Running a business in today’s world requires a special type of focus. It’s so easy to get distracted. If you’re not careful, every day can be an endless stream of interruptions from your friends, family, and co-workers manifesting themselves in every format imaginable: phone calls, text messages, emails, app notifications, and good old in-person distractions.
One simple routine that I started almost a decade ago has been my most effective tool for keeping focused and on task without feeling overwhelmed (well, most of the time).
It started when I read The Four Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss. The following passage really got me thinking:
Don’t ever arrive at the office or in front of your computer without a clear list of priorities. You’ll just read unassociated email and scramble your brain for the day. Compile your to-do list for tomorrow no later than this evening. I don’t recommend using Outlook or computerized to-do lists because it is possible to add an infinite number of items. I use a standard piece of paper folded three times to about 2″ x 3.5″, which fits perfectly in the pocket and limits you to noting only a few items.
By the end of 2007 outlining my daily goals on a single index card had become routine for me. I posted a visual representation of what I accomplished that year:
For a few years I got away from using the index card, but came back to it for good (hopefully) a little over a year ago. This doesn’t replace a calendar, an electronic to-do list for recurring tasks, or a project plan: it’s simply a short list of what I need to get done for the day.
I think that last sentence is really important. Daily goals are different from my other forms of staying organized. It’s the 1-3 most important things that I want to get done in a given day to keep me on track for accomplishing my larger goals. Sometimes what’s on my calendar or RTM list is essential, other times those things are secondary. Knowing that gives me the ability to postpone/delay/cancel as necessary to hit my goals for the day.
There will always be days where something with the business or personally completely blows up my plan. That’s to be expected. It’s why I write everything in pencil and not pen: it’s easy to erase and move things around!
There’s also a Sunday component to making this all work for me. Sunday I sit down and write out my goals for the week. It’s my first pass at each day, with more detail and accuracy expected for Monday than for Friday. The biggest benefit is that I get to zoom out even further and make sure that I’m happy with where I’ll be at the end of the week if I hit those goals. If the answer is no, I might plan a night or weekend day to work, or cut something that’s less important.
Over the past year I found myself using this method for more than just work goals. I’ve been writing out my workouts, things to do around the house, and stuff to do on the weekend. For a while I was just printing out a 7-day grid I made in Excel. Then I came across the Field Notes 56 Week Planner. As soon as I read about it, I picked one up. It is exactly what I’m looking for: no fancy calendar, no dates, just a bare bone grid with a space for each day of the week. You get that feeling of scratching something off of a list that digital can never replicate. It’s nice to have an archive of prior weeks handy. It’s also slim enough to throw into my bag without taking up any noticeable space. Sometimes the perfect product is created to solve your exact problem. This is one of those products for me.