I’ve had a pretty full calendar lately. I’ve been trying to accomplish a number of important goals since this year started, both personal and professional, and I’m finding that my to-do list is spiraling out of control.
One of the things I learned to do in graduate school was focus on the important things on my lists, and deflect urgent issues whenever possible. In practice, this is incredibly difficult to do. The hardest part of my day is trying to prioritize what’s most important to accomplish, and then making sure that I do those few things and manage expectations around everything else. We all have multiple stakeholders in our lives and all of them demand attention, usually more attention than we have time to give. Without higher level planning, we end up burning ourselves out doing ineffective things for others, which doesn’t help us in the longrun.
I’ve been working on honing my prioritization and effectiveness chops for years, as I’m sure we all have. These are the things that work for me:
1. Try to be mid-term goal driven: The best thing about a new year is the opportunity to reflect on accomplishments form the previous year and define goals for the next twelve months. Every three months or so I try to think about where I’d like to be in a year or two. I then course correct and engage in activities that I think will get me there. For me, thinking a year or two into the future works really well. Some people take a longer view, and some people are very focused on the immediate. I find two years is a good horizon because I can build an actionable plan around that. Anything further out and there’s too much uncertainty.
2. Make smart lists / be organized: I am a huge fan of keeping a list. I have one in evernote that I update every morning. I try not to let it go over 5-6 items, but it invariably does. I also try to keep everything on the list something that I can push into a new version within the week. For example, If I’m trying to build a sales department for a startup, I might add something like 1.) build and populate sales pipeline 2.) create draft of sales deck for one week, then run a cycle and change them to fit the next phase.
3. Use technology to help you and fend off time wasters: I practice Inbox Zero, which is a fancy way of saying I try to keep my email inbox empty. To do this, I use (and live by) a product called sanebox. Sanebox pre-sorts my emails and only puts what’s important in my inbox. Everything that makes it into my inbox gets read, responded to and archived. I cannot begin to explain what a game changer this has been for me. Use it.
The second part of this, fending off time wasters, is getting harder every year. I try not to respond to push notifications on my phone, I try not to bring my phone into meetings and I try to keep my browser tabs to a minimum. I fail pretty miserably at all of this, but I do make a concerted effort.
4. Know when to zone out: This is what I use to justify my failure to filter techno-noise. If I’m running around the city this is a non-starter, but if I’m working on a longer project I take regular breaks and zone out for a couple minutes. It keeps me from getting distracted when I’m actually working, I try not to do this for more than five minutes at a time every hour or so.
5. Eat healthy food: If I eat a lot of sugar or carbs I find that I get really sluggish. I try to avoid both during the day. I also ty (and fail) to limit my caffeine intake so I dont crash.
6. Get enough sleep: This one is easier said than done, but I can’t seem to function if I dont sleep six-seven hours.
7. Exercise every day: Another difficult promise to keep, but I find that if I can get in 30 minutes of cardio I am a much better person to be around. I bet you’re the same.