If you do this and only this, today will be a good day.
I am happiest when I feel productive. I know this about myself.
I work closely with a small team. We work mostly distributed and pretty autonomously. I have a lot of freedom in the way I work and what I choose to work on. This freedom is wonderful but requires discipline.
Many days I have a clear understanding of the highest priority and can jump right in. But sometimes an entire day will slip by and I have little to show for my scattered effort.
Small seemingly urgent and quick tasks, nagging audible/animated/vibrational notifications and other distractions (news, industry articles, email/chat correspondence, hilarious animated gifs) chew away at my day.
At the end of the day, a day like that leaves me feeling unproductive and a bit blue.
I realized it isn’t the power of distractions that is too strong, it’s that my sense of priority is too weak.
A new approach
At the beginning of this year I tried something new. It’s a simple idea. But so far, it is working.
The very first thing each morning (after coffee but before email) I write three sentences in plain text then save this document to my desktop. I call it today.txt.
It is the only file I keep on my desktop to ensure it stays in my purview. The format is simple and looks something like this ...
If nothing else, today I am going to ___________.
I am going to do this by ______ then _____ then ______.
If I do this and only this, today will be a good day.
How it works
The first sentence names the one thing that is most important to you. Remember, only one.
The second sentence breaks down the one thing you want to accomplish into smaller actionable tasks. It forces you to get over that intellectual barrier that’s preventing you from getting started.
The third sentence stays constant but does two things. First, it serves as a reminder of the satisfaction you get from staying disciplined by focusing on the one thing. The second frees you from the pressure of a daunting and nagging list, allowing yourself to feel relaxed and inspired.
This isn’t a todo list. This isn’t even a list.
It is about quality before quantity. Calmness before urgency. Clarity before complexity.
It gives you permission to define your own priorities.
It isn’t the only thing you will accomplish today, but if it is, today will be a good day.
If you try it out, let me know what you think.
John Henry Müller
April 4, 2014