This post is part of my series on Heidi Grant Halvorson’s 9 Things Successful People Do Differently and my experiences with her advice.
Thing #2: Use If-Then Plans to Seize the Moment
One of the keys to reaching your goals doing the right thing at the right time — or avoiding the wrong thing at the wrong time. One of the best ways to make sure your brain is ready to respond to these opportunities for success is to create contingency plans. Decide in advance when and where you will take the specific actions you’ve identified. Then formulate your plans in if-then form:
- If I haven’t written 250 words on this story by the time I get home, then I will do that first.
- If I find myself getting sucked into Wikipedia, then I will close the browser window.
- If it is Tuesday, then I will go for a run after work.
My biggest successes with this technique have come with my use of the Getting Things Done system. Both the “inbox zero” and “context-dependent to-do list” components of the process are built around exactly this type of planning.
- If I am checking my email, then I will process (deal with, file, or move to my to-do list) every item in my inbox and leave my inbox empty.
- If I am at home and have a few minutes available, then I will pick something from the “at home” section of my to-do list and do it.
The reason this works is that the unconscious part of your brain operates on contingencies like this. By explicitly setting triggers for the behavior you’re after, you put that bit of your brain to work on your behalf. After seeing how effective this tip is I’ve started applying it to other areas as well, but in dealing with my email and managing my to-do list I’ve experienced its results firsthand.