"I feel like I am constantly putting out fires and never getting anything done!"
This, or some variation therein, is one of the most common frustrations I hear from prospective coaching clients. There's nothing quite as defeating as working hard, going nonstop, then feeling like you have nothing to show for it. And if others literally have control of your schedule, you can very easily feel powerless in your own work and life.
Fortunately, a few simple tweaks can make a profound difference on your mindset, productivity, and sense of purpose. Here are five ideas to get you started:
1. Clarify your top priorities.
Mary Kay Ash, the founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics, was a great example of discerning her top priorities -- God, Family, Career -- then building a life and company around them. What matters most to you at this time in your life? Maybe your priorities match Mary Kay's; maybe you would include fitness, friendship, or something else. Choose your top five so you can dedicate your energy and attention accordingly.
2. Work in weeks.
Realistically, you may not devote significant time to all five of your priorities every single day. You can, however, honor them all within the span of a week. Schedule them into your weekly plan; do not leave them to chance. Consider using different colors for your different priorities so you can see, at a glance, how you will honor them. As Stephen Covey wrote, "The key is not to prioritize what's on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities."
3. Create -- and protect -- time blocks.
Whether you set aside large chunks of time on your calendar for big projects or a few one- or two-hour blocks throughout the week for focused work, reserve time for what matters most. Block it on your calendar, give it a name, decide your desired outcome for that time block, then protect it fiercely. Treat this time with the same level of importance you would give a doctor's appointment. Your time blocks will only serve you if, when the time rolls around, you do what you set out to do.
4. Define your Daily Top 3.
You've already generated your top life priorities and mapped them into your week; now it's time to focus your daily attention. If you're like most people, your to-do list is a mile long and continually growing. I won't ask you to toss it out completely. What I will suggest, however, is that every morning (or the evening before) you choose your Daily Top 3: the three must-do items for that day. Place them on a list all their own (at the top of your planner or on a sticky note, for example), separate from the rest of the massive list. Focus on your Daily Top 3 first whenever possible.
5. Eliminate distractions -- even for short bursts.
Identify what tends to distract you the most and take action to remove those interruptions, at least during your time blocks. Consider turning off email and social media notifications, putting your phone in airplane mode, clearing your desk, and/or closing your door (an open-door policy does not mean 24/7). You'll be amazed at the results even one hour of focused, deep work can bring!
Bonus tip: Plan your weekly menu! Even though I specialize in professional development, I suggest creating a weekly menu plan to nearly all my clients. It eliminates one of the most common late afternoon distractions: that continuous question of "What am I going to make for dinner tonight?"
Consider setting up a weekly planning session with yourself, maybe Friday afternoon or Sunday evening. Pour a cup of coffee or a cool drink, gather your goals, calendar, and to-do list, and spend 15-30 minutes mapping out the coming week. Even if (when) your plans change, you'll breathe easier and feel more purposeful knowing you've got a framework in place to support you!