time management

5 Things to Try When You Know What to Do, But Can’t Make Yourself Do It

June 10, 2024

Reading Time: 13 minutes

How to set boundaries

5 Things to Try When You Know What to Do, But Can’t Make Yourself Do It

Have you ever finished a productivity book or a time management podcast episode, felt totally pumped and ready to change your life, and then… reality sets in, and you struggle to actually DO the things you’ve learned? You know what you should do, but you can’t seem to make yourself do it.


This episode is inspired by a question from a listener, Amy. Recently at the Influential Women in Business symposium in Baton Rouge, Amy came up and introduced herself and shared that she’s a fan of the podcast. She probably couldn’t tell but in that moment I wanted to do a total happy dance over meeting someone who tunes into the show.

I asked Amy – Is there anything you’re struggling with right now? I’d love to create an episode for you! And here’s what Amy said….

“How do you actually make yourself DO the things you’ve learned? I’ve read productivity books, I’ve read blog posts, I listen to your podcasts and I feel like I KNOW everything that I should be doing, but for some reason I’m just not doing it!”

Have you ever felt like that? Like you’ve closed the last page on a productivity book, or you’ve listened to one of these episodes and you’re feeling pumped. You’re motivated and you feel like “ok – now, I know exactly what I need to do to change my life.” But then… reality sets in. 

The kids need attention, work demands pile up, and all those ideas —well, they end up collecting dust in the back of your mind while you try to get through the week. You know what you should be doing, but somehow, you can’t seem to make yourself do it. 

If you know what that feels like, you’re definitely not alone – and this episode is for you. 

So today, we’re talking about

  • How you’re definitely not alone when it comes to NOT taking action on things you want to do
  • 5 simple tips for finally taking action on what you’ve learned
  • Why you should be focused on building habits (instead of a longer to-do list)
  • The two total game-changers for actually following through on your plans

Here are five practical tips to help you bridge the gap and start taking action on what you’ve learned – whether that’s in a podcast episode, book, course or something else. 

Take Action Tip #1: Set Clear, Achievable Goals

Now promise me you won’t glaze over because I’ve said the word goals. Setting goals doesn’t have to require some complicated goal setting retreat, or a special workbook or anything extra like that. Setting a clear, achievable goal can be as simple as clearly stating what it is that you want to take action on. 

Importance of Clarity

This step is crucial because it provides you with a roadmap to follow. Without clear goals, it’s easy to feel lost and overwhelmed, making it harder to take action. Without clear goals, you’ve just got a bunch of ideas in your head, instead of action steps. 

Here’s what I mean: When your goals are vague, it’s hard to know where to start. So usually you don’t start at all. Instead of a broad goal like ‘I want to be more productive,’ narrow it down. Think about specific areas where you want to see improvement. For example, ‘I want to reduce the time I spend on email to 30 minutes a day,’ or ‘I want to complete my daily reports by 5 PM.’ The more specific you are, the easier it is to take action.

Break your goals down into small, manageable steps

Once you have a clear goal, break it down into smaller, manageable steps. Let’s say your goal is to organize your workspace. Start with a single drawer or section each day instead of tackling the entire desk at once. These smaller tasks are less daunting and help you build momentum as you check them off your list.

Use SMART Goals

A helpful framework for setting clear, achievable goals is the SMART criteria. 

SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Here’s how you can apply it:

Specific: Clearly define what you want to accomplish. For example, ‘I want to spend 30 minutes each morning planning my day.’

Measurable: Ensure your goal can be measured. ‘I will track my planning time each day using a journal or app.’

Attainable: Set a goal that is realistic given your current situation. ’30 minutes is a manageable amount of time to dedicate each morning.’

Relevant: Your goal should align with your broader objectives. ‘Planning my day will help me stay organized and focused.’

Time-bound: Set a deadline or timeframe. ‘I will implement this habit for the next month and then review my progress.'”

Back in Episode 107 I talked all about using SMART Goals to plan your best year ever, but you don’t have to wait for the New Year to start taking action. 

Examples of Clear, Achievable Goals:

‘I will read one chapter of a personal development book each night before bed.’

‘I will exercise for 20 minutes every morning before starting work.’

‘I will spend 15 minutes each evening reviewing my tasks for the next day.'”

Benefits of Clear Goals:

Setting clear goals has numerous benefits. It provides direction, making it easier to prioritize tasks and allocate time effectively. Clear goals also boost motivation, as you can see tangible progress, and they help reduce procrastination because you know exactly what you need to do.

