The Complete Flake’s Guide to Getting Things Done

Flaky_ape Are you smart and motivated and passionate, and have lots of cool things you’d like to get done, but somehow when it comes to doing them, you just . . . don’t?

Are you great at ideas but lousy at execution? Talk a good game but don’t get any results? Spend a lot of time thinking about where you want to go, but not much time actually moving your ass down the road that would take you there?

You, my friend, are a flake. Congratulations. We are a worldwide force. If we could all get ourselves moving in the same direction, we would change the world. However, that will never happen.

Most of us are creative and smart. We’re often very funny and really pretty charming. We get things quicker than a lot of people do.

What we lack is focus. Everything looks good to us. We want dinner in Paris and a dive trip to Fiji. Most of us care more about experiences than about stuff. But because we don’t take care of the “stuff” aspect of life, we don’t have the experiences we really want to have.

That, and we lack this “drive” thing. We have desire, but we don’t know how to engage drive. The wheels are turning, but the car ain’t going forward.

If you are a flake, you need to learn how to get things done. Getting things done (meeting goals, completing projects, all that irritating junk productive people do) will let you have better experiences.

We live in a world made of stuff, so it gets pretty painful when we blow stuff off. You actually can learn how to get things done. Here’s how.

What Do You Want Out of It?

You’re not going to get a damned thing done until you actually know what you want to get out of it.

I know this is making your eyes roll into the back of your head. You know all about this visualizing your goals business. You may have even forced yourself to write down exactly where you want to be in 5 years, 10 years, and 20 years, with all the little details that will make it real to you.

That’s a good thing to do, but I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about something much more general. (Much flakier, in fact.)

Just know what you want to get out of the thing you’re thinking about doing.

Do you want to do it to make some money? OK, why do you want money? What does that get you?

Sit down with a pen and paper (or a keyboard if you must, but pen and paper do something interesting to your brain’s deep wiring) and answer the question: “What do I want out of this thing?”

You can describe a scenario, or visualize images, or focus on how you’ll feel or what the material facts will be. If you adopt too much of someone else’s formula, it won’t feel real to you. Just answer the question in a way that makes you say, “Oh, yeah. That’s it. That’s actually exactly it.”

Getting Real

Now it’s time for something that the self-helpers don’t usually talk about. I got this from Robert Fritz’s Path of Least Resistance and I have found it to absolutely rock. Fritz calls it the “Pivotal Technique,” which I think is an apt label. If you need to turn yourself around in a major way, this is how you can do it.

Step 1. Get nice and clear about what you want.

Step 2. Get completely, impeccably, bullshit-free clear about where you are now, with respect to that.

That’s it, just those two. Simple but not easy.

Put another way:

Understand exactly what you want. Understand exactly where you are. Notice the difference.

Please note that there is not a follow-up step called “beat yourself to a bloody stump about not being where you want to be.”

If you’re in New York and you want to go to San Francisco, how much good does it do to beat yourself up about what a lame-ass you are not to be in San Francisco? How far west does that actually move you?

Not one millimeter? Hmm, interesting.

Figuring Out What’s Next

All those annoying productivity people will tell you that the next step is to make a map that goes from here to there.

The map has all the steps you’ll need to take. Those steps are probably broken into sub-steps. Along the way, you’ll identify the resources you’ll need to develop and the avenues that are most likely to get you to your goal.

Get real. You are a flake. You are not going to do all that. In fact, just the thought makes you want to go grab an ice cream, doesn’t it?

And here’s another thing. You don’t know the whole map. You’ve probably never been to this place you want to go. So what makes you think you can map it out? You can’t.

The best you can do from where you are now is to get a sense of where “kinda-sorta the right direction” is.

Flakes are flaky because the map seems impossible. Productive people are productive because the map seems real. The flakes are actually right, but fat lot of good that does us. The productivity people follow their imaginary map, and because they’re doing something, they get somewhere.

But there’s a way out.

All you have to do is figure out what’s next. This comes from David Allen’s Getting Things Done, which is a terrific system if you’re mentally ill enough to do all the ritual. (I am, and I love it, but most people aren’t.) But the ritual is mostly optional.

Just get an idea of what one action you should take next that will take you kinda sorta in the right direction.

