This is the last post in my series about morning rituals. If you didn’t catch the other two, they’re here:
Today we’re going to talk about the 3 T’s of Success. The first two posts talk about things I do every morning to prepare myself for a productive day. Kind of like small appetizers before getting to the entree of the day.
This post is different. This is going to help you get more shit done.
I’m the first to admit that todo lists suck. I’ve fought with GTD (great book, but the system has too much overhead) and pretty much every todo program in existence. Things, Omnifocus, The Hit List, Trello, Wunderlist— you name it, I’ve tried it.
For me, Software-based todo lists never work.
I end up spending a stupid amount of hours pulling in all of my tasks, customizing the software, only to forget about it a week later and completely drop the ball on my new “system”. It just doesn’t work for me. I know myself well enough to admit that I just can’t trust myself with software for managing my day. I like to play with the settings too much.
Over the past two years, I’ve found a system that actually works. It helps me to get more done and stay focused, but more importantly.. I actually stick to using it. That’s really the most important part of any system. You can have best program, system, or whatever.. but if you don’t actually USE IT, it doesn’t matter.
You’re going to laugh because it’s so simple… but…
First, I buy a bulk pack of REALLY high-quality legal pads on Amazon. Paper is the most expensive part of this system.. Well, maybe a nice pen too..
Every night, before bed, I sit down and plan my day. There are two important parts of this—
At the top of the notepad, I write the date. I split the page into 3 sections. On the far left, I write down all of the meetings I’ll have for that day.
In the middle, I put down everything I’d like to accomplish with a time estimate next to it. Anything that I estimate as more than 4 hours gets broken down— like me, you’re probably really bad at estimating.. break things down into small chunks. Remember, this is a CONTRACT. The time estimates help us to avoid overcommitting.
And lastly, on the far right, I put down the “obvious” things— morning routine stuff that I do everyday.. Journal, Lumosity, etc. Sure you could leave this off, but I’ve noticed that if I stop putting it on the list, I stop doing it consistently.
Okay, one more thing. Using the extra space on the bottom of the page, I add a distractions column. When you’re focused, working hard on something and a random thought bubbles up to the surface.. “hmm, I should research the best blah blah blah”.. you need to PAUSE.
Instead of acting on it and distracting yourself, quickly address it by just writing it down on your notepad. Not only will you prevent yourself from getting distracted and falling into a rabbit hole (and somehow find yourself reading wikipedia 5 hours later), you’ll also save the idea for later. Since you’re addressing the distraction immediately, it’ll stop bubbling up into your conscious mind so you can FOCUS on your work.
The upgraded todo list helps us plan and organize our day, but it doesn’t actually help us to GET MORE THINGS DONE. Here’s a really simple tactic I use to actually accomplish more. It’s kind of like the pomodoro technique, but slightly modified. There are a billion pomodoro apps, but I really like physical things. Apps are just too easy to forget about.
I use this really simple Miracle Cube timer that I picked up on Amazon. I set it for 45 minutes and get laser sharp focus on a single task. Multitasking is great way to be awful at a bunch of things. We use time blocking to AVOID multitasking. Yes, do whatever it takes to only focus on ONE thing.
When a thought pops into your head, write it down in your “distractions” box. Resist the temptation to context switch. It’s really hard at first.. computers have trained our minds to jump around like crazy.
Usually, I’ll take a 5-10 minute break between each 45 minute session, followed by a longer 30 minute break after two 45 minute sessions. You need to manage your energy and slowly release it throughout the day instead of flooring the pedal and running out of gas.
Sunday is like my holy day for focusing. Instead of taking a lazy day or watching Netflix all day, I like to set aside a 4 hour time block to focus on something big. This is your time. It’s the opportunity to conquer (or atleast start) those really high value things you always procrastinate on.
One thing I struggle with the most is starting big projects. Like, even though I might be really pumped up about the project, I’ll catch myself procrastinating like crazy on actually starting. I’ll spend a ton of time researching and learning about the BEST way to do it, but I won’t actually start.
I end up so paralyzed by the fear that the project won’t come out perfect, that I never actually start. It’s a cycle of perfection and resistance.
Perfection is just another form of procrastination. It’s an excuse to delay starting something important. The fear of not doing it right PERFECTLY the first time scares the ever living shit out of you, and you never get started.
Millions of people have great worked trapped inside of them because of perfection.
Here’s the thing about perfection— it’s easy to defeat. All you need to do is START. Once you make EVEN JUST A TINY BIT OF PROGRESS, the fear goes away. It doesn’t hold any power over you anymore.
I’ve battled perfection and I’ve won. Here’s how I do it. Again, dead simple, but worth putting into words. I take my Cube Timer that I mentioned above and I set it for 10 minutes. In that 10 minutes, I start “that project”. It doesn’t matter what I do in that 10 minutes, as long as I start. No researching, no googling, no reading up on the best way.. Just start. If it’s a painting, put paint on the canvas. If it’s programming, get some code onto GitHub.
When the timer goes off after 10 minutes, you’re free to stop. You’ve battled perfection and won. Remember, a masterpiece is made up of a million tiny mistakes.