activity. For the examples I wrote above it could be: Stop plan how to answer the questions, and just start answering the one, you already know the answer, or it is challenge for you so you want to solve it. For the sources of information it means, that you stopped looking for next source, and you start read the one you already found and you see it as interesting. After some time of studying it, you can find it more interesting and you will really continue with it every evening because you will like it. After finishing you will find another source of information - that one you are most interested in.

The whole problem of great planning and no action is, in my opinion, in the enormous mind activity, when you have thousand of ideas and you are not able to concentrate on one concrete activity, so you build up the plans for next activities. Just sit and calm down. Stop following all of your thoughts, say yourself that now it is time for doing this one activity and for nothing else. Anything else will have the time later. Don't bother with another thoughts now.

And one small tip in the end: procrastination is very useful to show you, what don't you like to do. Because if you like to do something, you won't procrastinate :) . Of course, there are some things you have to do even you don't like it, such as some school courses and so on, but you can see and find what you really like. These activities could be the right ones to start to beat this "bad habit": stop planning and start doing.

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Because if you like to do something, you won't procrastinate :) But what if you procrastinate on everything? ;p –  elssar Feb 13 '13 at 3:38
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