Happy New Year! For a lot of us, a new year means a new start. Maybe you felt a little stuck in 2016, like your days weren’t adding up to the life you really wanted.
I can relate. Not that many years ago, I was stuck too. I’d put two books on the New York Times bestsellers list, but the days of sitting down at a coffee shop and easily firing off words seemed long gone. Instead, I’d become a horrible procrastinator. The process of writing a book was taking years instead of months. And worse, writing had become a chore rather than a positive work habit.
I thought the problem was with me. But as I researched procrastination, I realized the problem was in how I was structuring my day.
It turns out, the brain works like a muscle, growing weary and weaker with use. I needed a new way to structure my day so I was getting the most out of my mind when my mind was the strongest.
So I came up with a tool to help me manage my mental energy, and in turn, my day. I filled out this one sheet every morning for 30 days to see what would happen.
The result? Within four months I’d finished a new book. No kidding. That’s the fastest I’ve ever written a book.
If you struggle with productivity and procrastination, try this system for 30 days. It won’t take you more than 10-15 minutes each day, but it will unlock new levels of energy and focus you didn’t know you had.
If you do this 30 times, you’ll develop new habits, become more productive, overcome procrastination, and complete projects that have been gathering dust.
As a business leader, you’ll find that getting clear about your days will help you streamline your processes at work and focus on the tasks that will truly move the needle for your business.
Ready? Download the free productivity PDF and let’s get started.
1. If I could live today over again I’d…
In this first section, ask yourself what would happen if you could “live today over again.” This idea was first proposed by Dr. Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychologist who worked with depressed and suicidal patients. Asking them to consider “what they’d do differently the first time around” was a mental trick that allowed them to assess what was really important and learn from their mistakes even before they made them.
Asking yourself this simple but profound question will keep you from getting caught up in trivial problems. It will allow you to focus more on what really matters instead of just “the stuff” that has to get done.
2. Things I get to enjoy today
Dr. Neil Fiore has spent decades studying why we tend to put off our work. When he had his clients make a list of all the enjoyable things they got to do later in the day, they were more likely to get their work done. Why? Because they knew they weren’t going to miss out on the fun stuff.
In this section, make a list of a few things you get to enjoy later in the day. Maybe it’s dinner with your spouse, a walk with your dog, or a football game. You’ll find yourself much more willing to work when you know you’re actually not missing out on what you enjoy. You’ll also get much more satisfaction out of those rewards later, after you’ve earned them.
We all have appointments throughout the day, so make a list of all the meetings on your calendar. If you have more than seven meetings in your day, it’s time to reconsider how available you’re making yourself to people. Is it affecting your ability to do your work? If so, scale back your availability and make sure you’re not using appointments to put off the work you know you should be doing.
4. To Do List
Creating a short To Do list will keep you from worrying about all the stuff you need to get done that day. Once it’s on paper, it’s not rattling around in your head anymore. This will also make you a more dependable member of your team because those little things won’t fall through the cracks.
One note: don’t put your major projects here. Those will go elsewhere. This is for things you know you need to do but can put off until after the important work is done. Only tackle your To Do list after you’ve made progress on your most important project. (More on that in a minute.)
5. My Life Theme
Remember, you’re a human being. Not a human doing. Your “life theme” will help you keep your perspective on the “why” of your day, not just the “what.”
Simply state what your life is about or what you want to be known for. Use your life theme as a filter from here on out. Does each of your projects fit within your life theme? If not, stop working on them or change your life theme. Many people spend too much time working on projects that have nothing to do with their decided purpose. Your life theme is your decision filter.
6. Project One
What is that one major project you need to focus on? In their book Willpower, Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney make a compelling argument that the brain works like a muscle, meaning it gets fatigued as the day goes on.
After a good night’s sleep, the brain is sharp, fresh, and ready to work in the morning. Don’t waste that precious time returning emails and helping other people get their work done. You can do that later. In this section, write the name of the project you’ll spend the first two hours or so working on, and then get to it straight away.
Get an hour or two’s worth of work done before you have any significant conversations or even open your email. Your productivity will dramatically increase. I know people who will not turn on their phones until after their first work session is complete. Protect this first work session like it’s your retirement, because it is.
7. Rest & Reward
Because the mind works like a muscle, it fatigues easily. It needs regular breaks. You’ll find if you take a break to rest your mind, you’ll come back to your work rested and ready to start another session.
So write down your breaks in advance and consider each one a reward. You might go for a walk, take a brief nap, or have coffee with a friend. These breaks should happen every 90 to 120 minutes and should last approximately 15 to 30 minutes.
You’ll also find when you do something that takes your mind off your work, you’ll come back with fresh ideas. Many productive people find themselves stuck, then walk the dog and come back with a big breakthrough.
8. Projects Two & Three
Projects Two and Three may be a continuation of Project One or other projects altogether. Simply repeat the process as you move throughout your day.
It’s unlikely you’ll be able to devote optimum mental performance to more than three projects per day. It’s a subtle reminder to work on your important projects first and, as the day goes by, to gain ground on other projects that are less important.