Do you find it challenging, or even impossible, to stick to what’s on your schedule?  Join the club!  So many of us, especially busy accountant moms, have a hard time not only managing our time, but actually following through with what we schedule, or what we plan to do.

It often seems like no matter how hard you try and no matter how many pretty planners, detailed to-do lists, or apps you use, you often end up feeling like you’re behind at the end of the day.  When this happens it can feel like an impossible problem and as if there’s something wrong with you – that you just can’t seem to follow through, or that you’re just missing the punctuality gene.

If this is an issue for you, you are definitely not alone.  So many of the women I speak to and have the privilege to coach on better time management, get frustrated with themselves and their inability to follow through on the things that they, at one point, felt committed to do.

A lot of the time management programs that you may have read or heard about will suggest things like dividing bigger tasks into smaller, bite-sized pieces, making sure you schedule breaks during the day, and numbering items on your to-do list in order of priority.  While these are certainly good actions to incorporate into your time management system, let me ask you this – are you still having difficulty following through, even though you’ve tried these, and probably other, suggestions?

My guess is, if you decided to listen to this podcast episode, your answer is Yes – you’ve tried different tips and tricks, but still find it challenging to follow through with what you say you want to, or have to get done.  The question is – why is it that we can be so committed one minute to getting something done and then can so easily give in to not following through, leading us to then be so hard on ourselves about it?

Let’s be honest – how often do you not follow through on something and give yourself a pass or give yourself some loving encouragement?  My guess for this question would probably be rarely, because I know firsthand what it’s like to have an incredibly long to-do list, have everything crammed into my calendar, and realize at the end of the day that I only got half of the things done, and then beat myself up for, once again, not being able to follow through.

When that happens, it’s as if a giant bulldozer just keeps shoving the previous day's incomplete tasks to the next day, making each subsequent day filled with the undone things from each of the previous days.  Before you know it, there are literally not enough hours left to get everything done and you feel overwhelmed, frustrated, and like you’re a failure.  

If this resonates with you, don’t worry, I’ve got you.  Learning how to make sure you follow through is literally one of the best time saving, productivity enhancing things I’ve ever learned and I can definitely help you get a better sense of control.

While you’re not alone in your struggle with following through on things that you want to, need to, or have to do, there is a better way to guarantee that whatever you commit to doing, you actually do it.  And the best part is, you’ll improve your self-confidence in the process

This week I’m going to discuss why it’s so challenging for us to follow through and the best way to make sure you follow through.

 

Why it’s challenging to follow through

 

Before I explain why it’s challenging to follow through, I want you to take a minute and think back to all the things you did get done, whether it was yesterday or last week – and not just the big to-do’s.  I want you to first give yourself credit for all the things you did accomplish, even if it’s the fact that you fed your children or you brushed your teeth.

If your inclination is to say “I don’t know” or “Nothing” when thinking back to the things you’ve gotten done, I want you to see how negatively biased your brain is and how quick it is to focus on what didn’t get done rather than on what did.  I promise you that you did accomplish things, but if you’re like most women, you’re probably focusing on the things you didn’t follow through on, rather than the things you did.

When I work with my coaching clients on the Better Time Management part of The Balanced Accountant Program, I recommend that at the end of the week, typically on Friday, they write down 3 things they accomplished, and if they can, share it with others – for the CPA MOMS franchisees, we share it in a Slack channel.  The act of writing it down allows you to do what most women have difficulty doing – acknowledging and appreciating ourselves.

This lack of appreciation and instead focusing on what we didn’t follow through on, is the first reason why it’s so challenging to follow through – because it leads to feeling bad, feeling guilty, or making it mean that we did something wrong.  If you’re constantly feeling bad for not following through, after awhile you’re going to be reluctant to take action because you lack belief in yourself.

Think about it this way – if you were punished every time you didn’t do something perfectly, after a while you’re going to associate your lack of following through with what’s wrong about you.  Over time you’ll  most likely think something like “Why bother.  I’m going to do it wrong anyway”. 

