I have only one to three priorities on any single day. That’s it. The temptation is always to give ourselves a whole bunch of daily priorities. The act of writing our long list of 10 or more items feels as though we’ve already accomplished something great. In fact, the longer your list, the less likely you are to achieve the items on it. You’ll be able to use the power of the trudge when you focus on small, achievable steps each day.
We also have the tendency to plan for an ideal day, where there are no interruptions, no unplanned events, no emergencies. How many days do we actually have like that during a week? One or two at most, if we’re lucky. So don’t give yourself more than three big, main-thing priorities to accomplish in a day. A big, main-thing priority is deeply personal; for one person, that could be getting the laundry done, for another, it could be making that call you’ve been putting off. When you prioritize the Big Rocks (to use Stephan Covey’s term for the goals and priorities that truly matter), you set yourself up for success rather than failure and frustration.
Prioritize, not procrastinate, your must-do items
You can (of course) have a whole bunch of little things on your to-do list, but out of those, choose only one to three things that must get done before the end of the day. It’s about prioritizing, not flooding. Then try to check them off before noon. Get them done before your brain is tired—and before anything else demands your attention and knocks you off course.
There’s a story that’s been floating around for a while that illustrates this concept. It goes something like this: A professor began class one day by setting an empty jar on his desk and then filling it to the top with rocks. Then he turned to the class and asked, “Is the jar full?”
They agreed that it was. But then the professor poured a bag of pebbles slowly into the jar, shaking the jar a little while he did so. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the rocks, and the entire bag fit into the jar. “Now is the jar full?” the professor asked the class.
They laughed and agreed that now the jar was truly full. The professor then picked up a bag of sand and slowly poured it into the jar. As the sand sifted down through the cracks between the rocks and pebbles, the professor was able to pour the entire bag into the jar.
Then the professor dumped the entire contents of the jar out onto his desk, and he asked the class, “If I told you to put this mess back into the jar, would you be able to do it?”
After a moment, one student said, “Only if we put the stones in first, then the pebbles, and finally the sand. Otherwise it won’t all fit.”
“Exactly,” said the professor. “And your lives are the same. If you don’t put the big rocks—the things that are most important—into your life first, you won’t have time for them in your life. But when you do them first, then you’ll be able to fit in smaller things around them once they’re done.”
The moral of the story is clear: Creating a daily plan based initially on a few main priorities allows you to fit even more into your life later. It puts you in control of your time, and it enables you to shape the life you want to lead!
Business Application: Rethink how you handle email
Setting priorities in the business world is essential, and that means taking control of your time by managing how you handle your email. If it’s at all possible, attend to your daily priorities (your “rocks”) before you check your email.
E-mail is a necessary part of the day—but it can also be an enormous time waster. You could be sitting all day staring at your computer screen, doing nothing but reading and answering e-mail. Responding to emails all day long is a reactive rather than proactive way to handle your life; you’re constantly responding to others instead of having control over your own time.
There’s an old saying: “If the first thing you do when you wake up each morning is eat a live frog, nothing worse can happen for the rest of the day.” That’s probably true. Author Brian Tracey has said that your frog should be the most difficult task on your to-do list; the one you’re most likely to procrastinate on. Because if you accomplish that first, it will give you energy and momentum for the rest of the day. If you don’t and you let it sit there while you do other unimportant things, it can drain your energy. William James, a famous psychologist said, “Procrastination is attitude’s natural assassin. There is nothing so fatiguing as an uncompleted task.”
Make It Personal
List one to three priorities for each day this week. Each of these “trudge steps” should connect specifically and directly to your larger long-term goals. Commit to getting these smaller tasks accomplished no matter how long the rest of your to-do list is for that day. For example, this might be writing a proposal for a client, pricing out a product line, or pitching a product to stores. All of these are key behaviors to get you to your final destination, even if they’re not particularly fun, easy or creative. Avoid the temptation to put them off to do another day.
List some of the activities in your life you should consider “sand” to be fit in after other more important things are done:
At the end of the week, look back and assess what you accomplished. Did you get more or less accomplished this week than usual? Were you able to distinguish between the rocks, pebbles and sand in your life?
Photo by Wil Stewart on Unsplash