Why do we always overcomplicate things? Didn’t our first-grade teacher advise us to just…
“Keep It Simple, Stupid.”
I have read so many books on productivity. Pages and pages of text trying to help me manage my seemingly insurmountable ToDo lists yet it needn’t have been that hard.
Getting stuff accomplished really boils down to 3 easy steps. I completely understand that it sounds too good to be true. But so did the idea of JLo and Ben Affleck getting back together. Yet it happened! As do stranger things.
I have to give a shout-out to my business coach who taught me this process.
Here is the easy-peasy, you won’t believe it’s that simple, 3-step method that works on any goal that you want to accomplish. And I mean needle-moving goals.
Step One – Decide on your goal and chop it up into bite-size pieces
Pick the one thing that you want to accomplish, but, somehow, just never gets done?
You might be thinking…but I have so many things I need to get done. That’s totally fine. Ideally, you’ll want to pick the one that will net you the biggest win. And if you aren’t sure what that is, really not sure…then write them all on scraps of paper, toss them in a hat and choose.
Because truthfully, it doesn’t really matter. This 3-step method works so well that you’ll have achieved your first goal in no time and be ready to slay the next
Choose goals that will take no longer than 30 days to complete. If you think it will take longer than 30 days, count them as separate goals.
Now that you have your eye on the prize, you’ll need to break it down.
The thing that trips up a lot of people is the thought that the task is too complicated and thus, it becomes overwhelming. They tell themselves that they don’t know where to start, they don’t know what to do, so they freeze in their tracks and do nothing.
Or…they’ll start smaller, no-brainer tasks because they want a quick win. OR, they will grab a handful of Oreos or open a bottle of wine or scroll through their Instagram account. All of these actions are just ways to abate feelings of bewilderment. By the end of the day, they feel exhausted, but they have nothing of value to show for it.
What works better is to do a solid brain dump and divide the task into smaller, specific items. Don’t just say…”Write Chapter One.” Be clear as to what Chapter One will be about. Have you written an outline, and if you haven’t, is that one of the smaller tasks you need to do. Think about the research you’ll need to do in order to write chapter one. If you are pulling research from other areas, be sure that you’ve noted the links so you don’t waste valuable time searching for them.
I use an online tool called Trello. I love it because I can access it on any device and it allows me to move smaller tasks around the screen in order of importance. Some people prefer using a pen and paper or a whiteboard. Whatever works.
Just be careful not to allow yourself to believe the lie that you don’t know how to break down your goal. Of course, you do. We live in an information era. Just look at every armchair vaccine scientist who has graduated from the school of Google.
Step Two – Make it a date
Once you’ve broken out your goal into bite-size pieces, schedule each task into your calendar just like you’d schedule time with your dentist.
Ever notice how when you have a specialist appointment, you always manage to show up? Sure, there may be a fear of paying the no-show cancellation charge, but even without that fear, typically once it goes into our calendars, we tend to keep the date.
I typically block off chunks of time into 2 hour-intervals. It’s not that each task takes two hours to complete. It’s just that I find that I can stay focused for 2 hours without distraction. Some people are rock stars and can do longer periods of time. For me, 2 hours is the sweet spot.
I’ll schedule as many of the tasks I can realistically do within that time frame and then I’ll schedule a break and then repeat. Some days, I’ll schedule only two, 2-hour time chunks. Some days, I do three. And around those time blocks, I’ll add in my non-essential tasks – like walking my dog. Reading a book. Doing my laundry. Things that don’t require much of my mind-power.
Don’t feel bad about scheduling lots of free time. So many people work a “9 to 5 job” and will tell you they work 40 hours a week, but they really don’t. They spend time over by the water cooler eavesdropping on the office gossip. Or they waste their time doing shitty little tasks that they should have delegated.
Once you get really good at this 3-step, OMG it’s so simple process, you’ll find that you suddenly have oodles of time on your hands. You’ll be gobsmacked by how productive you are. And the best thing is, you close up the day knowing you accomplished everything that mattered. There is no guilt when you flip on The Bachelor to unwind. You’ll have earned it.
A common question that comes up is how do you know how much time each item will take? Well, the easy answer is that you decide what sounds like a fair amount of time and then commit to it. Perfectionists may struggle with this concept but you just have to let some things go at “good enough.”
Step Three – Grab some handcuffs
No, not for your bedposts. But once you’ve put the time blocks into your schedule, do not allow yourself to second guess your decision. Trust that you’ve made the right one.
I recommend turning off all your notifications. Distraction is one of our most formidable enemies.
Of course, there are the obvious ones, like the ping you hear when another email hits your inbox. But beware of the distractions that appear super important and might even seem more important than your current task at hand.
Let’s say you’ve finally decided to write that book you’ve been talking about for ages. Out of nowhere, you read a news article on how podcasting is the newest way to get clients. And…there is a 25% discount if you sign up for a how-to guide and start today. That might seem like a good idea. Is podcasting is the new hip thing?
But don’t let Eve tempt you with her magical macintosh. Podcasting may very well be in your future, but only after you finish your book. Note it down in your “ideas for someday journal,”, and forget about the 25% discount. Another deal awaits you when the time is right.
Stay committed regardless of any distractions.
Common FAQs about this 3-step approach
What if something else urgent comes up?
Just as when a long-lost aunt drops in for coffee but you are on your way out the door to your dental appointment, you keep your appointment. You may tell your aunt to make herself comfortable with a cup of coffee while she waits, but you don’t cancel that time slot no matter what. House on fire? Okay, grab your stuff and go, but only in that instance.
Where do I fit in all the other things I need to get done but are not goals per se?
Goal achievement is the stuff that moves us forward. Small tasks like answering emails or making hair appointments still need to go into your schedule, but they fit around the larger focused time slots.
What if you run out of time. The 2 hours are up and I’m still not finished?
Be honest with yourself. Are you really not finished or is your inner critic at play? And if you still think you are really not done, you may need to steal some time away from your Bachelor viewing and make adjustments in your next scheduling session.
How far out should I schedule?
I schedule one week at a time. I have each larger goal broken out into smaller tasks on my Trello board. Every Sunday night, I drop them into my 2 hour focus time slots. This way, I can readjust my schedule if necessary. I might need to increase the number of focus time slots from 2 to 3 per day depending on how important the goal is.
Can I tackle more than one goal at a time?
No. See Step 3.
So there it is…3 easy steps to achieving any goal.
- Chop it up
- Schedule it.
- Stick with it to completion and stay focused.
That’s it. Frig…YEARS of time management books distilled down into 3 easy steps. And no frogs were harmed in this tutorial.
If you found this article useful, drop a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.