So a large part of the reason it’s so challenging to follow through is because of what you make it mean about you when you don’t follow through.  The harder you’ve been on yourself, the less confidence you’ll have in yourself and your ability to follow through.

The second reason that it’s challenging to follow through is because we need to understand that the lower part of our human brain wants to avoid discomfort and instead seeks immediate pleasure.  That lower part of our brain is impatient, it’s unwilling to do hard things, and it wants things to be easy, satisfying, and fun.

Our lower, primitive brain wants immediate gratification, so unfortunately the things that we commit to doing, that we put on our to-do list, or we schedule on our calendar and plan to or hope to follow through on, typically don’t fall under the category of easy, satisfying, or fun.  Obviously it’s not all the time, but when it comes time to do the things we committed to do or wanted to do at some point, we often lose the energy or the commitment to actually do them.

The truth is that it’s completely normal to have issues with following through because it’s the way the human brain is hardwired.  Your brain is literally programmed to make it difficult to follow through on a lot of the things you would like to, have to, or need to do, unless they’re easy, satisfying, or fun.

Honestly it’s not your fault, or your children’s fault for that matter, when you have difficulty following through because you’ve probably never been taught how your brain works or how to override it’s programming.  But here’s the reason why this is such an important topic to understand – because whenever we break commitments to ourselves, we are damaging our relationship with ourselves.

Think about it this way – if you told your spouse that you were going to do something and then didn’t do it, that’s probably not going to be helpful for your relationship.  And if it happened over and over again, they would start having negative feelings towards you, not trusting or believing you, and it would take a toll on your relationship.

The same thing goes for your relationship with yourself.  When you break commitments to yourself by not following through on things you plan to do, you start having negative feelings, not trusting or believing in yourself, eventually taking a toll on your self-confidence. 

For example, let’s say you’ve committed to a certain food protocol because you want to stop eating sugar and you want to lose weight.  If you don’t stick to the eating protocol and give in to the urge for sugar enough times, you're going to lose confidence in your ability to follow through, eventually not even planning to follow a protocol because why bother – you don’t believe you’ll follow through anyway.

You may not have realized that a lack of self-confidence can be an unfortunate result of not following through, but I think it’s one of the most important factors to consider, especially if you’ve been having an issue with self-confidence.  But the good news is that when you improve your ability to follow through, you also improve your confidence in yourself, which can have positive ripple effects in many areas of your life as well.

When you follow through more, you feel better about yourself, you feel more confident, and you’re willing to challenge yourself more.  The best part is, the more you follow through, the better your relationship is with you.

The best way to make sure you follow through


Like I said before, we all struggle with following through because we have a human brain that’s programmed to avoid discomfort and instead seek immediate pleasure.  Again, that lower part of your brain is impatient, it wants immediate gratification, it’s unwilling to do hard things, and it wants things to be easy, satisfying, and fun.

As I’ve shared on the podcast before, the way that I was taught to envision that lower part of our brain is like a toddler who wants what they want, when they want it – who stomps their feet or throws a temper tantrum when we’re asking them to do something they don’t want to do.  We don’t make the toddler wrong for being in the toddler stage, we just choose coping skills to deal with the reality of the situation.

The same thing goes for your brain – your lower brain can’t help the way it’s programmed, but thankfully you also have a higher, executive functioning part of your brain that can act like the supervising mother, coping with the toddler and not giving into every temper tantrum it throws.  If you’ve given into that toddler brain that doesn’t want to do the things you want to or have to do, no worries – you just have to learn how to manage it better.

The first step is to be careful about the commitments you make to yourself and to others.  When you make commitments to do something or when you put something on your calendar, make sure you actually like your reason and that it’s not some quick, offhanded commitment that you feel guilty about or pressured to follow through on.

