3 steps to get important things done

When a task or project languishes on your to-do list for days, weeks, months or even years, you need to decide whether to drop it or get moving on it.  Lack of momentum saps your energy and reduces the likelihood of creating your ideal life.

If continuing the activity or getting it done is a true desire, you can’t rely on willpower (self-discipline) alone. The ability to resist short-term temptations for long term gains is not enough to resolve competing priorities, make high-quality choices, and take ideal action.

Try following these 3 essential steps — which boost willpower but don’t depend too much on it — to get important things done:

1. Limit your to-do list to your highest priorities

Having too many things to do requires you to make too many decisions, which uses up limited resources, such as time, energy and willpower. Roy F. Baumeister, research psychologist and co-author of Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, says limiting decisions and focusing on goals, sequentially, instead of all at once, help you build your willpower instead of deplete it. 

Keep your to-do list short to avoid getting overwhelmed and exhausted. Limit your daily to-dos to the most important action items that you can realistically do in a day. Make space for sufficient sleep, regular breaks, and healthy eating. Reflecting and refueling are just as critical as taking action and moving forward.

The most effective to-do lists tie into your greatest ambition, inner purpose and heartfelt desires. They differentiate between essentials and non-essentials. They don’t revolve around easy tasks that mainly serve to keep you busy or create an illusion of progress. The best to-do lists include specific action steps for moving toward challenging and internally rewarding goals.

Procrastination is not always a bad thing. It works to your benefit when it allows you to concentrate on more meaningful tasks and avoid doing unnecessary tasks or addressing trivial issues.

If you find yourself postponing action on certain to-dos, take time to reflect on whether you really want to get them done. Meditating, journaling, and talking with a trusted confidante are some ways to consciously decide what you deeply want.

Delete from your to-do list any activity, project or experience that is no longer aligned with your highest values and merely takes up mental space. Deliberate selection and reducing your options make it more likely you will focus on what matters.

2. Schedule your highest priorities 

If you truly want to gain an experience, perform an activity, or complete a project that is on your to-do list, the next step is to make time for it through scheduling.

Is there an exotic destination you’ve been wanting to visit? Book the airline ticket so you have a specific date and time you will head there.

Are you interested in learning a particular new skill? Sign up for a regular weekly class that keeps you accountable and on task.

Do you need to get moving on a project? Pick a time slot during the week – whether it’s 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 1 hour or several hours – to work on it and experiment with it.

In your weekly schedule, you could dedicate a specific day for a specific activity or type of activity. And you could pick a day for not doing a certain thing. For example, on Sundays, I stay away from doing legal work or checking emails from clients and prospects, even when I am tempted to do so as a solo lawyer with a growing firm. This frees up my Sundays for family events, social gatherings and creative projects.

Researchers suggest that willpower (or self-control) is highest in the morning and gets depleted as the day progresses. Although you can recharge by taking a break or switching to another task, your productivity tends to be highest when you tackle the most critical things first. If you choose to do easy things first, set a time limit and move on to the harder stuff sooner than later.

Design a schedule that is compatible with your natural rhythm, preferences and tendencies. Each person is different when it comes to ideal times to get things done. Regardless of whether you are a night owl or morning lark, the setting of a schedule and sticking to it will help you gain traction, especially on tasks that demand mental discipline and creative insights.

Scheduling enables you to take well-chosen actions instead of merely react to whatever is going on around you. Try setting a schedule for something simple and notice the difference. Check emails and social media in the mid-morning, afternoon and at the end of the day, instead of constantly throughout the day. You are bound to get more important things done when you’re not killing time by consuming (usually useless) information.

Once you pick a certain time of the day or a certain day to concentrate on a to-do, you develop a routine that leads to ongoing progress, without depleting your resources.

3. Make your highest priorities into sustainable habits

Scheduling your priorities into your routine allows you to make them into habits that are easier to sustain. It takes a whole lot more willpower to start things you do only sporadically.

In The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Charles Duhigg explains that every habit starts with a neurological loop of three parts: First, there’s the cue or trigger that leads to an automatic response. This includes the time of day, your emotional state, your location, or the people around you. Next is the routine or the behavior itself.  Third is the reward that satisfies a particular craving. The reward is something your brain remembers and likes. You repeat the behavior to keep getting the reward.

Creating good habits or breaking bad habits comes down to your routine. Instead of waiting for inspiration to get things done, set aside a time and reserve a space to do what you most want to get done.

It’s easier to create new behaviors and sustain them for the long term when you work with an existing routine. I used to struggle with making time to play piano or practice a piece I learned in a prior lesson. Then several weeks ago, I noticed I had an ideal time slot on the evenings my husband gets our toddler ready for bedtime. As soon as our dinner ends and my family gives me alone time, I sit down at my piano and play for about 30 minutes. This has not only become a part of my normal routine, but also a cherished evening ritual.

