My 10 Steps to Making Ideas Happen
Between 2016 and 2018, I completely transformed myself and my business. Really. I went from the kind of person who was a whole lot of talk to a person who truly gets shit done. I went from being incredibly frustrated with myself for never getting my ideas out of my notebook to quite honestly being amazed with myself. Like, who IS this incredibly organized person running this business?
Yeah, I am pretty proud of myself! That’s not to say I’m not still working on SO MANY OTHER FLAWS. But I can easily say that, when it comes to self-discipline and turning goals into reality, I’ve come a long way in the last 5-6 years and I have accumulated advice to share!
OK, here it is. This list is somewhat of an order of operations. Print it. Do these things. Change everything.
1: DAILY REMINDERS AS AN ANCHOR HABIT
Start with one habit. Lock it in. Then stack, or link, habits to that anchor habit. This first habit will become a foundation for additional habit to grow from.
James Clear talks about this in Atomic Habits. But here’s my twist. For that anchor habit, create a set of reminders or mantras that you need to hear in your head EVERY DAY. Your first habit, your anchor habit: look at these reminders daily, preferably at the same time.
I started using reminder/mantra flashcards as my “anchor” or “meta” habit as a way to remind myself daily about the thoughts and actions I want to internalize. Going over these mantra cards helps me kick-off my day with an “bias towards action” — which is just what I need. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.
2: KILL THE SNOOZE BUTTON
For the first few years of my “employee” career my morning routine looked like this:
- Sleep as late as possible, snoozing two, three, sometimes even four times.
- Rush through getting ready, often RUNNING to catch the train.
- Arrive at work at a time that really pushed the boundaries of being acceptable.
When I finally quit corporate life for good in 2014, my morning routine went from a mad dash to absolute mush. I’d hit the snooze button for often over an hour. I’d often stay in bed until 10 or 11am, reading WIRED magazine. I’d finally start my real work around 1pm — meaning I’d work until 9 or 10pm. I had no intentional self-care habits beyond a minimal dose of exercise.
And then I read The 5-Second Rule by Mel Robbins and learned about the evils of the snooze button.
Snoozing does two things. Physically, it actually makes you more tired — there’s research that points to this. But worse, mentally and emotionally, you are literally starting your day with a failure. You are starting the day NOT doing what you’ve committed to do. Ouch.
The 5-second rule was revolutionary for me. It seems so simple, but framing that morning “snooze” as starting my day with a failure is what really catalyzed me to start popping out of bed in the morning. I didn’t want to start my days that way.
Getting up early (or right on time) and utilizing what had been a completely wasted 30–40 minutes of my day was like discovering a new continent of possibility.
3: BUILD A MORNING ROUTINE
Once I had some extra time in my morning and I was in the habit of looking at those reminders every morning to get my mind primed for action — I got really motivated to start my day off with more wins.
I started watching a ton of Amy Landino’s YouTube channel and read The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod. I learned that the most successful people are religious about their morning rituals and aggressively protect the first hour or two of their days. I’d been wanting to start a regular meditation and writing practice. So, I linked about 15 minutes of each to my already-instilled daily reminders habit.
Starting your day on your own terms is a game-changer. Preparing your mind for the day and amazingly makes your mind work better throughout the day. Who would have thought?!
How can you create a bit more space and calm before jumping into the chaos of the day? I block time in the mornings to reflect on the previous day, go over my mantras, journal my thoughts, script my day, meditate, and review the day ahead — which we will talk about more in the next section. This all helps me plan contingencies, catch things I might have missed, and center myself before diving into work.
4: CALENDAR BLOCK LIKE A BOSS
If you are not blocking out time for your big, long-term projects — the stuff that is important but not urgent — you will default to the smallest checkboxes. You’ll be doomed to the life of a dopamine-junkie: checking off reactive quick-wins instead of giving space to what truly matters.
Again, I’ll point you toward Amy Landino’s YouTube videos — she help me transform my planning practice. Before, my all my planning and visioning rarely led to systematic action. Now, my long-term plans are turned into activities and those activities are scheduled directly on the calendar.
And I take calendar-blocking a step further than most, even further that Amy Landino herself.
I print my calendar every day. Or rather, at the end of each day, my “shut down ritual” includes reviewing and printing tomorrow’s calendar. This sheet of 8.5x11 paper becomes my analog appointment keeper, my focused to-do list, my idea notebook, and even my journal (using the black back).
Calendar-blocking also helps me to not overextend myself and live life deliberately. I live by my calendar, and this is not the prison you might think it is. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. It will free you to actually DO the things you want to do. Everyone wants to work out daily, create content, build their own business, practice their hobbies, etc. But how many people wake up and actually PLAN it out? I am a total space cadet but I compensate with this tool. If there is one thing on this list that has transformed my own life the most, it is calendar blocking.
