Five Ways to Light a Fire Under Your Butt and Get Sh*t Done

by Alli Polin on June 27, 2017

It started with a sharp knock on the door. A glance at the clock confirmed what we somehow already knew. We overslept. 

Behind the knocking door were the girls down the street who I drive to school daily. Today, we opened the door asked them to wake their older sister and get a ride. Then we went into overdrive. 

Most mornings, I wake up first, then get my son up followed by my daughter. I’m her human snooze button, and she usually asks for another five minutes followed by one more and one more after that.

In the forty minutes after she gets out of bed, she manages to get dressed, eat something, throw her things in her school bag and get out the door. I take some credit too since I bark at her to speed it up at regular intervals. 

Today, the first day we’d ever overslept and didn’t hear the alarm, she had her final mid-term exam first period. Late wasn’t and option. Like a video we magically fast forwarded, we went into motion at 7:57 and by 8:03 we were out the door only three minutes behind schedule. 

Yes, I was wearing a baseball cap and my night clothes under a trench coat. 

Yes, the buttered toast I made her was barely warm bread, and she couldn’t eat it.

Yes, the essentials were done, and she was where she needed to be when she needed to be there.

It’s amazing what you can get done when there’s a fire under your butt. 

Recently, I gave a presentation to a group of leaders and decided to create a new workshop rather than recycling the tried and true. For a week, I worked on it and didn’t feel it jelling. It just wasn’t coming together. I mean, it was okay, but not the quality I wanted to deliver. 

The clock ticked. Days passed. Two days before I got on the plane, nearly out of time, it happened. Or, I should say, I made it happen. 

It’s not exactly procrastination, right? It’s more like taking the time you have. 

I invested my time on the workshop daily, and my daughter really does get ready for the entire 40 minutes. We’re not sitting around thinking about doing something. Awesome. Action. But there’s no fire, no urgency even with a looming deadline. 

When things need to happen, the fire sparks and you get things done. 

So, how do you light a fire under your butt when there isn’t one? What do you do to rock and roll when an upcoming deadline is far enough away that your pace can be leisurely?

Let’s freeze here for a sec, shall we?

Not every activity or deliverable needs to be done at a record pace. We all have ups and downs in our work cycles, and after a sprint, leisurely not only feels good – it’s necessary. Never underestimate the value of rest and recovery. 

However, there are times when you feel the pressure. You want to get sh*t done but are still filling the time you have. Then what?

How Do You Light a Fire Under Your Butt? 

Set a real interim deadline.

Not one you can let slip, but one you have to deliver on. For example, you agree to send a draft to someone for review and feedback. Not your buddy down the hall who could care less if you send it or not, but someone who’s critical to the work. They’re building review time into their calendar – it’s not just your time now. 

Shoot for the stars and layer in more.

This may seem counterintuitive in a world where the mantra is to pare back and take out the non-essentials. When your brain knows you can easily get it done, there’s no fire. Ratchet up your game and your brain will get the message that there’s no time to waste. When I’ve created workshops that were aggressively robust, I could pull out the one or two pieces that didn’t make the cut. It never compromised the work and also led me to often over-deliver and knock my client’s socks off. 

Find an accountability partner.

Yes, it’s easy to find a partner who lets you off the hook and nods at your excuses. The best accountability partners help you to see where you could push yourself harder and smarter. Set regular check-ins. If not on the phone or in person, at least via email. 

Go public.

Put your goal or project on Facebook, Twitter or wherever you have a crowd that will see your progress. Hold yourself accountable for posting updates on a regular basis. Yes, most people will forget once it gets far enough down on their feed but you won’t. Sure, you could stop posting updates or share that you’re still in a holding pattern or progress is microscopic but is that really FB post worthy? (just kidding) Let the group cheer you on, give you ideas and see your progress. Let them fan the fire. 

Create a work plan.

When I worked in a corporate position, my project work started with a work plan including time estimates. Often, I’d share the plan with others, and we figured out where my time budgets were too slim and too padded. I set an expectation for myself and others on what it would take to get the work done. As a small (okay micro) business owner, I rarely created work plans. I knew the work effort and the deadline, did some mental calculations, and set my rate. Who needed to know that this piece should take four hours and that other one six? Me, that’s who. My time and your time is money. Hello, fire.

BONUS: It may not light a fire, but it will definitely turn up your productivity…. turn off your tech. Ditch Twitter and Facebook. Say sayonara to email. Turn off your wifi if you need to and put your phone in a drawer. When you lose the distractions, you may be surprised how much more of the time that’s passing anyway is filled with progress worth writing home about. 


What have you done to click into high gear before the fire was raging?

If you want support and accountability to light your fire, let’s talk. 

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Gary Gruber June 27, 2017 at 9:04 am

Thanks, Alli, for kicking my brain into gear this morning. I try to avoid fies under the butt as they tend to burn or scorch. That said, goals, expectations and timelines are good tools and really, just means to an end, whatever you define the end to be. Whether a project, presentation, trip or even a conversation, looming ahead, wait, wait, did I say “looming?” Those things are neither that large nor threatening so a tip is to step back and get some perspective, and look at it from another angle. Even if running late, breathe and relax. It’s going to work out just fine, especially with you at the wheel.


Terri Klass June 27, 2017 at 10:13 am

Great post Alli!

You got me thinking today about what I really need to focus on to hold myself accountable. I tend to get distracted with interesting articles when I am suppose to be designing a workshop. But deadlines are critical to my business and often what I do is break down my timeframes into smaller chunks. That way I feel small successes along the way and see how my actions are paying off.

I have overslept with the kids and it is not fun but it sounds like you kicked into high gear and modeled the way for everyone.

Thanks Alli and will share!


Ingrid June 27, 2017 at 10:22 pm

Hi Alli,

This was just the kick up the butt I needed this morning! After writing the first 10 pages my screenplay has ground to a halt. You know… too much paid work, too much dance practice, travel, competition, interesting books to read… but I’m still thinking about my characters.

Yet another excuse! So I said to myself “Stop thinking and write something!” Just get it on the page, it doesn’t matter how crappy it is, just get the story down. Then I can work on it.

I like your idea of setting reporting your progress to friends and colleagues. Helps make you accountable. Will do. Many thanks for your great advice!

Cheers from Dark MOFO territory, Ingrid


LaRae Quy June 29, 2017 at 2:58 pm

Almost everyone who commented on this post agreed—they needed a swift kick in the butt to get them moving! And I was one of them…I have stalled on a couple of projects and this article was a timely reminder that I can sit on my butt and moan about why/how things are not getting done…OR, I can get focused and make some changes! Guess what? I’m going to take your advice and make some changes 🙂


John Bennett July 2, 2017 at 6:50 pm

Might I be so bold as to add another suggestion?

Believe in the value and importance of getting started. Determine the most promising direction / first effort; and engage in that effort. Subsequent self-assessment of that planning and effort should provide improved understanding of level of difficulty and effort required – lighting the fire!!!


Alli Polin July 3, 2017 at 5:07 pm

Amen! Here’s to doing something… taking action… and getting started. Inaction makes us think about climbing a mountain with exhaustion but in reality, it’s all about putting one foot in front of the other.


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