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  • Writer's pictureJason R. Waller

A Reminder to Live Each Day Purposefully

This morning, my wife asked me what my plan was for the day. I started telling her about the call I had at 9:00, the meeting I had at 10:00, when she stopped me. “No,” she said, “what’s your plan for the day—what do you want to accomplish?”

It was a simple but poignant question.

After reflecting, I had a much different way of thinking about it. “I want to convert two new coaching clients today,” I said. “I want to finish designing my team workshop and draft an outline for one new article.”

What a great reminder to focus on the intent and purpose for what we do each day. And for those of you who don’t have a highly structured consultant partner in your life, here are the things that help me keep that focus.

Recognize the value of purposeful focus

It’s easy for me to get distracted. Left to my own devices (literally, my phone), I’ll usually fill up empty time with social media and mindless email. I feel a little better when I jump into things that make me feel productive, but they usually aren’t.

This isn’t just a me topic. A 2018 Udemy survey states that 74% of Millennials and Gen Zers report feeling distracted at work.

When I take a step back from my distractions, I feel empowered and focused. I feel like I can actually set to the tasks that matter and with clarity on what I want to get out of them.

For me, it’s easy to lose sight of this and slip into the siren song of my phone’s notifications or check my email. Sometimes this is okay, but I feel crappy when I get stuck there. This is why I try to make purposeful focus a priority.

Have a weekly plan

One of the easiest ways I’ve found in keeping a daily focus is to start off each Monday with a weekly focus. Of course, this is cascaded down from a bigger set of goals and plans, but I find that this weekly exercise is where I generate the most clarity and action.

I start off with an hour block in my calendar on Monday morning. Nothing gets in the way of this block and I commit to myself each week to using the time for my weekly planning.

In that time, I write down all the to-dos that I have for myself that week. I categorize them by work and personal, but some clients of mine just have a big list while others have three or four categories.

I write them down physically in my notebook because I like the tangible quality of having something to hold and look back on.

Prioritize the weekly to-dos

Next, I’ll ask myself “Which of these are the most important for me to get done this week?” And I circle the little check box next to them. I avoid being distracted by which ones are the most urgent and focus instead on important. These become my target activities that I know lead to the outcomes that I want.

Here’s an example of my to-do list from a couple weeks back:

It (obviously) doesn’t need to be pretty. But it should be purposeful.

What I love about having this list is that, whenever I don’t know what to do next or feel pulled into an activity that isn’t aligned with my goals, I can reflect back on this. I can pull out quickly what I actually committed to doing on Monday and refocus my actions.

Set your intent for the day

Once I have a weekly plan, I also try to set a daily intention. This is something I’m working on improving.

What I’ve noticed doesn’t work for me is when I wake up, check my phone right away, and get distracted into all the things I mentioned earlier. When I perform at my best is when I put a little bit of calm space into the morning. I have my best days after a quiet breakfast and when I check my to-do list before I check my emails.

This is where my wife’s question comes back into play. ““What’s your plan for the day—what do you want to accomplish?”

When I sit with that question, even for a few minutes, the rest of my day flows in a much different way. I’m clear about what I want to do and that much more committed to the tasks I need to do.

Time-box your activity

During the day, it’s easy to lose sight of the intent. It’s easy to lose steam.

I’ve found that I’m most productive in the morning, especially if I start just a little earlier than usual. I haven’t found any value in waking up at 5:00am or going on an early morning run, but I have found value in waking up a bit earlier than I would otherwise.

It gives me a slower start into the day, which makes me more proactive and less reactive.

I’ve also found that I lose steam if I don’t take a long break at lunch. This is when I try to exercise or chill out with a show. But it’s also hard for me to get back into productive mode, so while I might start a day at home I need to finish it at a cafe or shared working space for that little extra boost.

The core message here, though, is that I’ve found the times that have worked for me. And I’ve time-boxed them to give myself enough breaks that I can stay energized. I’ll do more daily with 6 focused, productive hours than I will trying to jam in 12.

How did I find out what worked for me? Simple, I kept track. For two weeks, write down in a journal when you’re working at your best and when you’re losing energy. What days are best? What times and circumstances?

Closing thoughts

“Less distraction, more focus. Less gossip, more encouragement. Less past, more future. Less toxicity, more positivity.” -Robin Sharma

The key message here is to be intentional with your time. This doesn’t always mean working on a project. It could mean relaxing or reading a book. But it’s a conscious, purposeful choice.

I’ve found that weekly planning was the biggest, most impactful change for me. It let me focus on the things I wanted and cut out the white noise.

From that plan, I’m able to build a daily routine and focus that makes room for how I know I work best. I take a lot of breaks, and I’m deliberate about them because I still know what I’m trying to accomplish. I know that it’s in service of my goals, not a distraction from them.

What are your distractions? What could help you be more focused and more in control of your daily activity?

Let me know, and good luck on the journey.

Originally published in The Ascent


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