A common productivity hang-up is the inability to stay focused on what’s important. Whether it is feeling buried under all the tasks that need to be completed or dealing with constant interruptions, getting thrown off course is so easy. Plus, life is just full of distractions. Then you get to the end of the day and feel like it was wasted. Where did the time go? Did you actually get anything done that you needed to?
I’ve been there – I get it.
However, you don’t have to be a victim of this black hole. There is a way to get everything done and feel accomplished, rather than frustrated, at the end of the day.
Most of us use some form of to-do management system. You could write out a real list, use functions built into Outlook or Google, or use an app such as Asana or Trello. If you don’t keep track of outstanding tasks, you really should. How else do you know what you need to get done?!
There is no right way to track your to-dos. Use whatever system works best for you.
When I look at my to-do list, I get overwhelmed. Between work, side hustles, and my personal life, the list can get out of hand quickly – even with due dates and color coding. It’s far too easy to fall into task paralysis or handle what I want to do (read: the simplest tasks) than what I truly need to do. I was wasting so much time and energy…and getting absolutely nowhere.
Then, one day, I decided enough was enough, and I got a handle on my list by doing this one five-minute daily activity.
Every morning, I grab my to-do lists (personal, work, and side hustles) and my calendar to pick out exactly what I need to get done that day. Then I write it down.
It’s that simple. I look at my list and write down my top priorities for the day.
Why does this works?
On a macro scale, our to-do lists are a nightmare. Short-term plans versus long-term goals. Personal needs versus work demands. Daily tasks versus projects. It can all get a little muddy.
By focusing in on our schedules and what has to get done, we can make better decisions for ourselves throughout the day. You now know where you will focus most of your energy and are more likely to avoid tasks and behaviors that drain you.
You are also more likely to achieve goals if you write them down. That is a fact. Picking daily priorities is setting little goals for yourself every day.
What qualifies as a top priority?
First, evaluate your task list based on deadlines. You cannot ignore commitments you’ve made to other people so those tasks should land at the top of your priorities list.
Next, if there are items you’d like to get done but don’t have a hard deadline, prioritize tasks that would make you say no to all other daily distractions to get done. Every day, we have to make trade-offs with our time and energy. When evaluating tasks, consider where your focus is best used that day.
Follow these guidelines.
To properly exercise this strategy, follow these simple guidelines.
- Do this daily. Set aside five to ten minutes every morning or the night before to set your priorities. The more you do it, the more organized you will be, and it will become second nature.
- Keep priorities categorized. Keep personal and work priorities separated. Why? Because your own life is just as important as your career. You should not have them battling for your energy and attention throughout the day.
- Do not exceed more than three tasks for each category. This is really important. Be realistic about your time and select your priorities accordingly. Somedays I know I’m going to have an exhaustive day at work, so I plan my personal tasks to be minimal. That’s the ebb and flow of how life works. Be reasonable with yourself.
- Keep your list with you at all times throughout the day. In view and on your mind. This is why I suggest writing it down, whether on a notepad, in a planner, on a Post-It. Keep it with you as a constant reminder of the commitment you’ve made to yourself for the day.
By doing this, not only will you start to see how you spend your time, you’ll begin to feel more accomplished. I can’t tell you how great it feels to cross of my top priorities and know that whatever else I get done that day is a bonus. Give it a try!
To really round out the effectiveness of this technique, schedule your tasks into your calendar for the day. I wrote about scheduling your to-do’s in a previous blog post.
If you do these two activities together, you will be unstoppable!
Jen Lawrence is a productivity expert and coach specializing in aligning who you are with how you work to unleash your potential for success. With over fifteen years of administrative and project management experience, she helps entrepreneurs stop time and energy leaks through curated systems and solutions, so they can transition from the Chief of Everything to CEO. To learn more about her services, please visit jenlawrence.co/services.