Spring is almost here for those of us in the four-season-belt of the U.S. Flowers bloom, birds sing and life returns as the chill of winter subsides. Despite the budding all around us, many people find this to be a grueling time of the year. The holidays seem ages ago and summer vacation seems eons away. Oh, and those New Year’s resolutions, how are those coming along? I’d say it’s time for a booster shot to get us refocused, energized and taking actionable steps toward our goals again.
In high school I was neat and organized, with binder tabs and a planner. Not nerdy, just structured. I routinely jotted down my assignments at the end of each class period. However, college was a bit more of a challenge. Assignments were no longer straightforward. Each year, I tried a new way to stay on top of everything that was stacking up on my to-do list. Somehow I survived. Then, with an uncanny ability to procrastinate (a side effect of perfectionism) and a scattered approach to staying focused on what needed to get done to achieve my goals (graduate), I launched into the throes of graduate school.
Verbs Alleviate Ambiguity
As human beings, we struggle with ambiguity. It keeps us from taking action. In One Question by Ken Coleman, author Jim Collins says people aren’t risk averse, they are ambiguity averse. With uncertainty, we get stuck; we don’t take action. Verbs eliminate this obstacle. Check out the difference. Let’s say my to-do list reads, “Dry Cleaning.” What does that mean? Am I supposed to pick clothes up or drop clothes off? Given the ambiguity, I’m likely to head home rather than stopping at the cleaners and asking, “Do you have anything here that belongs to me?” Get rid of ambiguity and get unstuck. Add a verb and never wonder again.
In coaching people toward optimal performance, I’ve learned that our brains perform best when we focus them on a specific action to be taken. This explains my polarized responses when it came time to write papers in college. Either, I didn’t know where to begin and therefore procrastinated. Or, I launched into an unfocused frenzy of unorganized and incomplete components for a paper. Neither helpful or effective. Verbs help us to focus on what we must do to complete one task and move on to the next. Planting a garden? You can direct your focus through to-do items like, “Identify 3 useful articles about choosing plants for your garden,” or “Purchase top soil.” Verbs help you focus on one thing at a time. That is efficient and effective.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell when we’ve actually accomplished something. “Clean out the garage” is a good example. When, exactly, do I cross that off the list? “Sweep the garage floor.” Now that is something I can measure. Either I did it and it’s done or it isn’t. Maybe this is why my parents and I could never come to consensus on whether or not my room had been cleaned when I was kid. Today, I find great power in making my to-dos measurable by using verbs. For each item I can cross off my list, I experience a sense of accomplishment (albeit small at times) and from that I build tremendous momentum. I’ve taken away the gray space in my to-do list; no more wiggle room. Add verbs and you can measure your achievements and build momentum to stay the course, even for the hairiest of goals.