Most of us have experienced getting to the end of a day and feeling frustrated or disappointed. You had a plan for your day, and somehow that plan just didn’t happen. Where did the time go?
Having worked with everyone from entrepreneurs to senior executives of global corporations and their teams I can tell you that there are 3 primary reasons why this happens. There are also very easy solutions to ensure that you starting today you can end every day feeling productive and awesome.
1. You’re confusing your Master List with Your Today List.
Too many of us write down our “to-do lists” with their dozens of tasks and then tell ourselves “Here’s what I have to do today.” In all likelihood, you don’t have time for dozens of tasks today. You are setting yourself up with unrealistic expectations… which primes you for failure from the start.
We become overwhelmed because when we write everything down our programming starts telling us “OMG, look at that list. It’s so big.” (Yes, I’m hearing the lyric from Baby Got Back as I write that.) And so you need to also shift your comfort zone and learn to love having a big Master List (just like a big b*tt.)
How do you do that? Let go of the fallacy that you have to get everything done. In the best of all possible worlds, you will still have a to-do list on the day you die. (I know people always groan when I say that.) But, it true! The items on your list may have changed so that you’re more focused on remembering to buy a card for your loved one’s birthday or call your friend to schedule your next lunch date, but having a to-do list means that you’ve stayed involved in your life all the way to the end. It means that there are things and people that matter to you. Even my mother who’s been retired for years has dozens of things on her To-do list, and I consider that a good sign that she’s engaged with life and cares about getting things that are important to her done.
Reframe your Master List as simply the place where you keep your task information. Just like your calendar is where your appointment information goes, and your address book is where your contact information goes. Your Master List is where your task information goes to keep it organized and easy to review. You can then use your Master List to create your Today List.
2. You’re unfocused and unclear on your priorities.
Definitely keep the habit of writing down all your to-dos, that’s a GREAT habit! The next habit to develop is to review your Master List to choose your tasks for today. You will need to prioritize what will get your attention today and what will wait. What I typically teach my clients is to choose 4 tasks - ONE Inspired Action and THREE Bonuses. Each must be a task that takes 5-30 minutes (no four hour projects allowed.) These are your priorities, and if you have a choice about what to do, then these items come first.
What’s unique about this approach is that you start each day by specifically choosing your Inspired Action which is the one task that you are committing to complete before the end of the day. Your consistency in completing this one important, committed task is what becomes your measure of productivity on a given day.
Now I can hear some of you saying “One thing? Are you kidding I do a dozen things every day.” I know you do; we all do. But, often too many of those dozen things are completely reactive (to our email, our colleagues at work, whatever screams loudest or burns hottest). They are not intentional choices based on what’s most important to you. That’s the secret to feeling productive and awesome: intentional choice and focus on doing what’s important to you.
With this approach you are planning up to 2 hours of your work each day, while leaving space for the rest of your time to be appropriately responsive to what comes up… because it will. Many things you do each day will never even hit your Master List because they arrive and get done. But, if you don’t have a strategy to ALSO prioritize the items from your Master List that are important to you, then you will continue feeling frustrated and “unproductive” even though you just put in a whole day of work.
3. Your Mindset Matters.
Often we approach each day like a battle to be fought, and we go into ferocious attack mode. We create our battles and our obstacles within the language of our own minds, and that’s not a recipe for an awesome and successful life. Particularly in relationship to our to-dos we often tell ourselves “I have to, need to, must do X.” We gear ourselves up to conquer the mountain, which means that only completion is victory.
However, most days are not finish lines. Most days we’re just making continuous progress toward our goals, and we’re not giving ourselves permission to be happy about that progress and consistency. As Winston Churchill said, “Continuous effort - not strength or intelligence - is the key to unlocking our potential.”
So, there are two mindset shifts that will give you a winning recipe to finish each day feeling productive and awesome.
Celebrate Progress - Each task completed takes you closer to your desired outcome and therefore every completed task is a victory. Each day that you complete your Inspired Action is a victory. Each day that you live with intention and choose your path is a victory.
Give yourself permission to choose - Let go of your internal language of “have to, need to, must,” and give yourself the opportunity to "choose, want, or desire" to do the things on your list. This simple shift in language moves you from "victim mode" to being "in control" with the power to make your own decisions about what’s most important to you.
These two mindset shifts will allow you to let go of the battle mentality, and find a space of calm, intentional focus as you approach each day which makes for a much happier day-to-day life.
The key to this approach is having one consistent Master List of tasks that you can review daily. Because you can only choose what’s most important if you know what your possible options are. So, if you have not yet created your Master List, then you might want to grab the Start Your Master List eGuide which will provide you with the first 6 steps to get started using this powerful tool effectively.
Erin Elizabeth Wells is the Founder & Senior Productivity Strategist of Chosen Course and the Founder and Owner of Living Peace, LLC. Erin is a Productivity Strategist who works with high performers including corporate leaders, entrepreneurs, and influencers to improve their productivity, focus, and effectiveness in their work and daily life. She is a graduate of Harvard Divinity School with a Masters of Divinity (M.Div.) degree, and she holds the designation of Certified Professional Organizer (CPO®). In 2014, Erin received her certification as a practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), which provides many additional skills to support habit formation and behavior change which are key elements of productivity.