How to Find Time for Important Work
Find Time by Building Habits- Start with 2 Steps
You sit down to start your day and are pulled into an hour of emails. Your phone rings. You get 3 texts. It’s now 10 a.m. You need to work on your project, but you can’t remember where you left off. Getting back in the zone seems like an impossible dream. You look at your calendar and you have a meeting in 1 hour. What can you accomplish in 1 hour? What about the rest of the day? When can you work on the project? When will you find the time?
Do you find yourself in a never ending battle, always trying to find a crevice of time to work on important work? Do the things you really need and want to work on always take a back seat? Does time seem to evaporate while you put your effort and energy into urgency?
If so, get out a pen or pencil. Pull out your planner and let’s use 2 steps to start turning your competing priorities into a committed plan of action.
Step 1: Anchor to Activate
Being lost in task after task is no fun. You need direction and you should create your own path. You do that by design. You write about your journey. But before you get started, you’ll need some preparation.
Don’t just sit down and write a to- do- list. That’s not a Big 3. To do lists don’t serve your goals. To do lists end up overwhelming you. I’d like you to start thinking before you start writing.
Ask yourself, “What can I do today to serve my goals?”
Now that you have a few ideas of what to write, before you write your first Big 3 , you’ll need to build an anchor and activate. You may be thinking, but “No, I’m pumped, I’m ready to write my tasks/goals. I’m ready to do this thing.”
I ask you. Do you want this thing to stick?
Whenever you start something new, it’s important to make it as easy as possible. The good news is, we all came equipped with an easy button, so we should put it to good use. That easy button is called our existing habits.
You already have things that you do each day, some little habits that you could anchor this new activity to. Pick something that you are already doing and anchor your new behavior, e.g., writing your Big 3, to that existing habit.
Your first step is to think about what those things are. Do you drink coffee everyday? Tea? A glass of water every morning? Sit at your laptop? Read for 15 minutes? Anchor your goal writing time to whatever you do routinely. That’s step 1.
The simple act of anchoring creates an activation trigger in your brain and links the new behavior to the existing behavior. That creates your easy button, making it easier for you to remember to perform and to continue to perform the new action. In other words, writing down your Big 3 just got easier!
Remember: While practicing the anchoring technique, always think about the Big 3’s that you do each day. They should always best serve your goals!
Step 2: Action Words
We all like action words. They get things done or do they? Action words are verbs and we automatically think they mean that someone is busy doing something, but what do these words really mean? Sometimes they power the punch behind your goals and at other times they get lost in translation.
For example, what exactly does “do” mean? What exactly does “target” mean? What exactly does “investigate” “research”, “sell”, “study”, “exercise” and “read” mean?
If you don’t tie specifics to verbs you stand the chance of being unclear about what you want to achieve. Maybe you aren’t unclear at the moment, but as you progress in the task, what was clear becomes a bit cloudy.
Think about it, what happens when you are researching a topic and you find a web link interesting? Do you deviate from the original task? Do you ever click off topic?
When your action words aren’t clearly defined in your Big 3 the ambiguity creates a danger zone for you. What should be a focus zone becomes a priority playground. The proposed solution becomes a problem without clarity.
If you don’t clarify either the specific task associated with the action or the length of time you’ll work on it, the task itself might get lost. You may find that you are no longer mastering your day, but that your day has a grip on you. Remember the goal of the Big 3 is to put you in the driver’s seat!
Here’s a personal example of a NOT GREAT Big 3:
Task: Work on Module 3 Action work — Work — ✅ Specific — Module 3 ✅
Question — What exactly did I want to accomplish in Module 3? An outline, draft, final copy? A video version, narration or post to the web? A revamp? Add a worksheet? You see without specifics, I could easily get lost in the creativity of ALL that I could do with Module 3!
Another tactic you might try is time blocking. This is helpful when you’re managing lots of different things and if you like a variety over the course of a day.
Tip: Schedule time blocks for look-alike tasks.
The key takeaway here is that action words alone will not work. They need accouterments called specifics. Only then can action words know what to do and only then will you know what you expect of yourself!
Busy days don’t have to rule. You can get back in the driver’s seat by creating an easy habit. You’ll need to start with your Big 3, but not before you prepare yourself. That would be like going on a trip without packing.
You need to make sure you are well equipped to enjoy the journey. Building a habit does take effort in the beginning, but once it’s installed it makes your life easier. So use the simple 2 step method to help you install the habit of writing your Big 3.
Step 1: Anchor to Activate — tie writing your Big 3 to something you are already doing
Step 2: Use Action Words and be specific — remember your Big 3 is not a to do list. It’s your task lists that supports YOUR goals. So, make sure you choose them wisely and be specific. You’ll be able to track your progress and know how to learn from days that didn’t go as expected.
Lastly, know that anything new is harder at first. Think about something you are masterful at now. Were you always an expert at that? Of course not? If you are a musician you didn’t learn to play overnight. If you are an athlete you didn’t get to the top of your game by playing the sport one summer.
You practiced and practiced.
Your goals are worth your practice. That’s how you win!
That’s how you find time for important work and important play!
Until next time. Keep it practical and make it a priority!
Kimberly Sheldahl is a Practical Priorities™ coach and Full Focus Planner, Certified Pro. She is Certified in Talent Optimization (Predictive Index) and in the science of Conation (the innate way people solve problems -Kolbe™) She enjoys helping others get focused on their goals and will soon launch her mini course, “Ditch Competing Priorities for Completed Priorities.”
If you are interested in learning more about saving time and energy so you can focus on your priorities, follow Kimberly here on Medium and she’ll let you know when Module 1 is available!
You can follow Kim on Facebook @ The Practical Prioritizer and on Linked In where she writes her Newsletter, Practical Priorities.