If you’re going to San Francisco from New York, your next action might be “get on Mapquest to figure out what roads go west out of town.” Or it could be “call Greyhound and see what a ticket will cost me.” Or it might even be “wait until the sun goes down to see where west is.”

Those are all legit. They all set you up to start moving in the right direction.

Your brain might start blaring like a smoke alarm with 2,000 things you need to do next. You can’t do 2,000 things right now. Write down the things you think are at least somewhat important. Then pick just one to do next.

Allen is very smart about this. It has to be the single next thing to take action on. Not “get $900 for an airline ticket,” but “check Craigs List tomorrow morning for temp job” or “send mom a birthday card so I can hit her up for money next week.”

If you can’t do it in 20 minutes, it’s probably not the next action. Find the next action.

Do What You Feel Like

The flake’s superpower is that we are very good at doing what we feel like.

If you figure out your next action to take, and you don’t just get up and do it right away, do the Pivotal Technique again.

Understand what you want, and why you want it. Understand where you are now. Notice the difference.

Then do what you feel like.

Just keep cycling through that. As a flake, your unconscious is very good at protecting you from things you don’t want. If you don’t feel like moving kinda-sorta in the direction of your thing, there’s something about it you don’t want.

A great flake technique is to say something to yourself along the line of:

OK, unconscious mind, gigantic pain in the ass that you are, thanks for keeping me from doing something I don’t want to do. Could you do me one more favor and let me know what about it I don’t like? Thanks.

Ask yourself that question out loud before you go to bed. Maybe write it down on a piece of paper as well. Then forget about it and see what pops into your head the next day.

Once you can see what you don’t like, you’ll figure out a way around it. Flakes are excellent at figuring out ways around things.

Don’t Misplace Your Brilliant Insights

Because, as a flake, you’re more-than-average ruled by your unconscious mind, I can promise you will get useful answers to your questions. Your unconscious mind is actually a lot smarter than your conscious mind is. So you’ve got that going for you.

But, again because you’re a flake, you’ll probably lose track of those answers.

In fact, you’ve come up with terrific answers and lost them again many times already. It’s just how we flakes work.

So set up a flake-friendly way to keep everything. I call mine the compost pile. All the notes and ramblings and scribbles go in there, and eventually some of it composts into something I can use.

Flakes throughout history have used notebooks for this, and they’re not bad, but they’re hard to go back into. It might take hours to find that genius insight you had two years ago that will absolutely solve the nasty problem you’re facing right now.

So I like software. At the moment, I am addicted to the 37 Signals product Backpack. I keep blog post ideas, gardening plans, backups of eBooks I’ve bought, plans for world domination, etc. in there. On my Backpack home page are notes about the very next actions to take on various things I want to get done, and a few bullet points about what I want to focus on right now.

(I try not to focus on any more than four general areas at any one time, or everything immediately grinds to a halt. When I get ideas for projects outside my three or four focus points, I throw ‘em into the compost pile.)

The Plan in 7 Reasonably Painless Steps

  1. When you’ve got something to do, figure out what you really want to get out of it.
  2. Do the pivotal technique. Think about what you want, then get clear about where you are right this minute. Notice the difference.
  3. Figure out the next action.
  4. Do what you feel like.
  5. Rinse, lather, repeat.
  6. Start a compost pile for ideas, notes, plans and insights.
  7. Stick to three or four primary areas of focus.

That’s it. Fellow flakes, what kind of things are you trying to get done now? Making any progress? Let us know in the comments.

Related Reading

  • Rock Your Day. Dave Navarro is not a flake, but he has good ideas about getting past the mental blocks that keep us from being productive.
  • The Alternative Productivity Manifesto. Clay Collins’ take on whether we should be pursuing productivity in the first place, and how we might define that in a healthy way.

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Comments

  1. Stephanie says:

    I am most definitely a flake. I did not know that there was a name for people like us.lol

  2. Betty says:

    Okay! You made me laugh….at myself! You have nailed it! I can see I’ll be visiting your blogs often. It’s really great to get value in a personable way, thanks!

  3. Kate says:

    This was absolutely fantastic. I am whoring it out to my fellow flake friends as I type.

