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Recently, I listened to an audiobook by Jon Acuff called START. It’s a book I highly recommend for anyone that has trouble staying consistently productive. In today’s world with social media constantly knocking at our door, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to buckle down each day and accomplish what we need to accomplish. Thankfully, in this book, Jon outlines his 5 step process to set us on the right path to “get it all done”.
1. Admit that you can’t possibly get all done
2. Give yourself the grace to accept that as reality and not failure
3. Do the things you can do with your full attention
4. Celebrate what happens over the course of step 3 instead of obsessing about the things you didn’t get to
5. Repeat as necessary
This 5 step process is very effective. In my experience, the more we think of all the tasks on our “to do” list, the lower chance we have at accomplishing any of them. We need to give ourselves a break and slow down a bit. Understanding that it’s not failure to allow yourself ample time to work on your projects is necessary. We need to set aside one task at a time and focus 100% of our energy on it. This can be easier said than done. Many of us will try to bounce between a bunch of different things on our to do list to ensure everything gets done. This age old concept of multitasking may actually not be good for our brains. It has been shown that multitasking can actually lower our IQ because it prevents us from focusing completely on one task. Having said that, I think multitasking can be beneficial for menial tasks that don’t require much thought, but for work related tasks that require our full attention, multitasking is usually something we want to avoid.
In order to organize our “to do” list, we need to break down step 3 of Jon’s process.
Step 3: Do the things you can do with your full attention
It may be helpful to take 5 minutes each night and make a “pertinent task list”. Start this list off by writing down all the things you want to accomplish the next day. Then look at the list and identify your pain points. These are the one or two things that are giving you the most anxiety.
The things that give us the most anxiety when we think about them are the things that we most need to do. — This is a line I took from Tim Ferriss in the 4-Hour Work Week. It’s such an important concept and can make or break our ability to be productive.
Once we identify these few items, then we can prioritize them. Which one will you be able to accomplish first? Identify it, finish it, and then move on to the next one. This process is simple as long as we are completely honest. Taking a few minutes here and there to have an honest conversation with ourselves and organize our thoughts can make all the difference.
Another thing we can do is group our mindless tasks and complete them together. Once we’ve identified our pain points and focused our energy on each one to complete them, we can progress and get the easier tasks done. This is where multitasking can come in handy. Things like daily chores can all be grouped together and done most likely within an hour.
If you are someone who gets a lot of email, making sure that you don’t constantly check it is important. I recommend checking emails two to three times daily depending upon your volume. Make sure that you are never checking emails first thing in the morning or right before bed. Checking emails first thing in the morning will only waste mental energy and also will tend to put us in a negative mindset depending on the content of the email. Checking emails before bed is setting us up to have a racing mind all night.
When it comes to email I recommend first checking them mid-morning, after you have accomplished a few of your daily responsibilities. This will allow you to view them with less anxiety because you will not have as much on your plate as you do first thing in the morning. The next time I recommend checking them is mid-afternoon and/or at the end of the business day if necessary. If you are someone who does not receive a lot of emails then once in the morning and once at the end of the day will suffice. If you can avoid it, I’d wouldn’t check them in the evening unless it’s unavoidable and even in that case I’d make sure the last time wasn’t right before bed.
The last thing I’ll say to this point is for those of us that use gmail. If you are someone that uses gmail then I suggest installing boomerang on your account. This will allow you to read an email, respond to it while the information is fresh in your head, but then delay the response time of the email in order to avoid the person on the other end from creating a back and forth conversation.
So to sum up step 3…
- Identify pain points
- Prioritize pain points and accomplish them in the order of most stressful
- Group less mentally demanding tasks and accomplish them in quick succession
- Check email 2–3 times per day depending on volume and never first thing in the morning or before bed
Once we get over the mental hurdle of being overwhelmed with a large task list, everything becomes more manageable. Going over Jon’s 5 step process is one way that has worked for me. It is important to understand that things take time and that if we constantly focus on everything we have to do we won’t get anywhere.
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