Tag Archives: habit

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

top 10 lazy ways to get things done

Over the past 13 months, I’ve blended parenting into what I thought was an already challenging work-life mix. Since July last year, my kid Eleanor has grown from being a defenseless newborn to now an assertive toddler.

Along with parenting, I’ve kept a thriving law practice and continued to coach, write and speak on creating a purposeful and enriched life. My marriage, relationships, and friendships also remain top priorities. Then there’s my taking weekly piano lessons, learning music theory, and mastering contemporary to classical pieces. And while I no longer practice yoga, tai chi, or meditation daily, I still turn to them when I need that extra glow.

Objectively, my work-life mix is by no means extraordinary (other way more productive, creative, successful people get tons more done). But personally, it keeps me fulfilled and moving toward my BHAGs (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals).

Although I sometimes wish I had more than 24 hours in a day and the energy of iron man Rich Roll, I mostly rely on “lazy” way to get things done. Here are my top 10:

10. Work in short bursts. This could mean 90 minutes of work followed by a 15-minute break. Or it could involve breaking down your work in 25-minute blocks with short breaks in between. Or you could set aside just ten minutes to perform the task.  When time’s up, stop and move on to something else (or keep going if you’re in the zone).

The energy and attention you bring to the task is just as, if not more, important than the time you spend on it. Limiting your work hours often leads to sharper focus.

9. Complete big journeys in tiny steps. Whether you’re setting up a new business, creating an online course, or writing a book, chip away at it in easy, micro steps.

Break down the big project into small, actionable to-dos. Then take the first step and the next one. Find your ideal teacher. Sign up for the art class. Go to class. Buy the watercolor paint brushes. Fill out the canvas.

8. Embrace “good enough.”  You don’t always have to impress your friends and enemies with epic, ground-breaking stuff. Save your best work for when excellence counts. Forget about crossing all your t’s and dotting all your i’s in a routine report that everyone just skims.

Tolerate tiny mistakes. Accept your limitations. Do the job well enough to keep your clients, build your reputation, and avoid getting fired. But don’t expect to execute perfectly every single time. Perfectionism will drive you mad.

7. Make it a habit. Reduce decision-making fatigue by narrowing down your options, making repeatable and satisfactory choices, and following routines. President Obama wears only gray or blue suits because, as he told Vanity Fair, “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”

Willpower is a limited resource. Maintaining self-control can be exhausting. Routinize the mundane areas of your life. Develop healthy habits and break bad habits. So you don’t have to think and work so hard.

6. Get help.  Delegate. Barter. Hire someone. Stop micromanaging and trust your team to figure it out on their own. Accept help – especially when it’s free, reliable, and offered with enthusiasm and no strings attached.

5. Take a break. When you’re feeling depleted and drained, getting the caffeine boost or sugar rush isn’t truly what you need. A weary body is often a wake-up call to get more sleep. Nap whenever and wherever you can.

Don’t disrespect your inner energy with artificial stimulants. Invigorate yourself naturally. Step outside for some fresh air. Listen to the birds and the trees rustling. Stroll at sunset or walk in the moonlight. Sit quietly and meditate. Or go for a run or hop on your bike. Taking a break gets you recharged, refreshed, and ready to take action.

4. Put things off.  Deliberate delay isn’t necessarily unproductive. It can lead to an extra burst of energy or add to your sense of urgency to get the thing done. If you work well and deliver good results under external pressure, putting things off until the last minute does little or no harm.

Procrastination works in many situations.  It can also cause you to lose projects that weren’t right for you, didn’t matter to you, or didn’t capitalize on your strengths. (Good riddance!) Sometimes what looks like procrastination is really incubation (i.e. your mind is preparing for work and you’ll snap into action when the time is right).

3. Do what you feel like doing. Permit yourself to just do what you want to – at least for an hour each day. Ease up on the self-imposed deadlines, let go of obligations, and drop the productivity rules. (You can get back to them later if you must.) Think about what excites you, gets the creative juices flowing, and lights your fire. Then do that thing.

2. Do less. Simplify and shrink your to-do list. Have just three main things to do on a given day. Focus on only three big goals in the week. Do one thing at a time. Declutter your life so you have one less thing to do, clean or maintain. Buy wrinkle-free clothes so you don’t have to iron much. Stop buying stuff unless it’s absolutely beautiful and/or useful to you.

Doing less frees you up to create your best work and deliver top-notch results on the things that matter. It makes room for interruptions, distractions and emergencies that are bound to come up. Don’t commit to anything else when you’re working on a major goal that deserves your undivided attention.

1. Do nothing. Many things take care of themselves and get resolved without your interference. There’s often no need for you to send a reminder note or make a follow-up call. The package arrives at your doorstep when you’re home. The approval letter you’ve been waiting for eventually comes in the mail. Your client sends the exact information you need to finalize the project.

Step out of the way and let things happen naturally.

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This top 10 list is not for those who are lazy in the traditional sense.  It requires a more focused and conscious approach to productivity. Instead of being super busy all the time, you get to decide what really matters and get those things done at the right time.

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Photo by: ShellyS

7 Strategies to Stay Super Focused

Staying focused on your task, priorities and mission is vital to your success. But it doesn’t come easily when you’re overwhelmed with daily distractions, a long to-do list, and multiple projects that demand your attention. 

Here are seven strategies to stay super focused: 

  1. Say “no, thank you.”
  2. Mentally rehearse the task.
  3. Keep your energy up during breaks.
  4. Stop multitasking.
  5. Boost your willpower.
  6. Make it automatic.
  7. Create a supportive environment.

Use one, all or a combination of these strategies to overcome internal busyness and reduce external distractions. Review what works for you. Make use of your preferred techniques to stay super focused and get meaningful things done.

Read the full article, 7 Strategies to Stay Super Focused, on Lifehack.

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Photo by: Dani Ihtatho