After having coached thousands of people over the past 15 years, I’ve noticed patterns about what the most successful people do. In today’s world, where busyness is rewarded, one of the patterns that stands out in how successful people live, is that they have daily habits that create focus and lead to productivity, fulfillment and happiness.
If you’re like most people, your calendar is packed, your to do list is long and there’s never enough time in the day to get it all done. You go from meeting to meeting with no space in between (one meeting ends at the top of the hour and that’s exactly when the next begins). It can feel like being on autopilot while riding a roller coaster at your favorite theme park. And the roller coaster never ends.
That’s the way it felt for me for a long time, especially as my company began to grow quickly and other people had access to my calendar.
But the overwhelm all changed when I hired an executive coach who helped me see that the results I was getting were caused mostly by my own contributions and not by external factors that I so diligently and confidently pointed to.
When I started to see my calendar as a reflection of the choices I was making, things began to change. I started asking less about how I could manage my time more effectively and more about how I could manage my choices more effectively. When I noticed that I was prioritizing my calendar instead of calendaring my priorities, I could finally make the changes needed that would lead to not just more productivity, but to more fulfillment and happiness.
Interested in doing the same?
Here are four tools I’ve implemented that will help.
Tool# 1: Figure out when you are most productive.
Everyone has windows within their day when they operate at peak performance. They think clearly and can focus intently. Figure out what time of day this is for you and utilize that period of time for your most important work. In other words, don’t spend it on trivial activities that might make you feel good like checking and responding to email. Instead, focus on planning, strategy, writing and areas that require deeper thought. Focus on “output” instead of “input.” For me, I’m most clear and productive in the early morning hours. So, I usually work from 5:15am - 7:00am.
When are you most productive? And, what do you focus on during that time?
Tool #2: Make your days intentional.
It’s easy to move through your day on autopilot, but there’s a better way. Instead, move through your day with focus - ensuring that everything you work on matters. Successful people do this by dedicating part of their day to creating clarity and intention. Here are some ideas that I’ve implemented as a result of work with my executive coach and learnings from influencers such The Leadership Circle, Marshall Goldsmith, and Tony Robbins.
I have a 10-minute daily routine that begins at 5:00am and includes the following:
- Light stretching / meditation
- Gratitude for all that I have in my life
- Incantations focused on courage over comfort
- A breathing exercise to help awaken my soul
- A short period in the plank position to stimulate my body
After that routine is completed, I sit at my desk and review my personal and professional goals that are documented in my journal. Then I write a few lines about my intentions for the day and anything else that comes to mind. Finally, I measure my effectiveness around five key areas in my life using my Key Personal Indicators log, which is a combination of a tool inspired by my executive coach from Emyth and Marshall Goldsmith’s Daily Questions. See the end of this blog for a free download.
That routine takes about ten minutes. Then I spend 90 minutes focused on output (writing, strategy, planning). After having breakfast with the kids, I take a shower and then turn it on cold for 30 seconds before exiting...
Everyday matters now. Everyday is intentional.
What’s your daily routine to make your life intentional?
Tool #3: Prioritize using ONLY one To-Do list.
When you’re balancing so many things in a day, it’s often hard to separate the urgent from the important. Even senior leaders struggle with it. The simplest way I’ve learned to deal with the multitude of tasks that come pouring in from so many sources is to utilize one system to capture everything that needs to get done. So, instead of referring to email, your calendar, sticky notes AND a notebook, all of my to do items get captured on one list, enabling me to prioritize more effectively and stay focused on the most important items. (I don’t care what the system is. We use Basecamp at 5.12 Solutions).
What systems do you use to prioritize your work? How can you narrow that down to just one system?
Tool #4: Block time off on your calendar.
When I coach executives, they are often struggling with overwhelm, wishing for more time to focus on thinking, strategy and long-term planning. When I ask them how much additional time they need in their week, it usually boils down to only 4-6 additional hours. Broken out into 90-minute chunks, that’s only four blocks of time on a calendar. With the right amount of forethought and planning, anyone can create that time. But, it requires you to think ahead. That’s why I am a huge supporter of looking at your calendar 30-60 days in advance on a rolling basis and blocking off that precious time. Remember to block off time during the part of the day when you are most productive (see Tool#1)! Ask me to write a blog post or a chapter for one of my books at 3:00pm and it just isn’t going to happen. Looking at the clock right now as I’m writing this post, it’s 5:53am.
It takes discipline, assertiveness and persistence to stay ahead of your calendar and protect your time.
How do you make time for the important?
We can all be more productive, but are we working on the right things?
We can all be more efficient, but are we finding fulfillment in our work?
Being intentional about your day, being aware of when you’re most productive, prioritizing your work using only one system and blocking off time on your calendar are simple techniques that aren’t necessarily easy to implement.
But they WILL change your life.
Yes, you can make it happen.
Get started now by creating your daily routine. Here’s a link to my Daily Questions list. Feel free to download it, modify it and make it your own.