  4. Tara says:

    I felt myself exhaling a huge sigh of relief reading this. Flaky people unite! Thank you so much! Definitely sharing this…

  5. Angel says:

    Yes! Flakes unite! I’m so glad to have a solid label for my patheticness. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some pivoting to do. Thank you.

  6. ardi says:

    thanx for this I think…I am a serial flake…hard to admit it. I have to do something fast as it is negatively affecting every aspect of my life…so thanx for this information…armed with this maybe I can finally get with it.

  7. Flake is sort of a new term for me in relation to myself, but totally acceptable.

    I write a blog for people with ADHD and you have totally nailed us. I especially like the pivot thing – I can see the difference between where I want to be and where I am, but why won’t I take action? Oh, that’s right – you covered that too!

    Such a wise, wise woman you are! I humbly bow….

  8. Jayne says:

    “Get real. You’re a flake!”

    Brilliant!

  9. tiensshop says:

    I have always wondered where my friend’s behavior came from but after reading your post i have just discovered that she is a flake… thanks i have to do something about it because its affecting her personality.

  10. Prabu says:

    Hi Sonia,
    I’m not going to kill myself for not knowing how to make good money. Just going to figure out the ‘flakes’s way. Will tell you how it works.

    Have a great day!
    .-= Prabu´s last blog ..The girl with a yellow cloth =-.

  11. jane says:

    thanks for the smackdown! just wanted to wave hello because i feel like i’m running into you everywhere on the web, between the writing stuff and the knitting stuff!
    .-= jane´s last blog ..Buildings of Bamboo: An Interview with Juergen Ernst =-.

  12. Jennifer says:

    Not so much of a flake myself, but this was a delight to read.
    Then again, we are all a flake at one point in our life.

    Sharing it with the many flakes I know.

  13. Beth says:

    There’s hope! I’ve always had big ideas and big goals, but I stay stagnant because I get frustrated by what seems like a series of overwhelming steps to get from A to B – and then I beat myself up over my lack of momentum. Thanks so much for breaking down the flake mindset – and making me feel less alone.

  14. I especially like the thought about mapping. That can be such a roadblock to think about how hard it would be to make a complete map. Just deciding to “head west” and then determine the next step is brilliant. Thanks for the great post!

  15. Sam says:

    Nice! It’s always great to see a fellow flake succeed; I will definitely check out the recommended reading.

    Backpack looks promising too. In addition to content mgmt/copywriting, I’m a musician who juggles a LOT of different groups/projects. I’m wondering if this service could cater to my kin? Storage on the site seems small for keeping a lot of recorded music, but I reckon there’s a way around that issue…

    Will keep reading, so keep blogging!
    .-= Sam´s last blog ..4TH ANNUAL FEED A FAMILY ~ DESIGNING FOR CHARITY =-.

  16. Philip says:

    Thanks, Sonia!
    This was one of the most helpful distillations of accomplishing goals I’ve read. I am a flake, and I don’t like to map my path. Now I better see why I have so many ideas, then I don’t ever really do anything with them… they aren’t fitting where I want to go. But better than that, in just a few paragraphs you helped me to better figure out why they aren’t and how to re-evaluate them.

  17. Thank you for the article. I found it true and amusing. I am not only a flake, I am a stupid flake and now may be going to prison.

    Do you have a hardcopy newsletter or anything I can get in there?

  18. Jenni says:

    THANK YOU SO MUCH!

    I’m 18 and have had the worst time applying to college because it has 5 million steps and just thinking about it is exauhsting. You described me better then I could. I’ve printed this out and am laminating it. I’m deffinitly keeping this. You have no idea how much i appreciate it.
    Thank you!!!!!!!

  19. Aubrey says:

    I seriously think I read this post once a week to keep me motivated /rejuvenate me. Thank you for writing it. You’ve got a fan for life!

  20. Allan Bacon says:

    Great post. Nice and simple approach, but complete.

    I call my compost heap a “Someday List”. It’s where I keep all of those fun ideas that pop up that I can’t get to soon. It’s done a lot to keep me from freaking out that I’m going to forget some super cool project.

    Glad to find your blog.
    .-= Allan Bacon´s last blog ..Guilt-free networking: How Allan dropped his elevator pitch and started meeting cool people =-.