The key is understanding that a commitment to do something that you’ve put on your calendar, whether it’s for your job or for someone else, is also a commitment to yourself.  Therefore, you have to really know yourself, how you operate, and give yourself some time, if you can, to decide on the specifics of the commitment.

One of the things I always recommend to my time management clients is to be kind to the future version of you that has to do the things you’ve scheduled on your calendar.  Make sure you’re not creating a “fantasy” calendar, and instead create a calendar that you know there’s a good chance that you’ll follow through on before you commit to it

For example, if my boss asks me to work on a big tax return project, before I commit to it I’m going to make sure that there aren’t other things that could get in the way of me following through, that I can set myself up for success by making sure I have plenty of focus time available (something that I teach my time management clients), and I might even suggest that I do it from home because I know my best productivity happens in the early morning.  If I see some roadblocks prior to committing, I address them before I commit.

Unfortunately, for a lot of women, we tend to overcommit ourselves, and then beat ourselves up when we can’t follow through on everything we’ve scheduled to do.  This first step, being careful about the commitments you make to yourself and to others, is giving you permission to stop overcommitting and instead take a breath and decide on purpose, as well as get clear on what the specifics will be.

The second step in making sure that you follow through is understanding that when you don’t want to follow through, there’s a good reason – you have a human brain.  Your lower brain might resist following through out of self-protection, needing or wanting to escape negative emotion, not knowing what else to do in the moment, or wanting to pursue what it thinks will bring pleasure.

The key with this second step is just having the awareness and compassion for that lower toddler brain that doesn’t want to do the thing you planned on doing.  It doesn’t have the same ability to be self-disciplined as the higher, executive functioning part of your brain, so just become aware when the toddler is running the show, plan on it happening, and when it does, make sure you use your higher brain to decide to follow through even though it would be easier not to.

In the Balanced Accountant Program that we offer at CPA MOMS, I teach my clients a foolproof process for better time management but also how to manage their minds before they schedule their calendar, and especially before they do or don’t do the thing on their calendar.  You have to know how to manage the toddler part of your brain as much as possible in order to make sure you follow through.

It’s also important to understand that it’s not your fault if you’re not self-disciplined yet, but the good news is that you can be.  As the former CEO of Groupon, Andrew Mason, is quoted saying, “Being disciplined is in my experience, a huge differentiator of successful people.  If I was building a character in a business video game and I had ten character points to distribute, I’d put three of them into intelligence and seven of them into self-discipline”.

The third and final step in making sure you follow through is, when you fall short of following through (and you will), you have to commit to not beating yourself up.  You have to decide to not indulge in feeling bad or guilty because these indulgent emotions are just your toddler brain’s tricky way of getting you to not take action.

Think about it – if you feel bad or guilty, you’ll eventually distract yourself with something, giving your toddler brain a reward that it will seek the next time.  If not following through leads to beating yourself up and that leads to doing other things or distracting yourself with social media, TV, or a cookie, it’s just going to become an unhelpful cycle of rewarding yourself in some way, for not getting things done.

So I recommend that you be gentle with yourself when you don’t follow through because beating yourself up or saying mean things to yourself is never going to get you the result you want.  Of course there are times where pushing yourself to follow through gets things done, but it’s not sustainable and is truly damaging to your relationship with yourself.

Remember, the most important outcome is not necessarily having the thing done that you had scheduled, it’s building the self-confidence that comes from trusting yourself that you can follow through on the things you say you’re going to do.  You may not realize it, but your calendar isn’t just a bunch of boxes with dates on it – it’s a tool you can use to build your self-confidence and to become a person that you and others can trust.


Summary  

 

  • So many of us, especially busy accountant moms, have a hard time not only managing our time, but actually following through with what we schedule, or what we plan to do.
  • Learning how to make sure you follow through is literally one of the best time saving, productivity enhancing things I’ve ever learned and I can definitely help you get a better sense of control.
  • While you’re not alone in your struggle with following through on things that you want to, need to, or have to do, there is a better way to guarantee that whatever you commit to doing, you actually do it.