Waking up early won't move a needle towards your goals if you don’t have a clear plan for your workday. So you need a 3 to 5 item attack list that will guide you through your work all day. And more importantly, you need to identify the ONE Mountain Mover task that will make the biggest impact.
The 5 step recipe:
1. A good plan is more than half the work done
Spend at least 10 - 20 minutes planning your tasks.
Group tasks that:
- Make the biggest impact (Mountain Movers)
- Are your daily tasks
- Must be done as one-off tasks
- Should be done, but can wait
- Which task today will make the biggest impact (whatever the impact is for you)?
- When is the best time to complete each task/ can some of them wait/ can some of them be completed in less than 2 minutes/ do you need input from someone else?
- Which tasks:
- Help you in long term?
- Optimize other tasks?
- Block other tasks from completion?
- Are blocked by other tasks?
- Which tasks can be broken down into smaller, more manageable steps? Write down those steps.
Thinking through your tasks like this will not only prepare you for a productive day, it will also help you to accomplish long term goals.
2. Pick 1 Mountain Mover plus 3 to 5 tasks
What is your Mountain Mover task for today? Which task will make the biggest impact? Drive most sales? Increase productivity? Cut the costs?....
No two tasks can be equally important. If you have considered all aspects like impact, costs, required input, timeliness, time to completion, and pressure from others to complete it, no two tasks can be equally important.
Pick your Mountain Mover of the day and stick to it!
Choose the other 3 to 5* tasks based on:
- Impact on other tasks
- External input required
*tasks that take less than 2 minutes to complete don't count towards this number as having them on your mind will do more damage. Plan them just before lunch or at the end of the day when your willpower is fading.
3. Split tasks into specific small steps
If you choose tasks that take 2-3 days to complete, you will have incomplete tasks by the end of the day. We all know it is neither productive nor useful.
So break down the key tasks that you've picked for today into the smallest steps possible.
For example, the main task: "Need to prepare a report", can have sub-tasks of:
- defining the plan;
- defining the metrics;
- collecting data from John, Marry, and Tom;
- drafting key findings;
- putting it all in a presentation.
Seems more specific and manageable?
Consider if you need to move any of the smaller steps to a later, more realistic stage. A good rule is to move out tasks that require input from colleagues and you’re not expecting it today.
TIP: making the smallest tasks as specific as possible is proven to increase the completion rate by a whopping 60%!!
4. The Mountain Mover (MM) goes first
The first few work hours are for creativity, brainstorming, and problem-solving. A golden time management rule: the scariest, most uncomfortable task that creates the most impact on your work goes first.
If you put MM towards the end of your list, subconsciously you will drag finishing tasks that go before because you'll have to do the scary thing afterward. Getting your MM done before 10-11am will give you the momentum and sense of accomplishment. You'll have the confidence that comes with successfully overcoming the most difficult work and so everything else will be easy afterward.
Moreover, morning is the most efficient time to tackle the hardest thing before the day’s hell with all the bells and whistles. The significant reserve of mental and physical energy from good sleep and breakfast will help you concentrate and get that MM sorted.
5. Do whatever it takes to stick to your plan
Planned vs incoming. Proactive vs reactive. In control vs controlled. Which one do you want to be?
After such in-depth planning, you most likely have selected tasks that are really important today. So unless something has broken down and customers can no longer access your services OR your CEO asked for an urgent report that must be delivered to investors tomorrow, YOU SHOULD STICK TO YOUR PLANNED TASKS!!
The reality is that most of the incoming emails and calls if answered in an hour will no longer be relevant or can be planned into your to-do list for tomorrow.
Plan in time for incoming emails and calls between the tasks on your to-do list. You can even block time in your calendar for people to see that you’re unavailable at certain times. Do everything it takes including switching off all notifications, chats, emails, and sounds on your phone. And just power through your plan.
Most common reasons why to-do lists fail:
- Too many tasks
- Unrealistic deadlines
- Tasks aren’t specific enough
- Tasks that are beyond your control
- Reactivity vs proactivity - letting incoming manage you
- Unclear results (how do I know if the task is completed)
BONUS TIP no 1
Start your plan by reflecting on yesterday. Consider what personal and professional goals you have achieved yesterday by completing tasks on your list. Reflection is a very powerful tool for motivation and productivity. This way you will monitor your progress and it will be an extra source of inspiration to tackle the day head-on.
BONUS TIP no 2
You can employ the exact same methodology for planning your life's goals on a weekly/monthly or yearly basis.
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