Final Thoughts on Setting Goals:

Remember, the goal is to create a roadmap that guides your actions and keeps you focused. By setting clear, achievable goals, you lay a strong foundation for turning your productivity knowledge into actionable steps. Start small, stay specific, and watch how these focused efforts can transform your daily routine.

Take Action Tip #2: Build Habits

Now, let’s dive into our second tip: building habits instead of just adding new tasks to your to-do list. Whenever you listen to a podcast episode or read a book, a lot of times our first thought is to start adding the new things we want to implement to our to-do list. 

While to-do lists are helpful, they can sometimes feel overwhelming. Focusing on building habits can make it easier to incorporate productive actions into your daily life without feeling like you’re constantly juggling tasks.

Importance of Habits:

Habits are powerful because they automate actions, reducing the mental effort needed to complete them. When something becomes a habit, it becomes a part of your routine and requires less conscious thought, making it easier to sustain over time.

Cue, Routine, and Reward:

To effectively build a new habit, it’s important to understand the habit loop, which consists of three parts: the cue, the routine, and the reward.

Cue: The cue is the trigger that initiates the habit. It could be a specific time of day, an action, or a particular situation. For example, if you want to build a habit of exercising in the morning, your cue could be waking up.

Routine: The routine is the action you take in response to the cue. In this case, the routine would be your morning exercise.

Reward: The reward is what you get from completing the routine. It could be a feeling of accomplishment, a sense of well-being, or even a tangible reward like a healthy smoothie after your workout. The reward reinforces the habit and makes you more likely to repeat it.”

Habit Stacking:

Habit stacking is a great technique for building new habits by linking them to existing ones. Identify a habit you already do consistently, and then stack your new habit on top of it. For example, if you already have a habit of making coffee every morning, you could stack a new habit of reviewing your daily goals while you wait for your coffee to brew. This makes it easier to remember and integrate the new habit into your routine.

Habit Pairing:

Habit pairing involves pairing a less enjoyable task with one you enjoy. This technique helps make the less enjoyable task more appealing. For instance, if you find it hard to make time for exercise, pair it with something you enjoy, like listening to your favorite podcast or audiobook. This way, you look forward to the enjoyable activity, which motivates you to complete the paired task.

Starting Small:

When building new habits, start small. Choose a simple, manageable action that you can easily incorporate into your day. For example, if you want to develop a habit of reading more, start with just 5 minutes a day. As this small action becomes a habit, you can gradually increase the time.

Tracking Progress:

Tracking your progress can help reinforce your new habits. Use a habit tracker, a journal, or an app to record your daily progress. Seeing a visual representation of your consistency can motivate you to keep going and help you identify patterns or obstacles.

Examples of Building Habits:

Here are a few examples of how you can build habits:

Morning Planning: Use the cue of your morning coffee to review your goals for the day. The reward could be a sense of clarity and focus for the day ahead.

Exercise Routine: Use the cue of waking up to start your exercise routine. Reward yourself with a healthy breakfast or a refreshing shower afterward.

Reading Habit: Use the cue of bedtime to read for 10 minutes. The reward could be a sense of relaxation and winding down before sleep.

Benefits of Building Habits:

Building habits has numerous benefits. It reduces the mental effort required to complete tasks, creates a sense of routine and stability, and makes it easier to sustain productive behaviors over time. Habits also free up mental space, allowing you to focus on more complex tasks and decisions.

Final Thoughts on Building Habits:

Remember, the goal is to create lasting changes that integrate seamlessly into your daily life. By focusing on building habits instead of just adding tasks to your to-do list, you can create a more sustainable and productive routine. Start small, use cues and rewards, and look for opportunities to stack or pair habits. With time and consistency, these habits will become second nature, helping you achieve your goals more effortlessly.

Taking Action Tip #3: Start Small and Build Momentum:

Let’s move on to our third take action tip: starting small and building momentum. One of the biggest obstacles to taking action is feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of the task at hand. By starting small, you can make progress without feeling intimidated, and gradually build momentum as you go.

The Power of Small Steps:

Small steps might seem insignificant, but they are incredibly powerful. Each small action you take brings you closer to your goal, and over time, these small actions accumulate into significant progress. The key is to focus on what you can do right now, rather than getting bogged down by the entire scope of the project.

Examples of Starting Small:

Here are a few examples of how you can start small:

  • Decluttering: If you want to declutter your home, start with one drawer or one shelf at a time. Each small victory will motivate you to keep going.
  • Learning a New Skill: If you’re learning a new language, start with just 5 minutes of practice each day. Consistent, small efforts are more sustainable than trying to do too much at once.
  • Exercise: Instead of committing to an hour-long workout, start with just 10 minutes a day. Once this becomes a habit, you can gradually increase the duration.
    • After breaking my wrist, I stopped working out completely. Now that I’m ready to start working out again, Instead of jumping in on day one with a full on weight lifting routine 7 days a week, I decided to instead walk on the treadmill for 30 minutes 3 times a week. Next week I might introduce one strength training session, and then continue working my way back to where I was before. 

