It would be great if learning was all we had to do to accomplish big things, but we all know that action is the key to making progress.
So why do so many of us get stuck in the “theorizing” phase, never moving on to actually doing anything?
Dozens of potential reasons come to mind. Here are some of the biggest:
- Uncertainty about what to do
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Fear of failure
- Feeling like there’s always more to learn
- Worrying you won’t be good enough to succeed
- Good ol’ procrastination
Whatever the reasons, it’s OK to admit if you’re feeling stuck. We all spend too much time theorizing from time to time, and not enough doing. The key is to recognize when it’s happening so you can push forward to make a breakthrough.
How to Get from Theorizing to Taking Action
Whatever your goal, you’re going to have to start taking action to make any real progress. Thinking alone won’t do it.
Here’s a step-by-step process you can use to get your butt in gear:
Admit you’ll never know everything
No matter how much time you spend learning and theorizing, you’ll never know everything. The question is: how much do you need to know before starting to take action?
This is a perfect time to break out the Pareto principle (80/20 rule). 80% of what you need to know probably comes during the first 20% of study. Further time spent learning yields less and less actionable knowledge.
Instead of trying to be 100% prepared before you start, admit that you’ll never know everything. Once you have direction, you can learn the rest along the way. Some important details can’t even be truly learned without trying for yourself.
Time limit your theorizing
Let’s talk about another “law” that might be working against you. Parkinson’s law states: “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
If your learning/planning/theorizing phase doesn’t have a defined deadline, it might just continue forever.
Set a deadline for when you’ll start taking action. Put a time limit on the preparation phase. Force yourself to move beyond thinking and on to doing.
Talk it out
If all of your thinking and theorizing have been done alone so far, it’s time to get an outside opinion.
Have a conversation with someone about your ideas. You might be talking yourself in circles, or you may be missing some obvious glaring issues with your plans.
By talking with someone else (even someone who has no experience on the topic), you’ll think of new things and you’ll be forced to explain yourself. Your friend or confidant might just give you the push you need to start taking action, if only by listening.
Write everything down
Remember above when I mentioned that uncertainty is one of the biggest hurdles that keep us from taking action? Well, the quickest way to erase some of that uncertainty is to start writing down an action plan.
Jot down your goals and then start working backwards from there.
What do you need to accomplish? Who needs to be involved? What resources are you missing?
Break things down into smaller and smaller tasks. When you come across something you don’t know the answer to, write the question down. Then, systematically find answers to your questions, whether via Uncle Google or by getting in touch with someone who might have the answer.
Find a mentor
Whatever you’re working towards, chances are there are plenty of people out there who have already accomplished something similar. These people can help you bust through roadblocks by helping you see things you can’t right now.
Mentors can practically see into your future, because they’ve been there, done that. They’re incredibly powerful and one of the few true shortcuts that exist in life.
If you don’t have any mentors right now, start looking for one. Be honest and reach out to people. Contact potential mentors and ask if they would mind answering a few questions. Don’t start by asking for someone to be your “mentor,” just start by asking the questions you have. If you and this person seem to “click,” you can suggest the next step.
More mentoring ideas: 44 Ways to Find a Mentor.
Get a support group
Action taking is infectious. When you’re surrounded by other people who are getting stuff done, it’s hard not to be motivated yourself.
You can use this to your advantage by organizing or joining an accountability/mastermind group. A mastermind group is a small (2-5) person group that meets regularly (weekly or every two weeks is best) to share ideas and hold each other accountable.
I’d be much further behind in my entrepreneurial life if it weren’t for mastermind groups. They’re rocket fuel for entrepreneurs or anyone else who wants to start taking massive action toward an important goal.
Take the pressure off
Another reason people never start taking action is perfectionism. It’s human nature to feel like your project has to be perfect before you release it to the world. This leads to overwhelm and keeps us from ever getting started in the first place.
To use software development and startups as analogies, this is like agile vs. waterfall methodology or classic stealth R&D vs the Lean Startup.
Instead of aiming for a perfect finished product or project, commit to evolving over time. Aim for taking enough action to have something meaningful to share with the world, then share it and evolve your plan from there.
Get outside feedback early and often and you’ll not only make it easier to take action, you’ll also end up with a better result.
Set a date
Finally, one of the best ways to get motivated to start taking action is to set a deadline for sharing some small progress with the world.
Say you’re trying to learn guitar. Your deadline could be simply that you’ll play a song in front of your spouse or significant other. The deadline isn’t to be the best guitarist in the world, it’s just a small goal in the near future that you can control the outcome of.
Planning to launch a blog? Set a date for having your design/configuration done and writing your first post.
Simple goals with close deadlines can have push you to take action you’ve been avoiding. To really make these little goals work, be sure to announce it publicly, to your mastermind group, or to someone who will hold you accountable.
Now go do it!
These steps have worked for me over and over again when I need to move beyond theorizing and start taking action.
Challenge yourself to become an action taker by accomplishing this list.
What other tips do you know for starting to take action?