1. Define your priorities.
What are your main three priorities in your life? What three things do you do with the majority of your time? Do your priorities match up with where you’re spending your time? If so, awesome. If not, you’ll need to work extra hard to be intentional about spending more time on your priorities, and getting rid of the junk that prevents you from doing what’s important to you. Really think about how you want to spend your life – you will likely only feel successful if you spend your time on what matters most to you.
2. Set a schedule for the following day.
Time is our most precious resource, and it’s irreplaceable. If you really want to be successful, you’ll need to plan how you’re spending your time.
One way to do this is to take time each evening to write out a schedule for the next day. Writing out your schedule helps for three main reasons: It helps you maximize every hour you are awake; it helps you set aside time to focus on your priorities every day; and it helps you discover if you waste a lot of time. I recently read that the average American spends 5 hours a day watching TV. Setting a schedule will help you avoid the trap of time-suckers like TV.
3. Eat the frog.
“Eat a live frog first thing every morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” – Mark Twain
If you’re like most people, there is a task every day you procrastinate because it scares or overwhelms you. This task is your frog, and according to Mark Twain, you should eat it right away in the morning.The problem with procrastinating eating your frog is that it’s hard to concentrate on getting other things done; you’re too busy thinking about the frog you need to eat later. Also, putting it off makes it seem even more overwhelming because you have time to imagine every possible thing that could go wrong with the task.
Eating the frog early in the day gives you a sense of accomplishment, and it’s great to start the day feeling successful. Finishing your dreaded task immediately can give you the momentum you need to get other tasks done throughout your day. Plus, they’ll all seem easy compared to the frog you started with.
4. Be honest with the person in the mirror.
Now that we’ve talked about eating the frog, I want to encourage you to be honest with yourself. Just because there’s a frog to eat at the beginning of your day doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to get up way earlier than you normally do to start eating it.
Some people do their best work before sunrise, and others are incredibly productive late in the evening. If you love starting your day at 5 a.m., wonderful – go ahead and eat your frog in the early hours of the morning. If you prefer to sleep in, that’s fine too – go ahead and eat your frog early in YOUR day.
Successful people are honest with themselves. They know that setting a goal of working out every morning at 4:30 a.m. isn’t the best idea if they’ve never been a morning person. They set their goals based on their most productive times.
5. Give yourself deadlines.
Take advantage of a major productivity hack: Parkinson’s Law. Parkinson’s Law states that work will expand to fill the time available for its completion. If you have less time to complete a task, you’ll likely increase your effort. Think about how clean you can make your house when someone calls and says they’ll stop by in 20 minutes, and how intensely you can focus when you have a an assignment due the next morning. Your effort significantly increases when time is limited.
Giving yourself deadlines to accomplish tasks can help you achieve your goals. As you set your daily schedule, it can help to use Parkinson’s Law to your advantage. One way to do this is by using time blocks. Give yourself 55 minutes to accomplish a goal, and then take a planned 5 minute break. Knowing you have limited time will help maximize your productivity during the 55 minute work session. Also, the mini mental breaks from your hard work every hour can re-energize you.
6. Minimize distractions.
Get rid of as many distractions as possible while you work. If the internet distracts you, set your computer so it’s locked from certain sites during set times of the day. Shut off your phone. Your messages will be there when you’re done with your to-do list.
Plan time every day to take care of yourself. Set aside time in your schedule for you to give yourself the gift of exercise, quiet time, or ideally both.
8. Plan backward.
One way to move forward toward your big goals is to plan backward when setting goals.
For example, say you want to lose 26 pounds. After you set an initial long-term goal of losing 26 pounds by one year from now, start planning backward and breaking the goal down into doable chunks. If you want to lose 26 pounds in one year, you’ll need to lose 0.5 pounds (1750 calories) each week. This is 250 calories per day. Many people have 3 meals and 2 snacks per day, which means you can decrease your intake by 50 calories every time you eat. That’s a totally doable goal! You’ve now taken a large, overwhelming aspiration and you broke it into very small, achievable daily goals.
Planning backward to move forward works for all kinds of big goals. I have a financial goal I want to meet this year, and I know exactly how many dollars and cents I need to earn each day to hit my mark.
9. Write it down.
Research shows that just by writing your goals down, your chance of achieving them increases significantly! Write down your goals, post them somewhere easily visible, refer to them frequently, and you have a much higher chance of success.
10. Find an accountability partner.
Accountability partners are great; they encourage and support us as we work toward achieving our goals. Maybe you’ve always wanted to write a book, exercise regularly, or start a home-based business. Tell someone who will help keep you accountable and check in with you weekly to review your progress. It works great to have an accountability partner who has some similar goals.