Building Momentum:

As you complete these small tasks, you’ll begin to build momentum. Momentum is a powerful force that propels you forward and makes it easier to continue taking action. Each small success boosts your confidence and motivation, making the next step feel more achievable.

Creating a Snowball Effect:

Think of starting small like creating a snowball. And let’s be real, I grew up in Louisiana – I live in Louisiana so I don’t have too much experience with snow, but I’ve seen it on TV.

At first, it’s just a tiny ball of snow, but as you roll it along, it picks up more snow and grows larger. Similarly, your small actions will start to build on each other, creating a snowball effect that leads to bigger accomplishments.

Overcoming the Intimidation Factor:

Starting small helps overcome the intimidation factor that often comes with large projects. When a task feels too big, it’s easy to procrastinate or avoid it altogether. By breaking it down into smaller parts, you make it less daunting and more manageable.

Consistency Over Intensity:

Starting small also helps you prioritize consistency over intensity. It’s better to take small, consistent actions than to have sporadic bursts of intense effort followed by long periods of inactivity. Consistency builds habits and leads to sustained progress.

Using the Two-Minute Rule:

One thing to try is the Two-Minute Rule. If a task will take two minutes or less to complete, do it now. This helps you tackle small tasks quickly and prevents them from piling up. Additionally, starting with a two-minute action can often lead to longer periods of productivity once you get going.

Tracking Progress and Celebrating Wins:

Track your progress and celebrate small wins along the way. Keep a journal or use an app to log your accomplishments, no matter how small. I like an app called Streaks for habit tracking. Celebrating these wins reinforces positive behavior and keeps you motivated to continue.

Final Thoughts on Starting Small:

Remember, progress is progress, no matter how small. By starting with small, manageable tasks, you can build momentum and make consistent strides towards your goals. Don’t underestimate the power of small steps – they are the building blocks of significant achievements. Focus on what you can do today, and let those small actions add up over time.

Accountability and Support:

Now, let’s explore our fourth take action tip: leveraging accountability and support. Taking action is so much easier when you have others to encourage you, keep you on track, and celebrate your successes. Accountability and support can be powerful motivators to help you stick with your plans and achieve your goals.

The Power of Accountability:

Accountability involves holding yourself responsible for your actions and progress. When you share your goals with someone else, you create a sense of commitment that makes it more likely you’ll follow through. This external pressure can be a strong motivator to stay on track.

Finding an Accountability Partner:

One effective way to incorporate accountability into your routine is by finding an accountability partner. This could be a friend, family member, colleague, or someone who shares similar goals. Schedule regular check-ins to discuss your progress, challenges, and next steps. Knowing that someone else is tracking your progress can encourage you to stay committed.

Work with a Coach:

Another powerful option is working with a coach. A coach can provide professional guidance, support, and accountability. They can help you set realistic goals, develop actionable plans, and stay focused on your objectives. Coaches offer personalized feedback and can help you navigate obstacles more effectively. Regular sessions with a coach can keep you motivated and ensure you are continually making progress. As a time management coach, I help my clients do exactly this: set realistic goals, identify the time they’ll spend working toward those goals and check-in with them to make sure they’re following through. 

Group Coaching Programs and Communities

Joining a group coaching program or a community like The It’s About Time Academy can also be incredibly beneficial. These programs provide a structured environment where you can receive guidance, share your experiences, and learn from others who are on a similar journey. Being part of a group offers a sense of camaraderie and collective accountability. You’ll have regular check-ins, access to resources, and the opportunity to engage in discussions that can inspire and motivate you.

Sharing Your Progress:

Sharing your progress, both the successes and the setbacks, is an important part of accountability. Celebrating small wins with others can boost your motivation and confidence, while discussing challenges can provide new perspectives and solutions. Don’t be afraid to be open about your journey – transparency fosters trust and support.

Examples of Accountability Practices:

Here are a few examples of how you can incorporate accountability and support into your routine:

  • Weekly Goals: Share your weekly goals with your accountability partner every Monday and report back on your progress every Friday. In the It’s About Time Academy, we share our top priorities for the week every Monday, and we celebrate our wins on Fridays. 
  • Progress Updates: Post regular updates on your goals in an online community or support group. Engage with others’ posts to build mutual support.
  • Buddy System: Pair up with a friend for a common goal, such as exercising or learning a new skill, and hold each other accountable for sticking to your plans.

