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Are you controlling the day or is the day controlling you?
Sometimes life rushes by so fast, it feels like you’re stuck in a scene from The Fast and Furious. There’s no need for a case study here because 97% of people today have experienced this. The other 3% of people? Well, they live under a rock on a remote island somewhere, so we’re not counting them. I know I’ve certainly felt this way before. Between responsibilities, deadlines, social events, and life necessities, the day quickly slips away leaving you feeling drained and not sure of what you have accomplished. I’m sure you can relate to this. So how do we optimize our time to get the most from our day while reducing our stress level?
Here’s The Good News
With the proper habits, life won’t feel so chaotic and out of control. There will always be twenty-four hours in the day. There’s no changing that. However, with a few changes, you can maximize results and drive progress towards your top priorities. That’s the key to living intentionally and successful people are hyper-focused on certain behaviors that allow them to accomplish more in the same amount of time.
I used to make fun of my dad for making out a daily schedule on a piece of paper (yeah, this was before the time of smartphones and day planners). He would write down everything on paper he wanted to accomplish for the day/week and assign an allotted amount of time for each action. Although this method feels old school with today’s technology, he was basically living by a very intentional calendar of prioritized activity that would help him meet his personal and career goals. As an adult, I realize he was onto something. This practice contributed to my dad accomplishing many of the things he wanted in life. He was a teacher, a counselor, a karate instructor, and a father. A busy man. He spent evenings after dinner grading papers or teaching GoBushido (he was an 8th-degree black belt). He held a Masters of Science and a Masters of Counseling. Talk about motivated! Growing up, I wondered how my dad accomplished so many of his dreams. He taught me that anything is within reach with a plan and a prioritized roadmap. The Entrepreneur article, Tips for a More Productive Day, shares specifics on how to do this. Each day make a list of the six most important things you can do to make progress towards your top priorities. These actions are simple, small and measurable. Then schedule a two-hour chunk of time during the day when you can turn off your phone and focus on taking those six steps. If you don’t finish, roll the items over to the next day, making sure to finish the carry-over items first.
Live by a calendar not a “To Do” list. Intentionally schedule your calendar so that you spend 50-70% of your day completing the six most important actions. This will allow you to focus your time and energy on the things that matter most and have the highest return. It will also leave you with a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day, and help you progress towards your goals faster.
Now, this doesn’t mean there aren’t some “to-dos” you must complete in your day. No matter how much you hate them, they just won’t seem to ‘bugger off’. If ignored completely, they become overwhelming, but if these types of tasks become your primary focus, you won’t accomplish much else. They shouldn’t control your day. So be intentional on how you go about completing them. Stephen Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Peopleaddresses this behavior specifically. In his book, he shares that most successful leaders and managers spend the majority of their work day on long-term planning, developing relationships and training staff to take on delegated tasks. They spend very little time answering e-mail, plowing through an inbox or attending meetings.
Schedule two thirty minute time slots during the day to handle administrative tasks (checking/responding to emails, scheduling doctor appointments, returning phone calls, etc. . .). This will allow you to get your “to dos” done so they don’t start piling up. And it will prevent them from becoming the central focus of your day.
Another habit of highly successful people is the ability to delegate. This is challenging for many people because we have this unrealistic expectation that we should be able to do everything ourselves. And when we figure out we can’t, we feel ashamed. We somehow see this as a reflection of our self-worth. Shame and self-doubt often prevent us from asking for help when we need it. If this hits home for you, don’t worry, it does for most people. The ego is a very powerful manipulator of our conscious thoughts. But successful people are realists (they keep their egos in check by becoming more self-aware) in the sense that they know they can’t do it all. They know their strengths and weaknesses. And their limitations. They seek the counsel of those wiser than themselves and know when and how to delegate responsibilities.
Determine what is best done by you and delegate the rest. Whether you’re in the professional workforce or the commander of your household, you will reap the benefits of delegating tasks to your team and/or family members. Asking for help where needed and delegating responsibilities gives back precious time in your day to focus on your priorities and will prevent you from feeling overwhelmed and burnt out. The additional benefit of delegation is that it provides a sense of shared purpose and allows others to contribute their skills. It’s a win-win, so why try to be a superhero?
Proper nutrition is key to getting the most out of your day. It’s hard to concentrate on an empty stomach. However, a busy schedule often prevents us from eating healthy, but it shouldn’t. According to a study performed by the British Journal of Health Psychology found that the more fruits and vegetables people consumed (up to 7 portions), the happier, more engaged, and more creative they tended to be. Here’s the catch; we think healthy eating takes too much time and money. Not true. With a small amount of planning, you can ensure that you and your family are eating wholesome meals that will fuel your productivity.
Substitute less nutritious meals with one of many quick meal solutions that won’t break the bank. And some don’t even require you to make a trip to the store. Bonus! There are easy meal solutions available for busy lifestyles (sshhh! Don’t tell the fast food chains I told you this). Hello Fresh, Blue Apron, Plated, and Schwan’s are some of the biggest meal solution providers. Depending on where you live, local companies are also picking up on this growing trend, so you may have one available in your area that delivers. This category is also expanding in grocery markets and wholesale clubs such as Sam’s and Costco. There are many options to choose from at various price points. Try one and take a little stress out of dinner preparation.
You make so many decisions in a day you might sometimes find yourself responding, “Whatever you want. I just can’t make one more decision today.” One of the best strategies for reducing the number of decisions you must make is to get organized. Doing this takes a little time and planning upfront but will save you loads of time during your busy day. The payoff is worth the effort! Many leaders I’ve talked with prescribe this as well and attribute their organization to their level of success.
Organize your work and home space for efficiency to redirect your focus on the decisions that really make a difference in your life and career. This means organizing your closet so you don’t have to think too hard about what you’re going to wear. Organize your work space so you have everything you need to be productive (no trips to Staples for pens, paper, or flash drives). Organize your household so you have easy access to the things you need (you can even setup automated online orders to replenish items you use most). Prepare for the following day the night before so you’re not rushing about in the morning or forgetting things that you need for your workday.
Incorporating these strategies into your daily life will bring more time, focus, energy, and a sense of accomplishment to your day. Maybe you’re already doing all these things. If so, congratulations! If not, it’s never too late to set yourself up for success. These five tips to optimize your day will get you off on the right foot without requiring you to put the pedal to the metal.
What other suggestions do you have to help people who want to get the most from their day? Please share your thoughts in the comments.