  21. jen says:

    OMG – I can’t believe you wrote this whole article ALL ABOUT ME….and now to see that there are others like me out there:)

    My favorite line? “OK, unconscious mind, gigantic pain in the ass that you are” hahahaha

    Thanks for the great article!

    jen

  22. Hmmm, not sure that I’d call myself a flake but a cultural creative constantly distracted by bright, shiny objects.
    I love the suggestion of Backpack although using notebooks has helped me a lot, if I can remember the date or timeframe when something happened.
    The one thing that I would not do, nor recommend, is that you call your subconscious a pain the ass, because the next thing you know, you might have a hard time sitting down or get sciatica or ??? A compassionate and loving tone works better for me to grapple with issues, including getting my conscious and subconscious minds working together toward a goal.
    Thanks for the great post.

  23. I don’t know if I can say this enough: Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I am a huge flake, and this has to be one of the best things I’ve read on being a flake and may be, sort of, eventually getting stuff done. So glad Alexia tweeted this post.
    .-= Shawna R. B. Atteberry´s last blog ..Why I want to be a whale =-.

  24. Marcus E Perry says:

    Genius. If you run for mayor of Flaketown, I would like to be your campaign manager… and with the tools listed in this post, I will be able to run an effective campaign without flaking.

  25. I second everyone — you’ve nailed me, Sonia, AND given me a path out of my circularity. So, commenters, should we start a Facebook group for Flakes or what?

    I actually AM productive, but believe strongly I’m only running on half my superpowers.

  26. Chris says:

    Thanks for your article. I’m a flake too and appreciate the info. I also bought the “Getting Things Done” book that you recommend…unfortunately, I have had it for months but never even opened it…looks really nice on my bookshelf though next to “Good to Great” which I also haven’t read yet !!! Perhaps this will finally motivate me to read the book…nah…who am I kidding…LOL !!! Seriously though…thanks very much for bringing these issues to light for many of us.

  27. Jenny says:

    Sonia – loved the article, although it’s really hard for me to admit I’m a flake! I’m smart, motivated, passionate.. just like you said.. but I want to be at point Z and I’m at point A! And I’m spinning my wheels (there’s a deep groove forming…)!! If only planning was more INTERESTING.:) Thanks for this:
    “Understand what you want, and why you want it. Understand where you are now. Notice the difference.”
    It’s beautifully simple. Maybe something even a flake can handle!
    .-= Jenny´s last blog ..Self-branding =-.

  28. Lee says:

    WOW!! This is so me. My wife and I just had a huge argument where she called me a flake! Then I found your blog, and I agree – I am a flake. Trying to crawl out of it is so difficult, but your article is so good, I actually just printed it out – and re-read it!! Step 1 completed…

  29. This was fantastic, thank you. I mentioned it on my blog today, along with one of your other posts.
    .-= Moses Siregar III´s last blog ..Passion for Writing: April 12th, 2010 =-.

  30. Atsiko says:

    I am a flake, and proud of it!

    I think I read this post awhile back and was feeling too flaky to reply. ;)

  31. Shanna says:

    I must be a Master Flake, but at least now I have a Master Flake Plan to follow. This might just be simple enough (though not easy – but nothing worthwhile ever is) for me to follow!

  32. Banner Signs says:

    I’ve used many of the techniques you write about and they really really work. Most people will just read this and move on and not do anything about it and live continue to live their lives as flakes. Don’t be that person. Take control and read this post ten times to really let it sink in.

  33. Donna says:

    WOW! You article was phenomenal…it was like you knew me in detail…and yes you guessed, I’m a Flake. But now, i really realize what I have to do. You know, in your article we can point out the main reasons why people fail in life…lack of action and lack of focus. You outlined the basic principles of success…THANKS!
    Just bookmarked it and I’ll read it as often as possible.

  34. Mel says:

    Love it :) Love GTD’s simple concept of Next Action. Love the way you melded it all together.

    I’m sitting here on a Sunday trying to get my head into doing my accounts and get my tax return in for next week. It’s not getting done. ‘Cos I hate it and my bookkeeper let me down.

    So thanks for the kita – I’m refocussing right now (after I grab some ice-cream)!
    Mel´s last [type] ..Make Your Own Favicon

  35. Fenix says:

    I hate being a Flake!!!!! I HATE IT!!!!!!!!!!!!

