What prevents you from being productive throughout the week is not the internet or social apps. It isn’t the many distractions that vie for your time and attention, each one demanding you stop what you are doing and shift your focus in its direction. While these things may be problematic, they are not the root cause of your doing less than you intended to during the week. The single greatest threat is not having planned your week around your priorities before it started.
Most people wake up to the sound of the alarm they set on their smartphone. Trapped somewhere between conscious and unconsciousness, they swipe to their email app to see what awaits them. Then, a swipe to open Instagram and another to reveal the wonders only found on Facebook, a pattern that has come to feel as banal as Groundhog Day.
Once at work, you open your inbox, again seeking its guidance on what you will do with the best part of your day. The email inbox has become the central hub for your work and your communication with the people you work with (even when they are in the next room or a phone call away), your clients, and almost everyone else in your life. If there is a way to ensure you live in reactive mode and without intention, these last two paragraphs sum up exactly how to ensure it is true.
Monday Starts on Sunday
If you want to be productive, and if you would like to work on things that provide meaning and purpose, your Monday needs to start on Sunday. The rest of your week also needs to start on Sunday (at the latest, half of my planning of the coming week begins on Saturday when I capture everything that has found its way into my life, and I schedule the week on Sunday).
If you want to feel a sense of stress and overwhelm, a lack of time, and the feeling that you are running in place, making no real progress on what’s important, wait until Monday morning to decide what to do with your Monday. If you want to feel a sense of control, purpose, and intentionality, start Monday with a solid plan and with blocks of time set aside for your most important outcomes. You eliminate the threat to your results when you start your day with a solid plan.
The Execution of a Plan
I have long urged people who want better results to carve out three blocks of ninety minutes each day for what is most important to them. The total time equals four and a half hours or slightly more than half their workday. Putting the most important block of work first guarantees you make progress on your most critical outcome, come what may the rest of the day. The idea here is simple and profound: Make progress on your most crucial result each day before you do anything else.
Everything is important, but not everything can be most important. Being productive with your time requires that you make values-based decisions, deciding that this is far more important than that. It also means you have to execute your plan to do what is most important. The Navy Seal, Jocko Willink, has said that discipline equals freedom, a more delicate way of my admonishment that you be your own tyrant to prevent the tyranny that will be imposed on you by the outside world should you fail to decide what you want and pursue it with vim and vigor.
Lies About Productivity
- The number of hours you work is not an indication that you are productive. The number of hours is likely negatively correlated with productivity. A lot of people go to work, but they don’t go to work “to work.” Instead, work is a space they occupy while waiting to be prompted by some external force.
- Scratching tasks off a task list or clicking the complete button on an electronic version of the same says nothing about your productivity either. If you have cleaned your desk before starting work or you have written down a task list after completing them, you recognize how completion is not necessarily accomplishment. You can keep busy with things that move you no closer to the outcomes you want.
- The idea that your personal life is somehow different from your work life is to mix up a couple of ideas. Your work is not your life. Your life is your work. A critic of my thoughts on “hustle” and “success” shared his experience that people who seek these things put their personal life in jeopardy, as that was his experience after failing in business and his personal life. His mistake was not working hard; it was not working hard in both his work life and his home life.
Your calendar reveals your priorities. If you want work-life balance, you schedule it, making sure it crowds out lesser things that might otherwise dominate your time.