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You Are Here: Home - Newsletters - "Get Organized" - Article

The Ripple Effect

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit."

- Aristotle

I dedicate this article to the subject of PROCRASTINATION. Why? Because this single habit is the root of so many of the problems that plague all of us at one time or another -– challenges with managing our time, relationships, projects, and information.

Procrastination is doing LOW-PRIORITY tasks and activities instead of the high-priority ones which so often contribute the most to our success. For some, procrastination becomes a harmful HABIT which impedes personal and professional development.

If procrastination is so harmful, why do we do it? We tend to put off doing things for the following reasons:
  • they are UNPLEASANT to do
  • they are difficult or COMPLEX to do
  • they involve tough decisions that are OVERWHELMING
When we don’t want to do something that is unpleasant or difficult, we find less important things to do that will keep us “busy” so we have an EXCUSE for why we didn’t get around to it. But putting something off does not make it go away, and postponing it often just makes it worse. As someone once said, “Killing time murders opportunities.”

So how do you overcome procrastination? If you want to make big changes in your life, start by making SMALL ones. What small change have you made recently that yielded positive results for you? By thinking about what is WORKING, you are focusing on the positive. I wrote more about this in last month’s newsletter. Remember that we attract whatever we choose to give our attention to -- whether wanted or unwanted. When we focus on what we want, we are more likely to attract it into our lives.

Small changes can create a RIPPLE effect of another small change, followed by another. In other words, small changes can lead to other related changes. Next thing you know, you’ve generated an unstoppable tidal wave! Ask yourself this question: What’s one thing that, if you did CONSISTENTLY, would make the greatest positive difference in your life?

I asked a client (I’ll call her Kate) this question a couple of years ago during a coaching call. Her initial response was that she wanted to start taking the train to work instead of driving her car in horrible rush-hour traffic. But Kate said she could not do that because she often needed the car to get to meetings during her workday. I asked her if there were other means of transportation available to her (subway, taxi, etc.) on days she had appointments that were not walking distance from her office. Kate was willing to COMMIT to a one-month trial period. I spoke with her at the end of her first week. She recognized how this one change was already having a tremendous POSITIVE impact on her life. Over time, the impact grew larger. The ripple effect was doing its thing!

Here are some of the benefits Kate has experienced:
  • sleep 30 minutes later each workday, since she gets to work quicker by taking the train

  • saved enough money in gas and parking fees to pay for her coaching sessions with me

  • time for her professional reading, which she does in the mornings on her way to work

  • time for pleasure reading on the way home

  • stress level is much lower when she gets home

  • added energy, and she now works out at a nearby health club a few times a week
I could keep listing the effects this one change has had on Kate’s life. It’s a perfect example of the ripple effect in action -- all of this by making ONE change, which led to another, and another.

Remember that one of the key reasons many people procrastinate is because something is difficult or complex. In other words, it feels too BIG to know where or how to begin. Even the biggest projects are really just a series of SMALL ones. I often ask my clients, “How do you eat an elephant?” … One bite at a time!

Once you break a project into bite-size PIECES, determine when you want to have it completed by, and then create a timeline with benchmarks for each bite of the project. Make it as QUANTIFIABLE as possible, by using numbers (make five calls daily vs. make more calls daily) and dates or deadlines. Then build in some accountability by telling someone else about your intention. Keep your intentions in written form in front of you so you can keep re-focusing on them when you get off track. I like using the PageUp copy holder to hold paper upright, so the task list for the day does not get buried on the desk. Then carve out protected time on your calendar to allow time to complete the tasks you've identified.

My daughter is a senior in high school, and she has been preparing for college since last May, along with the assistance of an excellent College Planning Coach, whom she met with weekly by phone. My husband and I are so grateful that someone else was able to help her navigate through this process and hold her ACCOUNTABLE to the timeline they created. The whole process is quite a responsibility for an 18-year-old to undertake, even with assistance! I’ll use this college planning “project” as an example of how to eat an elephant. Although the sample timeline below does not contain every step involved, it’s enough to demonstrate how the PROCESS works. Final deadlines or completion dates are noted.

Project Name: Gaining Admission To The College Of My Dreams
  • create a list of school qualities and criteria –- 6/1
  • create a master list of schools and research online –- 6/15
  • boil down list to 15 colleges; ask for literature -– 8/15
  • determine courses or activities needed for resume -– 8/31
  • create first draft of high school resume –- 8/31
  • create first draft of essay (for application) -– 9/15
  • ask 2 teachers for Letters of Recommendation –- 9/15
  • narrow list down to final colleges to apply to -– 9/15
  • register for SAT exam –- 9/9
  • take entrance exam –- 10/11
  • attend National College Fair –- 11/8
  • review Early Decision deadlines -– 11/25
  • finalize high school resume -– 12/1
  • finalize college writing sample -– 12/1
  • schedule interviews; create interview portfolio –- 12/2
  • submit applications for Early Decision colleges –- 12/15
  • complete applications due (regular decision) –- 1/15
  • scholarship applications due -– 1/15
  • schedule college visits as offers come in -– 4/15
  • notify colleges of my decision -- 5/1

Here’s a simple three-step process for you to try:
  • NAME your “elephants”

  • select one and break it down into bite-size pieces that are more manageable, then write these STEPS down in the order in which they need to be completed

  • assign start and completion DATES for each item on your task list, then enter these dates into your calendar so you remember when it’s time to do them
As you focus on one bite at a time, you’ll be amazed at how this simple three-step process can get you unstuck and along your way with an important project you’ve been avoiding.


Kathy Paauw is an organizing and productivity consultant, certified professional and personal coach, and speaker. Visit her website at or contact her at .

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