If you are like most people, you began the New Year with some thought about goals, possibilities, and dreams of what you’d like to accomplish these next twelve months. Even if you didn’t write a formal set of goals and plans, you still identified a few good intentions that would make a real difference.
Unfortunately, the grave-yard of good intentions returns during the latter half of January.
Curve-balls at work or Covid at home and your best laid plans get hijacked before your eyes.
It’s not too late! There is a secret to accomplishing what matters most. In fact, I’d say it is the #1 secret of all real productivity. And, it isn’t rocket science.
No, the secret is not “suck it up you baby.” Sure, will power matters, but I’m talking about a pragmatic solution that makes getting things done achievable. It doesn’t require any special technology, just one shift in your approach to work. Here’s the secret…
Move things off of your “to-do list” and into your calendar. Until something is scheduled into your calendar, it is merely wishful thinking.
I am a technology nerd. Not a tech expert, but I love the promise and performance of digital tools and apps. I was an early adopter with the Palm Pilot. Today, I run my life through the Apple eco-system. Along the way, I think I’ve toyed with every major productivity and project management app of the past fifteen years. But, those tools don’t get the work done.
All these tools help me maintain and manage a robust task list. I can now sort my tasks by project or priority. I can set reminders that automatically pop-up based on my location or time of day. All of these do help me get stuff done.
But, when the task at hand is big and complicated and demands extended deep thought, just being reminded about it doesn’t create the time or energy I actually need to work on it. Goals and plans to make significant advancement or productive change are typically comprised of multiple demanding tasks. They require focused time and thought. To that end, these efforts require more than being added as another check box on your to-do list.
The Big A-Ha:
The one thing that makes the greatest single difference in the process of doing what’s really important, is making a concrete appointment to work on the next actionable piece(s) of that project. I enter it into my calendar like any other non-negotiable appointment
Over the years, my greatest error in managing my workflow is that I would schedule appointments with people as non-negotiable commitments. Then I would try to work on those important projects or goals in the cracks between scheduled appointments. But, you know how that went. Sometimes those meetings or appointments went long. Other times those meetings left me drained. Quite often, those appointments consumed the most productive “working hours” of my day, leaving me trying to tackle “deep thought” projects during parts of the day when my batteries where inherently low.
Breakthrough memo to myself: Schedule task focused appointments in my calendar just like any other commitment. Then treat those appointments as sacred as any doctor’s appointment. If something comes up that needs to shift those appointments, do the same thing you would do with a doctor. Don’t agree to the new request until an alternative appointment time is found for the task work you would be giving up.
This practice—technically called “Time Blocking”—applies to anything that is important for you to get done. It is key to move from ticking off the small tasks on your list to accomplishing what matters most. And, it is especially important for tackling those big goals and dreams you have for this new year.
Your Dreams for This Year:
Even if your plans and dreams for the new year got waylaid already, it’s not too late to change course. It all starts with your calendar. Let’s break it down into three steps.
Step One: If you haven’t written those dreams down, do so now.These are a declaration to yourself. In simple concrete language, state what you want to accomplish.
Step Two: One goal at a time, determine the next best action step or two. (You’ll know they are actionable when you could hand them to someone else and they would know what to do.)
Step Three: Pull out your calendar and look over the next 2-4 weeks. Schedule appointments with yourself dedicated to work on these action steps. Don’t batch them all together, as in, “this is when I will do it all.” Think one task = one appointment. (e.g. “Write XYZ proposal for my team.” “Research 5 potential vendors.” Etc.) PRO TIP: give yourself twice the amount of time you initially think you’ll need to complete each task.
Your New Year’s goals or strategic plans are only a pipe dream until they are translated into actionable steps written into your calendar.
Does this mean, every single to do list item needs to be scheduled into your calendar? Certainly not. We all have simple tasks that might be urgent and/or important, but they can be completed in a few minutes. Batch those into an appointment to “knock out quick stuff.” Or, hold those as the random tasks to pursue during short gaps that pop up during your day.
Anything that requires focused attention for more than a few minutes is best served by blocking dedicated time to work on it.
So, what’s your best next step and when will you take it?