The closer I get to approaching 30 (yike-a-rinos!) the more I’m drawn to simplicity.
2016 was the year of cutting back and marked a concrete shift towards minimalism and intentionality in my life.
I got rid of over 50% of my “things” after reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.
I gained an appreciation for a few classic, high-quality items over lots of throw-away pieces in How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are.
I learned the incredible power of “less, but better” in Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.
Essentialism also taught me a life- (and biz-)changing lesson about getting more done by narrowing my focus.
The author’s approach to doing meaningful work really spoke to me, as a person whose work eyes are constantly bigger than her stomach when it comes to what I can do in a day.
It helps me not only get more meaningful work done, but also feel more fulfilled and accomplished at the end of each day.
Isn’t that what it’s all about, after all?
The little-known origins of priorities
I have this theory that we as humans tend to take good things and mess them up.
Farming and agriculture.
Gilmore Girls. (Don’t get me started on Rory in that revival…)
Listen to this:
Priorities weren’t designed to be plural.
According to Essentialism author Greg McKeown:
The word priority came into the English language in the 1400s. It was singular. It meant the very first or prior thing. It stayed singular for the next five hundred years.
Only in the 1900s did we pluralize the term and start talking about priorities. Illogically, we reasoned that by changing the word we could bend reality. Somehow we would now be able to have multiple “first” things.
– From Essentialism
The idea is to pick ONE thing on which to focus your energy.
Not three. Not 16. Not even two.
As the pace of life increased, someone somewhere decided that one central focus for the day wasn’t quite enough.
But here’s the problem: Adding an “-ies” to the word doesn’t magically change its intrinsic meaning.
Which explains why so many of us feel discouraged when we fail to check the 25 priorities off our weekly to-do lists.
How to reframe your definition of “priority”
Okay, I know what you’re thinking. Because I was thinking it too.
That you can’t possibly focus on only one thing each day and still get work done.
You can probably reel 15+ tasks that need to get done today…and that’s just off the top of your head.
I hear you.
But your priority isn’t the only thing you’ll work on each day. It just deals with the most meaningful task.
When you choose your daily priority, pick the one task that is the MOST important. The one that will provide the biggest ROI and give you the biggest bang for your buck.
Select the task that taps into the Pareto Principle — the whole “80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts” logic.
So look at your task list, choose the ONE that’s going to make the biggest difference for you today, and make that your priority.
It doesn’t mean you won’t do anything else during the day. It just means your focus will be channeled on this meaningful task first and foremost.
A few example priorities
To put this into context, here are some examples of what my ONE priority is each day of the week.
This might change depending on my workload or goals for that particular week/month/quarter. But it’s a rough guide:
Monday: planning out my weekly calendar
Tuesday: working on client projects
Wednesday: creating blog post(s) I’m excited to share with my audience
Thursday: working on client projects
Friday: education / honing my craft
Saturday: doing something that makes me happy (could be something social, could be biz-related, or could be curling up reading, depending on my mood that week)
Sunday: relax and recharge
Each week, I have two days where the #1 priority is client work. I still work on client projects throughout the week as well, but it’s only my priority two days a week.
The same goes for prioritizing my business. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, my priority is doing something that will strengthen my business from the inside out. There will be other activities mixed in on those days, but the priority of my biz has to come first.
I also have priorities on the weekends, most notably on Sunday. I decided a few months back that I will not, under any circumstances, work on Sundays.
It’s not a religious thing. I just really like the idea of having one day completely to myself where business stuff purely wasn’t allowed.
So my priority that day — the most important thing I can do — is to relax and recharge. It’s the central focus as I plan out the rest of my day.
Tricks to achieve your priority each and every day
This whole “priority” thing is easier said than done.
After all, we live in a world where “prioritIES” is the norm.
So you’ll need to adopt a few new techniques to make sure you focus on #1 every day.
Here are the methods that work for me:
Start the day working on your priority.
Dedicate the first 1-2 hours of your day (or more!) to your priority and bang out as much as you can in that time.
This is similar to Amy Porterfield’s concept of “tiger time” — where you switch off the notifications, turn off distractions, and get to work on your priority.
Working on your priority first sets the tone for your day. It allows you to make headway on something that’s really important. And it ensures that no matter what happens later in the day, you’ve worked on what matters.