Sometimes, though, you need to shake up  your routine if it’s no longer workable due to changed circumstances. If you used to run in the mornings, but changed jobs and now have a longer commute to work, you could switch to an afternoon run during your lunch break or an evening run after you get home.

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When faced with a project that you want to complete, break it down into small, manageable steps on your daily to-do list. Set aside non-negotiable time to make steady progress with the right amount of effort. Create habits that enable you to get important things done, no matter how bored, overwhelmed or uninspired you might feel.

Finally, don’t beat yourself up when you postpone and procrastinate. Perhaps the task or thing isn’t so important after all. And if is, you can always come back to it, work it into your regular schedule, and transform it into a habit.

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Photo by: Gregory

5 fab quotes on trusting yourself

trust yourself “As soon as your trust yourself, you will know how to live.”
Wolfgang von Goethe

“If you need somebody you can trust, trust yourself.”
Bob Dylan

“For it is in your power to retire into yourself whenever you choose.”
– Marcus Aurelius

“Trust thyself; every heart vibrates to that iron string.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Move forward with no second-guessing, no guilt trips, no hesitation. Your purpose is to recreate yourself anew in each moment.”
Neale Donald Walsch

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Photo by: Jalil Martínez Ocampo

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How to give…and receive

Mastering the skill of giving and the art of receiving is a must for creating healthy, lasting and meaningful relationships. Giving freely and receiving wholeheartedly allow us to express our humanity and form deep connections with others. Knowing how to give and how to receive, and gracefully executing that knowledge, are essential to leading a rewarding life.

How to give

True giving is a conscious choice, not an obligation.  If you feel uneasy giving in a certain way to a certain person, then don’t. Find a way to respectfully and gently excuse yourself. Or find a way to transform what feels like a heavy burden into a deliberate decision to give.

Ask yourself if you’re giving the gift to manipulate a situation, force reciprocity, or create a tit-for-tat exchange. If you are, does this benefit you in the long run?  When you give out of sheer kindness, instead of to keep score, the long-term rewards are immeasurable.

Although reciprocity is a natural part of human relationships, expecting something in return and feeling resentful when you don’t get it is not true giving. Realize too that the person might be giving back to you, but not exactly in the manner or within the time frame that you’d like. Just because you gave last doesn’t mean you can’t be the first to give again.

Genuine giving is free from a sense of superiority, self-righteousness and sacrifice. If you’ve ever used phrases like, “After all I’ve done for you, this is the thanks I get,” or “I give so much and get nothing in return,” stop giving. Just stop.

If you give, you don’t control whether the receiver likes it or keeps it. It’s none of your business what they do with it or how well they take care of it. A sincere” thank you” is certainly appreciated when you give. But let go of your attachments to how your gift is received.

How to receive

There’s an old saying that it’s better to give than to receive. But the art of receiving is equally important as the skill of giving. It requires gratitude and appreciation — without the sense of entitlement, the burden of the reciprocity principle, and the uneasiness that might come from taking something from someone.

If you receive a gift that’s not really right for you, you don’t have to let the giver know. You can still appreciate the positive thought behind it. You can always donate it to charity or give it to a friend who would like or use it. The ecosystem will thank you.

Accept help from those you respect and from those who expect nothing in return. Otherwise, if you don’t want to feel indebted to a particular person, avoid asking them for any favors or taking any favors from them, no matter how desperate you might be.

When you accept a gift or a helping hand from someone, be sure to reciprocate. This doesn’t mean you give in to requests that aren’t right for you. But do what you can to return the kindness. You can also pay it forward to those who are more downtrodden than the original giver.

When you know how to receive wholeheartedly, you’ll be able to detect the difference between real gifts and subtle bribes. You can earnestly accept true gifts, regardless of their monetary value, practical use, or aesthetic elements. And you can politely say no to gifts that stem from ulterior motives — or accept them and give them away, without opening yourself up to manipulation.

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Giving freely, without expecting anything in return, isn’t easy. But it’s the kind that provides the most karmic gains. When your giving is tied up with manipulative strings, it will leave you disappointed when the person does not respond in the way you’d like.

Receiving wholeheartedly, without any sense of inferiority, guilt or obligation, is difficult, especially in our quid pro quo world. Nevertheless, it’s the kind that nourishes and enriches us the most. When you can’t receive without immediately thinking, “how will I pay this person back?”, you lose out on the benefits of true receptivity.

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Photo by: Aphrodite