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How To Take Action: Five Mistakes To Avoid

Taking action consistently is how we make an impact on the world.  It’s also one of the most difficult habits to implement.

We are inundated with distractions and, as MJ DeMarco would put it, opportunities for Action Faking.  That is, doing things that make us feel productive but don’t move us closer to our goals.

Here are 10 mistakes to avoid when taking action:

1. Having Too Many To-Do’s

We have an infinite number of tasks we could be working on at any given moment.  When one pops up in your mind, write it down.  Have a list of 3-5 things to get done today, and know which one is the most important.

That said, don’t just sit down and write lists of things to do.  If you’re just sitting and thinking of possible tasks, you’ll make a huge list and none of it will be important.

2. Biting Off Too Much At Once

Once you have a task you’re working on, it’s essential to avoid making it too big.  When a task is too big, we get daunted and don’t know where to begin.

Instead, break it down into bite-sized pieces.  Be as specific as possible with each step of the process.  Make sure each one can be done within 45 minutes.

3. Not Planning Your Work

Having a usable plan is critical to making progress on any endeavor.  You may know what you need to do in your head, but that won’t point you in the right direction consistently.

Instead, write down the process of accomplishing your overarching goal.  For this blog, I write down the number of posts I’ll make per week, and what days I’ll post them on.  In addition, I have a content calendar that helps me plan out future articles and work on them ahead of time.

4. Trying To Mix Brain Modes

Your brain has two main modes for creating.  Your Mind-Wandering mode comes up with ideas, and it’s great for brainstorming and problem-solving.

The other mode is the Executive mode.  This is a state of single-pointed focus on a particular task.  This is the mode to be in when taking action towards a goal.

Both of these modes are essential at the right times.  When sitting down to work, note which mode you should be in and deliberately choose to focus on the task in front of you.

5. Giving Up Too Early

When we are taking action towards a goal, we will run into countless obstacles and challenges.  Our instinctual response is to pull back and go do something easier.  We must override that response.

Instead, when things start getting difficult and you doubt your abilities, keep going.  Set a timer for 45 minutes and decide that you will work through the task for that amount of time.  After the timer goes off, if you’re still stuck, you can just take a walk outside to engage your Mind-Wandering mode to come up with a solution.


I am familiar with these mistakes because I have made all of them this week.  The week started off with a plan for accomplishing numerous tasks, and the wheels came off almost immediately.  I’ve spent the rest of the time making mistake after mistake.

Another way to avoid these mistakes is by hiring a coach.  Having someone to coach you through the process of taking daily action cuts down on Action Faking and wasted time.  My own coach, Steven Handel, is the one who pushed me to write this article and get out of the rut I was in.  

Sometimes all it takes is having someone else tell you what to do.  This works even if you already know what that is.  Having someone else hold you accountable can be a powerful way to take action more consistently.

Joel Smith

Author and writing coach at The Fit Writer.

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