If you take a look around, you’ll notice very few people actually go “all in” on a single skill or goal for an extended period of time.
Rather than researching carefully and pouring themselves into a goal for a year or two, most people “dip their toes in the water” and chase a new diet, a new college major, a new exercise routine, a new side business idea, or a new career path for a few weeks or months before jumping onto the next new thing.
In my experience, so few people display the persistence to practice one thing for an extended period of time that you can actually become very good in many areas—maybe even world-class—with just one year of focused work. If you view your life as a 20-slot punchcard and each slot is a period of focused work for a year or two, then you can see how you can enjoy significant returns on your invested time simply by going all in on a few things.
My point here is that everyone is holding a “life punchcard” and, if we are considering how many things we can master in a lifetime, there aren’t many slots on that card. You only get so many punches during your time on this little planet. Unlike financial investments, your 20 “life slots” are going to get punched whether you like it or not. The time will pass either way.
Don’t waste your next slot. Think carefully, make a decision, and go all in. Don’t just kind of go for it. Go all in. Your final results are merely a reflection of your prior commitment.
No need to draw this out. This productivity tip is straightforward: Do the most important thing first each day.
Sounds simple. No one does it.
Why It Works
We often assume that productivity means getting more things done each day. Wrong. Productivity is getting important things done consistently. And no matter what you are working on, there are only a few things that are truly important.
Being productive is about maintaining a steady, average speed on a few things, not maximum speed on everything.
That’s why this strategy is effective. If you do the most important thing first each day, then you’ll always get something important done. I don’t know about you, but this is a big deal for me. There are many days when I waste hours crossing off the 4th, 5th, or 6th most important tasks on my to-do list and never get around to doing the most important thing.
As you’ll see below, there is no reason you have to apply this strategy in the morning, but I think starting your day with the most important task does offer some additional benefits over other times.
First, willpower tends to be higher earlier in the day. That means you’ll be able to provide your best energy and effort to your most important task.
Second, in my experience, the deeper I get into the day, the more likely it is that unexpected tasks will creep into my schedule and the less likely it is that I’ll spend my time as I had planned. Doing the most important thing first each day helps avoid that.
Finally, the human mind seems to dislike unfinished projects. They create an unresolved tension and internal stress. When we start something, we want to finish it. You are more likely to finish a task after starting it, so start the important tasks as soon as possible.
Why We Don’t Do It
Most people spend most of their time responding to someone else’s agenda than their own.
I think this is partially a result of how we are raised by society. In school, we are given assignments and told when to take our tests. At work, we are assigned due dates and given expectations from our superiors. At home, we have tasks or chores to perform to care for our kids and our partners. After a few decades of this, it can become very easy to spend your day reacting to the stimuli that surround you. We learn to take action as a reaction to the expectations, orders, or needs of someone else.
So naturally, when it comes time to start our day, it doesn’t seem strange to open our email inbox, check our phone, and look for our latest marching orders.
I think this is a mistake. The tasks assigned to us by others might seem urgent, but what is urgent is seldom important. The important tasks in our lives are the ones that move our hopes, our dreams, our creations, and our businesses forward.
Does that mean that we should ignore our responsibilities as parents or employees or citizens? Of course not. But we all need a time and space in our days to respond to our own agenda, not someone else’s.
Not a Morning Person?
Does the word morning make you mourn? Can you think of nothing worse than rays of golden sunshine streaming softly onto your pillow?
No worries, night owls. I noticed an important trend: There was no trend.
There is no one way to be successful. There are just as many night owls producing fabulous work as there are early birds. But no matter what their particular routine looked like, every productive artist embraced the idea of protecting a sacred time each day when they could work on their own agenda.
I find morning to work best. Your mileage may vary.
The phrase “Do the most important thing first each day” is just a simple way of saying, “Give yourself a time and space to work on what is important to you each day.”