in Productivity

Improving your focus with a simple framework

Have you had trouble being consistent with goals in the past? If you’re like me, you would start something and find yourself quitting at the earliest signs of discomfort.

In order to overcome this, I’ve been using a quick framework for evaluating if quitting is something I really want to do. Instead of following through with feelings, I write down the thoughts associated with the feeling.

How it works

Write down the debilitating thoughts. This helps separate it from the emotions you’re feeling.

Once penned, begin evaluating the thought by asking questions such as:

  • Is it realistic? Perhaps these fears have nothing to back it up.
  • Will this benefit you in the long run?
  • Does it follow the goals you’ve outline for yourself?
  • Is it worth the effort from a pros/cons point of view?

The response helps you evaluate the thought.

After formulating the response, measure your outcome. What ended up happening? Did you quit? Did it get you closer to accomplishing your goals?

I also use my log as a review sheet whenever I feel demotivated. It helps me see the various ways I’ve tried to quit a task, my thoughts associated with that emotion and how I overcame them.

Reviewing helps bring me back to earth and proves that what I’m feeling is not unique but something I’ve experienced before.

How to apply this technique

I’m going to show you how to write down these thoughts in an easy to use table.
I use OneNote for my note-taking needs, but this can work on a sheet of paper, Evernote, or any other note taking application.

First, make a table with five columns. The columns should follow:

  1. Date
  2. Event
  3. Thought
  4. Response
  5. Outcome

Date: Self explanatory. This is the date of when you experienced the quitting thought.

Event: What happened that caused you to feel this way? Was it a client who dropped your services? Or maybe someone who left you a bad review?

Thought: What were you thinking when the event happened? For example: “This bad review shows my incompetence. I’m no good at this business.”

Response:What are some of the ways your thought is correct or incorrect? Does it conform to your goals? Is it backed by some evidence? For example: “I have plenty of customers who love my work. I’ve won many awards and made so many people happy. This one negative review does not mean I’m incompetent.”

Outcome: Did you end up quitting? How did you feel afterwards?
Here’s what a row in the table may look like:

The outcome can be measured in scales, adjectives, or phrases. You can score it from 1-10 or just use words. It’s up to you to decide how to measure it.

If you’re interested in diving into the whole world of CBT, I would highly recommend Dr. David Burns book called Feeling Good. It outlines a variety of strategies for combating procrastination and overcoming lack of drive.