By Leo Babauta
Ever have a day go by, or week go by, and wonder what you got done? And how the day went by so quickly without any real achievements?
We all have days like that, of course, but not every day has to be that way. Learn to make your days great, and get the most out of them, by applying a few simple tips.
Should you follow them all as if they were a step-by-step guide? Not at all. Take the tips that will apply to you, and give them a shot.
1. Purpose your day. This is my most important rule. I start out each day by listing the three things I most want to accomplish today -- my Most Important Tasks (MITs). And I do my darndest to accomplish them. This post was one of the things I wanted to get done today. Almost there!
2. Start off great. Create a morning routine that will allow you to greet the day and get off to a great start. Your morning routine will vary from mine, but the important thing is to think about how you can create the best start to your day. Design your morning. And then try to make it a routine. Some ideas could be exercise, eating a healthy breakfast, enjoying the sunrise, doing meditation or prayer, doing some writing, or getting an important task done.
3. Focus on a goal. Another important thing to do in the morning is to focus on your current main goal. I don't mean your goal for today, but your goal for this year (or some other longer-term period). The mistake a lot of people make is having too many goals, which spreads their focus and effectiveness. I've found that having just one goal at a time makes you much more effective and much more likely to accomplish it. The other mistake people make is not focusing on that goal (or goals) each day. Make it a part of your morning routine to decide what you're going to do today to further your One Goal, and if possible, do it first thing. Then you've guaranteed yourself a great day.
4. Make an appointment with yourself. When we schedule a meeting with someone else, most of us block that time off so that no other tasks can interrupt it. That's a sacred block of time that cannot be violated by a bunch of other things. Well, do the same thing for yourself. Schedule a block of time (preferrably in the morning, before things get crazy) when you're going to do one of your Most Important Tasks, or a task to further your One Goal. Then don't allow that appointment to be violated by anything else.
5. Avoid interruptions. When you need to get something done, shut off email, don't take phone calls, and don't allow others to drop in on you for impromptu meetings. This applies to when you make an appointment with yourself (see the above tip), but also at other times of the day when you're trying to get work done.
6. Find your prime time. My prime time is in the morning, as I am tired by the time afternoon rolls around and can't seem to concentrate well. So I use my prime time for my most important tasks, and don't allow myself to use it for unimportant tasks, like answering emails or holding boring meetings. Find your prime time, and make the most of it.
7. Have a time for calls and meetings. Calls are interruptions, and so are impromptu meetings. Schedule a time (not during your prime time) when you make or accept phone calls (I think 30 minutes is sufficient, but your needs may differ), and schedule another time when you have meetings with co-workers or clients. Having a set schedule will allow you to get more done, and allow others to understand when you can be interrupted.
8. Focus on the important. We have a tendency to try to tackle all the tasks that come our way, or all the tasks on our to-do lists, or all the requests that come in via email. It's not possible, first of all, to get everything done that comes our way, and second, that's probably not how we want to spend our day. It's crucial that you identify the most important tasks and projects, the ones that will give you the most long-term benefit, and focus on those. Setting three MITs for today (see Tip 1) is one way to do that, of course, but this tip is really a change in mindset: identify the most important things, and forget about the unimportant. Sure, you won't get everything done, but you will get the important stuff done, and that is a huge difference.
9. Finish strong. Right before you're about to close up shop for the day, complete a simple routine: clear off your desk, process your inbox to empty (you don't have to do all the tasks in your inbox, but just write them on your to-do list and get the papers out of the inbox), and plan what you want to do the next day. This is a great finish to your work day, and lets you get off to a great, clean start tomorrow.
10. Review your day. At the end of every day, spend a few minutes looking back on what you did, what went wrong, what you can improve on, and what you will do differently. Review your One Goal, and the progress (or lack thereof) you've made on it. No day is perfect, but you should learn from mistakes and celebrate successes. A journal would be a great way to capitalize best on this daily review.