Forcing Functions—How to Make Action Happen



“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” — Dale Carnegie

Do you have a favorite set of Forcing Functions?

A Forcing Function is any task, activity or event that forces you to take action and produce a result.

By putting a Forcing Function in place, you create motivation for taking action, whether it’s to meet a deadline or to respond to social pressure.

If you have areas in your life that you’re finding inertia, try adding some Forcing Functions to get better results.

Slides as Forcing Functions

On the job, one of our forcing functions is building a slide deck.

By setting a deadline for at least a draft deck or a draft presentation, you need to create a strawman.

This sets things in motion, as you try to build a slide deck.

Building a deck is a Forcing Function because it forces you to distill the points, close down on issues, identify what you know, don’t know and need to know next in a fairly constrained way.

It can also help to balance your elaboration on certain issues, and boil it down to something more precise and concise.

Blog Posts as Forcing Functions

A blog post can be a good Forcing Function.

There are plenty of topics you could write books about, but you could use blog posts as a simple Forcing Function.

You can ask yourself, “What’s can I post about that, today?”

Or, “What can I post about that topic that would be useful, tomorrow?”

A blog post forces you to chunk something down into a useful nugget.

Examples of Forcing Functions

Here’s some examples of forcing functions:

  • Deadlines
  • Events
  • Meetings
  • Presenting
  • Schedule time
  • Show and tell
  • Timeboxes and timeboxing
  • Written goals

A big theme here is, “What can you accomplish that’s useful, before the time is up?”

Scheduling time is a simple, but effective practice.  It forces you to make time, and it’s easier to get something done once you’ve made time for it.

Events force a work-backwards schedule.

Presenting forces you to to a dry run of your material and see how it lands.   I use a “show and tell” each week on my team as a forcing function to drive results, share what you learned, and get feedback.

It’s a lighter-weight presentation but gets great results.

You Might Also Like

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Timeboxes, Rhythm and Incremental Value

How To Use Timeboxing for Getting Results

Lessons Learned from Per

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  1. I just came from Liara Covert’s blog and I love how this ties in beautifully to her most recent post there, which stresses not forcing things but to go with them. So I love that plan!

    I do tend ot be a bit of a procrastinator bytimes, so I have to work that out.

  2. Hi J.D.

    For me I work best with schedule time and written goals. Your post is fill with useful tips as always. Thank you,
    Giovanna Garcia
    Imperfect Action is better than No Action

  3. @ Jannie

    When I fall into a procrastination trap, what works for me is to schedule a series of meetings with people. For each meeting, I try to have some mini-outcome. It builds a bit of momentum and it acts sort of like mini milestones. It’s also like casting a wide net because I’m not sure exactly who might be just the catalyst I needed.

    @ Giovanna

    Thank you. There’s definitely something powerful about thinking on paper. What I’ve noticed is some things sound better until you write them down. Next, some things looked better on paper than when you actually do them. It’s a little set of checks and balances. I think what happens is each iteration gives us more clarity.

  4. Timeboxes are my favorite
    I have yearly, monthly, weekly, and daily timeboxes
    Works poerfectly
    Good stuff, JD
    It forces me to allocate my time to the stuff that matters, getting bettter results. By better i mean achieveing more in less time 😉

  5. Awesome post! I have to agree written goals are a great way to go as long as they are kept short. I have found that if you make too large of a list it get neglected.

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