How to start your day off with successes and build on it

April 2024
How to start your day off with successes and build on it By Stan Pohmer

Completing one small task on your to-do list can increase your capacity to get things done — especially items that add value to your business.

Can you relate to this? You’re enjoying your first cup of coffee of the day before you head to work, and, because you have so much you want to accomplish today, you grab your smartphone or tablet and start a to-do list with all the tasks, meetings, projects and reports to complete that day.

Then, you prioritize the list, grouping those items that must be accomplished today, those that are important to accomplish after your highest-priority tasks are completed, and finally, those that you want to get to sooner or later after all the important stuff is crossed off your list — just like they taught you in the productivity seminars you’ve attended or the books you’ve read. And off to work at the garden center you go — focused, organized, enthusiastic and excited. Today is the day you’re actually going to get things on your list completed!

At the end of the day, you plop into your office chair, mentally and physically exhausted. And then, when you pull up today’s to-do list and review your progress, you’re astonished to see that you didn’t accomplish anything on your list. How can that be? You were busy almost every minute of the day and you got some things done (including tasks on other people’s lists!) — just not the things you intended and needed to get accomplished. All that time expended and nothing to show for it, leaving you frustrated, disappointed in yourself and angry. What the heck happened?

What happened is that reality hit! You got gobsmacked — someone or something usurped your time. And since time and energy are finite resources, it’s impossible to create more time or expend more energy than you have the capacity for, or give more than 100% effort. Thus, it’s critical to make the hours we have as productive as possible.

Managing Your Time

Recognizing there are only a finite number of tasks and activities that can fit in your workday, here are a few things to think about:

  • When you put your daily to-do list together, have a calendar with 15-minute increments available. Block out the time it takes for your repetitive daily activities and the operational tasks and estimate time for the inevitable distractions. Don’t forget lunch and personal breaks. In an eight-hour day, if you set aside one hour for routine tasks, one and a half hours for disruptions and one hour for lunch/personal time, you’re left with four and a half hours to concentrate on your to-do list.
  • As you list all the tasks and activities to be addressed that day, note the estimated amount of time each one will take to complete. Prioritize them by putting each in one of these buckets:
  1. Urgent and important (necessary to get on right away, and/or will take up a major chunk of time)
  2. Urgent and not important
  3. Not urgent but important (but not immediately necessary or massively time-consuming)
  4. Not urgent and not important

Because you only have four and a half hours (or less) to work on these items, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll have time to work on all items in one day, so use your priority list and time requirements by item to include the most critical items you can complete in the remaining time on your calendar.

Items that didn’t make it to today’s list can be rolled over to tomorrow’s list. For those items in categories 3 and 4, use the Pareto principle (the 80/20 Rule) to help identify those few items that will deliver the most impact and benefits, and consider eliminating those items that won’t add value to your customer or business.

Minimizing Distractions

Distractions can sabotage your time and productivity. To minimize distractions, consider:

  • Silencing your phone for calls and texts when you are working on reports and analyses.
  • When a team member brings a problem to you, require him/her to bring three possible solutions to you to discuss and review. Then, after reviewing their options, let the employee make the decision, giving them ownership, accountability and responsibility for the decision. Use this as a teachable moment, so they can make those types of decisions without your involvement in the future.
  • As you respect the time of your team, emphasize that they need to respect yours. Establish and communicate your time boundaries to your team so you can concentrate and focus on your own tasks and to-do list.
  • Delegate more. This will free up more time to focus on your to-do list and have the capacity to add more tasks and activities daily, while challenging your team to tackle new opportunities.

On a daily basis, start your day with small successes, which breeds motivation, confidence and momentum.  It reminds me of the commencement speech that Admiral William H. McRaven, U.S. Navy (retired), a SEAL who commanded the Special Operations Command, gave at The University of Texas-Austin in 2014, addressing the 10 lessons he learned during his SEAL training that could be of value to the graduates throughout their lives (search “McRaven Make Your Bed speech” on YouTube for the video and transcript of his speech).

He said every morning in basic SEAL training they were required to make their beds to perfection. The wisdom was that if you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished your first task of the day, setting the momentum to complete another task. By the end of the day, that simple task of making the bed will have turned into many tasks completed.

Making the bed also reinforces that little things in life matter — if you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right, he said.

Time is finite; take control of it and use it wisely. Managing your time (and that of others!) will increase your capacity to get things done, especially the things that add value to your customers and your business. But it takes discipline and commitment to achieve. Start your day off with early, quick successes and build on that: Make your bed.

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Stan Pohmer

Stan Pohmer is president of Pohmer Consulting Group in Minnetonka, Minnesota. He can be reached at [email protected].