I started my new year’s resolution in December, and it’s a pretty simple one compared to the year before. It’s still a pretty challenging one, too.
My plan is to stay more organized with every aspect of my life.
Over the years, my archnemesis—procrastination—has been a significant problem. It puts me in states where I don’t go to the gym for several months despite feeling capable of going. It’s embarrassingly resulted in not talking to clients for several months as well.
It’s getting out of hand in my mind, and so I want to get better at things.
If I can’t get to the gym, then I’ll make a point of ensuring I’m not sitting in my chair the whole day. I’ll make gentle reminders to myself to do work for particular clients or to send a message to them and ask how things are going.
But beyond those small changes, I’m also looking into effective systems that I can implement into my expanding strategy. This is what brings me to this particular strategy that I want to be sharing with you.
A strategy where how you handle a single day can improve or set up your productivity for the entire year.
The idea was introduced by Peter Bergman, author of Leading with Emotional Courage. How he explains this strategy is simple:
“You come back [from your vacation or time off] to a bucket instead of the normally dripping faucet of information. With hundreds of emails and tons of phone calls, the question is: How do you filter through all of this information?”
Whether it’s a brief hiatus, sickness, or something else, some of us come back to a pile of work and feel overwhelmed. Usual productivity habits dictate that we start from the top or bottom and subsequently go through each and every little thing.
But when you stop and think about this particular strategy it’s a bit absurd. Sure, something like a to-do list can help, but people have a tendency to add frivolous things to that list. That or it can condition us to think that anything that gets into our workspace is always important. Like those dozens of emails.
Instead, Bregman encourages this one simple strategy. A three-step sequence to pause, create a clean slate, and ask a simple question:
What is most important for me to accomplish?
You can even drill this down further to:
What are my top three to five priorities — the things that will make the biggest difference?
Once you have your objectives, write them down and check them every morning and evening. Treat is a sort of vision board or gentle reminder that these are your goals. These are your priorities.
Use those priorities to then look at everything that you have to do and filter them.
This strategy is incredible not just for tasks, but you can use it to filter every conversation, every request, every item on your to-do list, every email, and even every opportunity that is presented in your life.
Why Is This So Important?
Hearing about this particular strategy I’d say is a good way of drilling down to having better-structured days. To-do lists as they stand are a good way of narrowing down your priorities and on a base level are good for those who feel overwhelmed with everything they have to do and can help you focus.
But aside from overloading a to-do list, another possible obstacle is prioritizing things too much or overextending what you’re capable of doing. In my particular case, where I want to be spending time focusing on multiple aspects of my life, it can be easy for my to-do list to revolve around nothing but work.
In other words, a to-do list that’s condensed and used properly could help us focus on one area, but neglect the others if we’re not careful.
I really like this strategy that Bergman offers because while it can be used for strictly professional reasons, you can stretch it into other areas of your life as part of your priorities.
As long as anything coming into your life aligns with one of those priorities and you’ve got time for it, consider it.
How To Implement This Strategy
In order to be the most productive, you want to ensure 95% of your time is spent on your priorities. The other 5% is for things outside of your priorities. Those will happen, and such is the case with life. But that 5% is crucial as it’s a reminder that while that is going to happen, you can steer it a little by communicating boundaries.
For this strategy to work there are several things you’ll have to do like:
- Be proactive. Every meeting, every email, every anything, ask yourself whether engaging in this will move anything forward. If it doesn’t, cancel or withdraw from it.
- Check/use your calendar. We all have one on our phones and can easily consult it. Leverage it and refer to it to see if your schedule helps or hinders your priorities. If it doesn’t help, make changes.
- Filter inputs. People will ask your opinions or input on all kinds of things. Whenever this happens ask whether it’s going to help with your top priorities. If not, decline.
- Reflect every day. Take a little bit of time each day to ask yourself did you work on your priorities today? If not, ask what you can learn today that will help you tomorrow.
Compliment Rejection With Intentions
When starting this new strategy, you will likely find yourself in situations where you’ll have to turn down people’s requests. This can be awkward or uncomfortable to deal with as we instinctively want to help other people out.
But what can really help things out is referring back to your priorities. With co-workers or colleagues, articulating that “this is our priority, so we should make this decision” you’re conveying your own focus and also helping others set theirs as well.
Overall, this strategy is powerful because at the root of productivity is our emotions. We feel like doing something. And rejecting something can bring up emotions like defensiveness, shame, or embarrassment — whether it’s from us or the other person.
Bergman argues that this strategy is more realistic because many of us dwell on whether we have enough knowledge or capability to do the job. The reality is very rarely those issues. It’s often down to whether we feel like it or not.
On Upwork, I got offered a gig to write gambling articles. The question for me isn’t whether I have enough knowledge and am capable of doing them — I can as I’ve done them before. The question is do I feel like I have to take that job?
The answer is no.
Whether it’s after a vacation or a weekend off, we’re at a point where it’s prime to set yourself up for productivity. I believe this particular strategy is excellent in helping anyone to have a better focus and better structure of their day — and life if they so wish.
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