There are two ways to start your day. The first is to dive in; tackling whatever is in front of you. You might check your emails. This is an interesting beginning as it is always possible something fun and new came in since you last looked.
Next thing you know you are deeply involved, answering all your mail. Some messages require thought; others require action, either research, interaction with others, or decision-making. It is natural to attempt to take care of these emails, as they are right in front of you. You feel hungry, look up, and it is mid-morning. You have just spent a quarter of your day dealing with emails!
Another scenario is firefighting. Firefighting is the act of facing and finding quick-fix solutions for all the emergency situations that seem to be coming at you from unknown sources. These urgent problems can also eat up an alarming amount of your workday.
Let’s look at an alternative method of beginning your day. First, remember that this day is a gift. You have the choice of what to do with it. Why not choose to do the important -but not urgent tasks first? These are the tasks that will advance your life goals, and ensure success for you as you have defined it. If you do not prioritize and do these tasks first, you will almost certainly fail to do them.
Here is how.
1. Define where you want to be in 3-5 years. Now list the steps it will take to get you there. Break these steps down into yearly goals, then monthly, and finally weekly. Take the time to plan your life!
2. At the beginning of your day, pull out your weekly goals. What will you do today to advance your weekly goal? List this (these) tasks.
3. Scan your emails – don’t read them! You will get bogged down! Also, scan your phone messages, faxes inbox, and anywhere else you receive communication. The goal is to get an idea of what new items will require your attention today.
You have spent 30-45 minutes of your day. You have gathered the information required to plan your day, you know what you have to do, and are already planning it in your mind. You don’t have to worry about forgetting something important.
4. On a clean sheet of paper, or index cards, prioritize 10 -15 things you intend to accomplish before the end of the day. Be realistic. You will not be able to do much more than this. From the 10-15 highlight 4 or 5 items that are important-but-not urgent and critical to your long-term goals. Prioritize these items first, and then follow with the remaining items in some sort of order. Put an estimated time to complete each item beside it. At the end of the day, your review of what got done and the actual time it took will be a great education and experience for future planning. With practice, this skill will serve you well.
5. Now do one of your highlighted tasks, preferably one you enjoy.
You have now spent approximately 90 minutes of your day. You have achieved a step towards your 3-5 year plan. (Imagine what a constant daily step towards your goal will produce!) You know how your day will play out (for the most part), and you are comfortable knowing you have not missed anything of importance.
If you begin to do the important-but-not urgent items on a daily basis, you will find less urgent items surprising you. The feeling and knowledge of achievement will be an encouragement for you to continue to strengthen your skills in this area.
There you have two ways to begin your day. Your choice!