  36. Joel Nielson says:

    Love the post. Thank you. It’s nuts how personality types work…

    No one likes to be put in a box, but we sure can learn about ourselves (and rapidly progress) if we’ll listen, consider, tweak, and keep going – huh?

    Thanks,

    Joel Nielson
    The Ad Critter | Copywriter, designer

  37. Will says:

    omg. i hated being a flake
    but seeing so many other flakes made me laugh and feel a little better about it

  38. Eddie Gear says:

    Good one Sonia. I would have loved it if could put this up at my office.

  39. Karl says:

    Yup…you got me. I’m a FLAKE!
    And it isn’t so bad…if you’re a couch potato!
    I have to do something about it….

  40. My name is Michael, and I’m a flake… LOL

    Seriously, this post feels like it was written directly to me. There are some pretty awesome tips here that I fully intend to put to good use. Thanks for sharing!

  41. Crystal says:

    Wow – I never thought of myself as a flake before but your description is right on! I am going to take your advice to heart and start with figuring out what I REALLY want out of it. So I’m off to get my paper and pen – I totally agree that the keyboard is nice but doesn’t have the same effect as writing things out by hand.
    Crystal´s last [type] ..How to Transform Your Relationship with Money

  42. Julie says:

    I don’t mean to get cheesy here but I thought I was all alone. In this success driven society I was afraid to let people know how hard I have found running my own business. The way you described ‘Flake characterisics’ was so completely me I want to shout “I’m a a flake and proud! Thank you so much. Youv’e turned it all aorund for me.

  43. Jocelyn says:

    I can totally identify the “flaky” part of my personality. I am exactly as described in the post above…sometimes. Interestingly, when there is something that I really want, there is no stopping me. I wish I could be like that in all my endeavors.
    I suppose I have just found the way around my own flakiness. 1. find out what I really want, because I’m more likely to go get it. 2. use the exercises above to get through the tasks that bring out the flake in me.
    Thanks for this article as I am in the planning stages of a new business now.
    I agree with one of the early posters. Is there a facebook group for flakes. Is it possible that flakes could unite and motivate one another? Or, would we all procrastinate together :)

  44. Tess says:

    OMG I AM a complete FLAKE!!! I swear you wrote this post for me and me alone! lol
    thank you for that…and I LOVE the 7 Reasonably Painless Steps! I am going to try that approach from now on! FANTASTIC!!
    thank you, thank you, thank you!!
    Tess ;-)
    Tess´s last [type] ..Irish and Celtic Wedding Themes

  45. Just found this post and it couldn’t have appeared at a better time. I’m having one of those days where nothing useful is getting done. I particularly liked the idea of asking our “gigantic pain in the ass” subconscious mind what is keeping me from getting things done – I’m going to ask it’s dumb ass tonight whats up and see what pearls of wisdom is making me not do things. Brilliant!

  46. Robert Alton says:

    It never occured to me that I might be a flake, but after reading this post I can admit it and actually embrace it.

    Thank you Sonia for bringing this to light and helping me to step out of the flake closet.

  47. Joe Henderson says:

    You rock! I just gotta say that….oh look a squirrel…. where was I? Oh, the post.
    You write like I think and THAT keeps me engaged. Keep it up, I’m hooked!

  48. Daniel says:

    Ok. I think I just found a way out of Writer’s Block, and it’s not going to cost me a fortune in analyst fees. Thank You!

  49. Michele says:

    Ouch…nothing like a morning gut-punch to put a lifetime of chasing faster, shinier, brighter into perspective. Always intent on changing the world, rarely accomplish more than changing my pants. I will lower my white flag and pivot now…after I get some orange juice.

    Thanks a lot for this post. Illuminating.

  50. This post has made me happier than anything has in a long while! At last I see myself clearly. I’m a freakin’ flake. That’s all that’s wrong with me. If I proceed with my two businesses in the manner described, I’ll get it done.

    Because ain’t NOBODY works harder than me once I’m going. Once I know what to do. Once my path is clear. Whoohoo! Life begins anew. All I can say is, “Thank heavens for Sonia Simone.” YEHAAA!
    Paula Lee Bright´s last [type] ..On Leadership- I’m In a Teacher’s State of Mind

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