I’m always surprised at how much I am able to get done on a good day. I love good days. It’s not that the day is longer, or even that when I’m actively doing something I’m more efficient. The answer is very simple. I’m more effective at moving from one task to another. Not every day is good; sadly not even the majority are good. My good days are different and they are special.
On a normal day after I finish a task I certainly feel good about it. After I'm done I look around, thinking about what to do next and what's most important. When I finally decide on what comes next I think about how much I want to do it, or not do it. I think about what else I could be doing. I think if I want a cup of coffee. I think if I want to go walking around in circles instead.
I think a lot. I feel a lot. But when I'm doing that I don’t do a lot. My time thinking must be balanced by my time doing. There's two obvious obstacles that get in my way from having a good day. It's time spent thinking about what to do next and then figuring out whether I'm motivated. That is time wasted.
Morning Planning in 5 Minutes
I gave up on a lot of complex task tracking tools and now use a simple text document, using Markdown. You could use Evernote, or Quiver, or anything else and get the same results. The important thing is that I have a simple list that takes me 5 minutes and I list out all the important tasks I should be able to get done that day. I do use long term tracking tools to maintain larger, broad tasks.
Before starting my working day, I spend 5 minutes creating a simple checklist of what I'm going to get done. I noticed something as I talked to others about this. Very few people create a specific list of what to do on any given day. Until recently I never did either, instead relying on general task lists. Isolating tasks in a daily list has made all the difference. It's never taken more than 5 minutes to write the list, and it acts as a guiding light through my day.
These five minutes saves me countless minutes that are lost in between completing tasks and moving to the next item. That doesn't mean it's always easy to start on the next item, but 5 minutes is magic there, too.
5 minutes is all I need to get started.
Some tasks just feel terrible. I don't want to do them because they are boring, or maybe I want to do something else. Maybe I'm tired. Maybe I want to play a game, or hang out with the kids, or read, or any other excuse. Usually it’s not a single other desire, but a desire to do anything but what is in front of me.
I tell myself, “Give it 5 good minutes, and if I still feel this way I can do whatever I want!” This grants me permission to not be perfect and not treat myself as a perfect automaton. It is my way out when I'm an irrational human. Almost always, within a minute or two I’m engaged and working towards success. I also enjoy what I'm doing, but I'm fortunate and love my job. And all of this sounds easy. I'm sorry for that, because it's not. At least not at first. Starting on those 5 minutes feels awkward, watching the timer is distracting. If you do go 5 minutes and can't be engaged making good on your promise to take a break can feel like cheating.
Let it be awkward. After 5 minutes, go take a break if you need it. If you are worried about perceptions, have a conversation with your manager. Reasonable people in reasonable jobs are not judged harshly for reasonable behavior. Everybody struggles with motivation sometimes, and sometimes that requires sitting down and reading a book for 10 minutes. Or going for a walk. At least there is an explanation, “I gave it 5 minutes, and wasn’t able to produce the quality this needs, and I’m going to go back in a moment."
Excluding the social perspective, the first 5 minutes can still be hard because it has an aspect of the unknown. This gets easier with practice and is just one way to continue investing in yourself. The highest return on investment you can ever make is investing time in improving you. This is one way to do that.
Dividends: 5 minutes gets easier.
Every time those 5 minutes are spent it gets easier. Practice makes hard things easier, but it may never be easy. The hardest part is identifying the feelings of delay and being mindful of when we’re actually putting off a task. Our minds are very good at hiding procrastination behind good intentions. Even if it feels like a hard task, it's really just 5 minutes.
I can always spare 5 minutes, can't you?