How An Hour A Day Can Change Everything
September 14th, 2011 at 7:37 pm
Have you ever wondered why it is that you never have the time to work on that novel, exercise, or seriously explore new career options? But you always have the time to complete daily chores. How can you act on what matters most and not be at the mercy of what matters least? What is the antidote to putting things on the long finger?
How often do you miss a flight when you are going on holiday? Would you be late for a hospital appointment? Probably not. Yet we will put other issues on the long finger and be more casual about turning up to complete certain tasks. There are events in your life that you will always find time for. Instead of thinking of them as things you’ll do “if you get a chance” or “if you’re not too tired”, you will get them done “or die trying.”
During my Time Management workshops I ask attendees to write down what they consider to be the characteristics of productive and unproductive days. The answers are always the same. At the end of productive days we feel we have achieved something, we have completed what we wanted to get through. Unproductive days are characterised by interruptions, unscheduled emergencies and distractions. These are the two extremes. It is very difficult to be productive over the whole day, but it is usually possible to be proactive and productive, or as I say ‘to win,’ at least part of the day.
Let me give you an example. I’ve just completed writing my next two books (both are in pre-production). Like with my first book, ‘Graduate to Success’ I scheduled at least one hour’s writing per day into my diary, (generally first thing in the morning.) I will write for this hour before I check emails or action any other item on my ‘to do’ list. If I don’t take this proactive approach then other work will take over and another day will go by without a word being written. Even if the rest of the day runs away from me, I have made progress towards one of my high priority goals. When I get an hour’s productive work done, I am already ahead for the day. I’ve promoted an important task to the top of my agenda and acted on it. This is the only antidote to putting actions on the long finger.
I expect (not hope, as there is a difference) that by taking this regular action, even if it is just one hour a day, then over a longer time period I will have made significant progress. In other words I’m constantly chipping away. When you think about it, what is the alternative? In today’s hectic world it is difficult to put large chunks of time aside to get bigger tasks completed, the only option is to chip away, just like the artist creating a sculpture.
So what do you need to do to ‘win’ the day, to be productive for just an hour? Here are some suggestions:
- What are you committed to achieving by the end of the year? What daily action can you take to get closer to it?
- Get one or two items off your ‘to do’ list as soon as you get to work, before you get sucked into checking emails or responding to queries.
- Look at your medium and long-term goals (assuming you have them!) and take one action per day towards achieving them. You will be amazed as to how this generates momentum.
When we say we have no time, what we really mean is that we have no priorities. Clarity as regards your priorities allows you to take the dozens of things you could be doing with your time and narrow them down to the one, two or three things that are really important in any given moment.
Sometimes we need reminders, particularly when we are trying to create a new habit or routine. For example, we are in the habit of brushing our teeth last thing at night, but as a child we had to be reminded to do it. Overtime habits form and this is the same when forging the habit of being productive for at least one hour a day.
Lists are great reminders. I have lists for everything, from grocery shopping, to what you want to cover in a phone call, to packing an overnight bag. Also what works well for me is making myself accountable to someone else. Telling someone what I intend to do means I have to follow through, or I will lose face.
Success is rarely about life-changing actions, but more about the small steps that add up to the whole. Of course there will be days when life just gets in the way, circumstances that really do make it impossible to follow through on your priorities. But these are usually the exception. In the bigger scheme of things there are either results or excuses.
Most of us over estimate what we can do in a short period of time but dramatically under estimate what we can achieve over a longer time horizon. Small actions taken daily will over time create amazing results.
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