Block your schedule (and stick to it!)
I spent a lot of time playing around with my calendar last year to find the ideal setup for my work style.
And what works for me is having big, defined chunks of time.
Having defined chunks of time first lights a fire under my butt — I need to finish this task in two hours, it can’t spill over into later in the day.
Second, the structure of my calendar makes me feel comfortable and secure that I WILL get everything done. I can work easily on my priority of the day, knowing that I’ve got time blocks scheduled for other important things (checking email, client calls, writing time, etc.)
The secret is trusting the calendar and being diligent about sticking to it.
I specifically use the model calendar method I learned in Rachael Cook’s Fired Up & Focused free challenge and highly recommend it!
Check email only once or twice per day.
I know. I KNOW!
You hate this one. You think you can’t possibly do it.
I assure you, friend, you can.
And if you want to feel less stress, feel a greater sense of accomplishment, and be more able to complete your most important work, you gotta.
Schedule time in your daily schedule for email processing and decide what to do with EVERYTHING in your inbox.
We waste so much time opening emails, reading them, deciding we’ll reply later, marking them as unread…and then doing the same exact thing the next day.
My general rule of thumb is that if I can reply in under five minutes, I’ll do it right away. If it requires a more thoughtful response or it would best be responded to later, I’ll pick another time when I’ll come back to it.
But the key is to DECIDE. Don’t just leave emails sitting in your inbox.
Two tools that save my life when it comes to email:
Boomerang — schedule emails to deliver at a certain date/time or return to your inbox (schedule 10 emails per month for free!)
Unroll.me — gather up all of your promotional emails to be deliver in one daily email (free!)
Schedule social media.
And check in 1-2 times per day to respond to any engagement…on your desktop.
This one’s a bit controversial but it made a huge difference for me.
Using social media on my desktop is much more intentional. I won’t spend 45 minutes on the couch mindlessly scrolling, like I do on my iPhone. It helps me focus on the task at hand, rather than getting distracted or filling every quiet moment with scrolling.
Learn to say “no.”
This is the biggest challenge for me. So if saying “no” freaks you out, I get it.
But saying no is powerful stuff, man.
The only way you can move forward on your priority is to leave some things behind. Or to quote David Allen, “you can do anything, but not everything.” (This realization was HUGE for me!)
You’ve got to jettison the tasks that aren’t going to move you forward in a big way and lovingly let them go.
So that email you keep putting off replying to? That Instagram strategy you keep procrastinating on? That coffee date you keep rescheduling? Pay attention to your actions — they’re telling you it’s not something you really want to do.
It takes some finagling to come up with a way to say “no” that feels good to you — especially if you’re saying no to a friend.
Sometimes a simple “thanks so much for thinking of me, but my plate is full right now” will do.
It’s much more satisfying to pick a few key areas where you want to do exceptionally, and gracefully let the rest go.
Brain dump the stresses out of your mind.
Writing things down helps me to clear my mind and focus on my priority.
Every morning, I start by writing out ev-er-y-thing I can think of that I need to do. I have a major brain dump to clean out my headspace. I look at the list and decide which of the tasks need to get done today and put a little star next to them.
If I think of something else I need to do during the day, I’ll open my journal and quickly add it to the list…and then promptly let it leave my mind.
Something about having my to-dos written down allows me to focus better. It’s a comfort to know that I won’t forget about them and clears my mental space to focus on my priority.
I look through the list again at the end of the workday, to make sure I haven’t forgotten anything that’s life-or-death.
An old boss of mine had a poster in her office that said “your emergency is not my problem”…or something along those lines. At the time, I thought it was really harsh. (Though I didn’t much care for that boss’s style of leadership.)
But now I totally get it! It may have been a rude way to say it, but it was her way of not allowing others’ priorities affect hers.
Her time was sacred and she used it to make sure she moved forward on the most important work each day.
It’s important to swallow a spoonful of that mentality each morning. Focusing on one priority and taking steps to ensure you work on it will help you get more done and feel more accomplished at the end of each day.
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join the convo
How do you typically plan your day/week/month/year?
How else do you get more done? What other productivity tips do you have?
Make it real and share one of your priorities in the comments below! Let’s hold each other accountable for doing the work that matters.