Last week I was listening to one of my new clients as she explained why she had called.

“I need help with my business! I’m just disorganized and overwhelmed,” she said. “There are so many things I need to do; just look at my to-do list!” Sure enough her to-do list was a couple of pages long.

So I asked, “These items at the top -- how long have they been on here?”

“They’ve been on there for weeks and I can’t get them done! I just get more and more new things to add. I know I should get organized – look here, I’ve grouped them by category. I’ve even prioritized them, see? I’ve got them marked A, B, and C, and numbered them within their A-B-C priority. It doesn’t help!”

Of course, she’s right. Getting stuck at the planning and organizing stage without actually doing, doesn’t help!

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, it is helpful to write everything down that’s swirling around in your head and making you feel anxious and confused. It can clear your mind. However, creating and constantly revising and refining your to-do lists can be deceptive. It makes you feel like you’re doing something, when in fact you’re not. You’re putting things off instead of just doing them. Now it’s true that just about everyone procrastinates some of the time, but it’s a destructive habit and the more you do it, the more of a habit it becomes.

Hey, I understand. My personal torment is keeping up with QuickBooks. Every month I swear I’ll update my QuickBooks as soon as my statement comes in, but every month I find a million other things to do instead! What I should do is to simply take action when the time comes -- without giving myself permission not to. I should set aside a specific time every month and just do it until it becomes a habit.

But I don’t. And when we don’t take action we feel guilty. Tasks pile up. Important things get overlooked. And then the problem gets bigger and more complicated than it needs to be because we didn’t take action when it was small and manageable. Then we really feel overwhelmed. Maybe even paralyzed because now the job is so intimidating.

The truth is it’s so much easier in the long run if we can replace that bad habit with a good one – the habit of taking action when we need to. A moment spent now on an unwelcome task will save all kinds of grief down the road. Once it’s done, you won’t have it hanging over you any more, endlessly weighing you down. Every time you think of it, you’ll remember it’s already done! What a relief and feeling of freedom!

Here are 5 tips to help you develop the habit of taking action:

1. “If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first.” Unbeatable advice, direct from Mark Twain! As soon as you get that disagreeable task behind you everything else will seem easy.

2. Prioritize your tasks. Act on the one or two most important items before your day gets away from you. And don’t mistake activity for accomplishment; there’s no virtue in staying busy all day doing things that don’t matter. In other words, DON’T automatically turn to your email first thing. DON’T let other people’s email messages set your priorities. Do what’s important to YOU first, then get to the rest of it.

3. When there’s something to be done, find an open time slot in your calendar and make an appointment with yourself to do that task at that time. Consider it a firm commitment and when the time comes, do it! Taking tasks off your to-do list and entering them in your calendar in this way will actually get them done – finally!

4. Don’t be intimidated by large projects. Just list every individual action that needs to be taken to complete the job, arrange them in the order they need to be done, and take them on one manageable action at a time.

5. Make decisions based on the best information you can get together in a reasonable length of time – then move on. There’s no point in searching for every last piece of data you can find or asking everyone you know for their opinion. If you discover you’ve made a mistake, fix it or make do as best you can. It’s rare that there’s one, and only one, right decision. No one’s perfect and being afraid to make a mistake will bog you down in inaction. That’s never the right decision.

So, make it a point to make action a habit. Now, if you’ll excuse me, all this talk of taking action has inspired me to go get caught up on my QuickBooks!
What is it you have trouble taking action on? Let me know! Please leave your comments!

Author's Bio: 

If you’re a smart solopreneur – someone who’s an expert in your field but still figuring out how to run a business – you should know Elaine Quinn, The Solopreneur Specialist. Elaine is a small business consultant who is tuned in to the needs of people like you. A solo professional herself for more than 10 years, she also draws on 25 years prior management experience in Fortune 100 companies to help you find solutions to whatever’s bothering you about your business. Elaine’s consulting and coaching is customized to zero in on exactly what you want (and need) help with. Visit her website at and get your free copy of her recommendations for what to do with all those business cards cluttering up your office!