You start each day with a blank slate. You start each day with good intentions to move those important projects forward, take care of what really needs to be done, and make some headway.
Every day, you aim to make progress and gain some traction on your to-dos. Every day, you hope to take control of your time and your tasks, but every day, stuff just gets in the way.
- You put out fires.
- You handle what comes at you.
- You take care of others’ demands.
- You race to resolve the latest crisis.
All the while… the demands and the to-dos and emails just keep coming!
It feels like you’ve spent the day with one shoe nailed to the floor—spinning around in circles, taking care of what you can within arms’ reach, but not really moving forward on much. It’s exhausting: physically, mentally, and emotionally! It drains your energy and your time, so you have little left at the end of the day for what matters most: your family, your relationships, your health, your dreams, Your Life!
Somehow, people around you (who you know are no smarter or more talented than you) seem to be able to stay on top of things and manage all the chaos. And they make it look so stinking easy!
But it all feels out of your control.
What do they know that you don’t? What do they have that you’re missing? The answer…
They have a “Productivity Compass“ for their day!
A Productivity Compass is their plan, like a GPS, for their day. They have clear direction. They know specifically what they intend to do, and when they’re going to do it. They resist taking care of what isn’t on their “route”, and they take care of what they intend to take care of. And they do it naturally, with ease.
We’ve all met those people in real life (I even married one)! They make it all look so easy. They’re like time-management ninjas: tackling their to-dos and knocking out projects left and right while you struggle to keep your head above water.
It’s not wizardry or some mystical mind power–although it can feel like that much of a fantasy, I know. But I promise, it’s something you really can learn to do, and something you can learn to do in ways that are much easier than you may be able to imagine! If I can do it, anyone can!
That kind of time management and productivity mastery is complex, but it’s also simple.
Here’s why… Productivity is complex because it requires a variety of behaviors, systems, tools and habits to work together. Productivity is complex because it requires us to prioritize and plan appropriately, use our calendars well, track and handle our to-dos effectively, control our focus, and manage our time efficiently. There are a lot of pieces that need to come together for us to be productive in meaningful ways. And then, of course, we need to sustain all those pieces and keep up with them so that they can support us. I call these the “Pillars of Productivity” (but more on that later). Like I said, productivity is complex!
But even the most complex things are made up of smaller, simpler parts! When we focus on making improvement to those smaller parts, we can make significant improvement overall. A great place to start is with what I call your “Productivity Compass.”
One of the things that makes the biggest difference for my clients in their productivity is to start each day with a clear, well mapped-out plan. I call this “setting yourself up” for the day and, really, it’s the simplest way you can set yourself up for success each day. (Hence the name!) Exactly what that plan looks like will be a little different for each person based on what comes naturally and works best for them, including: how much structure they like and find supportive; how their energy ebbs and flows throughout the day; how they naturally organize and process information, etc. I tease those things out with my clients, but those are not the most important parts of an effective plan.
What’s important is that the plan is specific, clear and task-focused rather than project-focused, and that it’s done in advance. The “in advance” part takes some getting used to, but can make a world of difference in your ability to accomplish the important stuff. It’s a habit to create, and a behavior to learn. It might feel awkward and cumbersome in the beginning but, I promise, the more you do it, the more natural it becomes, the less time and energy it takes, and the more clear the value is!
Here’s why, in a nutshell: Planning, or “Deciding” what to do and when to do it, takes a lot of mental processing and requires a lot of Executive Function energy. Getting started on something, what I call “Doing”, happens in the same areas of the brain and uses the same Executive Function energy. Basically, both planning and getting started are draining the same pool of mental energy. Any time you can Separate the Deciding from the Doing, it’s going to feel easier and you’re going to be more effective.
You have less stress, and less fatigue at the beginning and at the end of the day. When your head hits the pillow, you can feel satisfied, and gratified by your day.
So here’s your challenge: For the next month, focus on creating the habit of “Setting Yourself Up” for the next day. Grab your calendar and your to-do list, and pull out the tasks you absolutely intend to take care of the following day, while taking into consideration the available time on your calendar and the timeliness of your to-dos. Pick those 3-5 absolutely, non-negotiable intentions and set them apart from the rest somehow (I call them my “Tier 1” tasks), and block time for them in the open space on your calendar.
Next, pick another 2 or 3 “hope-to-do” or “ought to do” tasks and set them apart from the rest (I call them my “Tier 2” tasks). The Tier 2 tasks that don’t get done today usually become my Tier 1 tasks the following day, and the flow continues. (Of course, I’m delegating what I can, saying “no” when I need to, and quickly re-evaluating my intentions each day as new stuff arises and pushes Tier 1 tasks back to Tier 2, and vice versa.)
If you can, attach that planning activity to something else that is already happening each day, and set alarms, reminders, leave notes or other prompts for yourself until it becomes easier to remember. But make sure you block that time for yourself. Don’t worry if you need to tweak when and how it happens. That’s all part of creating systems that work for you. It doesn’t mean the system doesn’t work or that you’re a hopeless case, it just means that you have to make small adjustments until you find out what works for you.
The payback is HUGE for an investment of just a few minutes each day!
I hope that gives you some ideas on how you can set up a Productivity Compass for yourself!
Let me know what works for you, and leave questions or insights in the comments. And, as always, don’t be afraid to reach out for help if you need it!
I know… it sounds simple, but simple doesn’t always mean easy!
Lynne Edris, ACG
Productivity & ADHD Coach
P.S. Want to learn how I can help you accomplish what you need AND get More Time and More Energy? Click the image below to find out how I can help you start “Firing on All Cylinders,” too!