5: UNDERSTAND DEEP WORK
Your whole, focused attention is one of your most valuable assets. Yet we are constantly training ourselves to divide our attention and to cancel boredom instead of using it to think new thoughts. Learn about how to optimize those calendar blocks by going deep and learn about the damage that you are doing by opening Instagram in every spare moment.
Resource: Deep Work by Cal Newport
There’s a reason “shower thoughts” is a meme. The shower is the one place in 21st century life where we can’t bring our phones so our minds actually have the freedom to roam around and come up with novel stuff. Mental focus is powerful and it’s a muscle you can work. Finding “flow” doesn’t have to be a rare bird you only come across once in a blue moon. The more you practice it, the better you will be at getting in the zone and making use of deep work.
6: DEVELOP A BIAS FOR ACTION
…that is, if you are like me and get stuck in planning and ideation. (You might be too action-oriented and instead need to cultivate more planning habits. See calendar blocking!) For me, I had to teach myself to balance my big-picture dreaming and perfectionism with execution and publishing the “good-enough.”
Resource: Seven ways to take action on your dreams (Episode 3 of the UX Hustle Podcast, back when I was just getting started with podcasting!)
I struggled with perfectionism and even getting started but I discovered my mantra: “It’s not practice unless you publish.” You can paint what you think are masterpieces all day in an empty room and keep them only for yourself, but how does that help you or the world? How can you ever grow if you never put anything out there? Don’t let perfect get in the way of good enough.
7: HARNESS THE JOY OF DOING
If you focus too much on the getting things done, ironically, you will do less. We have to bring it back to gratitude. We need to remember how amazing our work actually is. We need to slow down to truly enjoy our work. We need to luxuriate in our progress.
Resource: Reframe the Check and Find the Joy of Doing (Episode 7 of the UX Hustle Podcast, another deep cut)
I still struggle with this one. A ton. What’s the next step? is always at the top of my mind. What’s the next newsletter? What’s the next podcast? What’s the next conference, course, or client? Another mantra of mine is, “when you slow down, anything can be enjoyable.” Think about how far you’ve come and take a moment to enjoy what you are now capable of.
8: PRIORITIZE WITH THE 1–2–3 METHOD
This pairs well with calendar-blocking and understanding deep work. Every morning (yup, it’s part of my routine), I write down:
✍️ my one big thing (2 hours or more needed: usually deep work stuff)
✍️ two smaller things (usually about an hour each: meetings, writing, catching up with the OOUX Forum
✍️ and three little things (usually less than 20 minutes each: a few important emails or scheduling some social media posts)
If I plan for any more than that, I know I’ve scheduled too much.
Resource: Zach Pousman, from the tail end of our conversation on Episode 1 of the UX Hustle Podcast! (the deepest of deep cuts!)
We all have long lists. De-stress and simplify yours by being realistic about what you can actually do in a day. Again, this one is a daily struggle for me. Comment below about how you avoid over-committing with your to-do list.
9: CREATE SYSTEMS
I am naturally spaced-out and disorganized, but my saving grace is that I love designing systems and frameworks. (Surprised?) I’ve designed a ton of systems and frameworks to keep myself on track. Basically, I bring “past me” into the present by manifesting my best self into systems. 😵💫
You don’t have to do all the heavy lifting all the time! Prop yourself up with good systems so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel for every task — especially those tasks you do on the reg!
Resource: Trello template cards, saved email responses, and Google doc templates.
10: TRUST YOURSELF
If you don’t trust yourself to keep your promises to yourself — to get up on time, to go to the gym, to watch less TV — you’ll eventually stop making promises to yourself at all. Without self-trust, your goals will get smaller and smaller. But this vicious cycle can be turned into a virtuous cycle. Once you start to see yourself as someone who keeps their self-promises, you’ll start making bigger promises: launch the podcast, create a conference, start a certification program. And from there… everything starts feeling possible.
Resource: See 1–9!
The transformation continues.
I am still working on ALL of these. Every day.
I often schedule too much for the day. (And the week. And the month. And the year.)
I succumb to the pleasure of checking off emails and social media messages…and my deep work often gets punted to tomorrow.
Idea-making often overshadows idea-execution.
My systems are not perfect — my days are often eaten up by busy work that could be automated.
And my inner rebel sometimes lashes out and throws all habits and plans out the window.
But, like I said, I’ve come a long way and I’m proud of this journey. It’s been fun — and it’s just getting started.
**PS, book links are affiliate links, so I get a tiny kickback if you buy. Thank you!**