Benefits of Accountability and Support:

Incorporating accountability and support into your goal-setting process has numerous benefits. It provides motivation, helps you stay focused, offers new perspectives and solutions, and creates a sense of community. Having someone to share your journey with can make the path to achieving your goals more enjoyable and less daunting.

Final Thoughts on Accountability and Support:

Accountability and support can be game-changers when it comes to taking action on your goals. Whether through an accountability partner, a coach, or group coaching programs and communities, connecting with others can provide the motivation and encouragement you need to stay on track. Remember, you don’t have to do it alone – reach out, share your goals, and let the power of accountability and support help you achieve your aspirations.

Take Action Tip #5: Reflect and Adjust

Finally, let’s discuss our fifth take action tip: Reflect and Adjust. Even the best-laid plans need to be evaluated and tweaked along the way. Reflection allows you to understand what’s working, what isn’t, and how you can adjust your approach to be more effective.

The Value of Reflection:

Reflection is a crucial step in any journey toward achieving your goals. It provides an opportunity to pause, review your progress, and learn from your experiences. Way too often we get so focused on the DOING that we forget to make time to pause and make sure that what we’re doing is actually working. 

Without reflection, it’s easy to continue down a path that may not be working, wasting lots of time and effort along the way.

Regularly Scheduled Reflection:

Make reflection a regular part of your routine. Schedule weekly, monthly, or quarterly reflection sessions where you review your goals, assess your progress, and identify any challenges you’ve faced. Consistent reflection ensures that you stay on track and can make timely adjustments.

You might know that I schedule Quarter Anna Days for myself where I get a massage, get my favorite burrata salad with seared tuna for lunch and just have a day to myself. But that day also includes reflecting on the past quarter, and looking ahead to the next quarter. 

Using a Reflection Journal:

Keeping a reflection journal can be a powerful tool. Write down your thoughts, successes, challenges, and any insights you gain during your reflection sessions. This journal serves as a record of your journey and can provide valuable perspective over time. Plus, the act of writing can help clarify your thoughts and feelings.

An alternative to a pen to paper reflection journal is a Google Form. Seriously. For some of my clients, I’ll recommend that they create a simple Google form with a few questions so they can reflect on their day or their week. Then, all of their responses are collected in a spreadsheet that they can review whenever they’d like. But more important than having a spreadsheet for review is the act of stopping, reflecting and then capturing that reflection. 

Examples of Reflection Questions:

Here are a few examples of questions you can ask yourself in reflection mode:

  • What went well this week?
  • What didn’t?
  • What lessons did I learn?
  • What wins am I celebrating? 

One of my clients even has a single question, daily reflection where she finishes this sentence: Today was productive because _____. 

Celebrating Progress:

Reflection isn’t just about identifying areas for improvement – it’s also about celebrating your progress. Acknowledge your achievements, no matter how small. Celebrating your wins boosts motivation and reinforces positive behaviors, making it easier to stay committed to your goals.

Final Thoughts on Reflecting and Adjusting:

Remember, reflection and adjustment are ongoing processes. They ensure that you remain aligned with your goals and continue to make meaningful progress. By regularly assessing your efforts and making necessary adjustments, you create a dynamic and responsive plan that evolves with you. Stay flexible, keep learning, and don’t be afraid to pivot when needed.

How to Keep Going

We’ve covered a lot today, from setting clear, achievable goals to leveraging accountability and support. Here’s a quick recap of those five take action tips:

  • Set clear, achievable goals
  • Build habits
  • Start small and build momentum
  • Get accountability and support
  • Reflect and adjust

Now, I want to wrap up with an important reminder. Taking action, taking the first step and getting started is one thing. And it can be tough to make that change and take that first step, but what’s even harder is keeping it going once you’ve started. 

Consistency is what turns actions into habits and habits into long-term success. It’s important to understand that consistency doesn’t mean perfection. It’s showing up and making progress, even when things don’t go exactly as planned.

There will be days when things don’t go as planned, and that’s okay. What matters is that you keep going and don’t give up. I want to encourage you to stay patient and kind to yourself. Building new habits and staying consistent takes time and effort. 

This is where a community like the It’s About Time Academy can be a huge help. With regular support, monthly time management trainings and a community who is taking action alongside you – getting started, building momentum and creating consistency is easier when there’s strength in numbers. 

Remember, success is a journey, not a destination. It’s about finding what works best for you and continually striving to improve. By setting clear goals, building sustainable habits, starting small, leveraging accountability, and regularly reflecting and adjusting, you can absolutely create a productive and fulfilling life that you love.

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