Four Daily Tasks: Focus Yourself, Defeat Overwhelm, and Enjoy Peak Productivity Using a Solution That’s Far Easier Than Time Management
If you've ever found yourself unfocused, unmotivated, unable to get "in the zone" ... you can't break free of procrastination, confusion, overwhelm... there's no time to get anything done... then you have TIME MANAGEMENT issues!
Look, you can either continue what you've been doing (and get the same results you've been getting), or drastically change everything in your life (which we both know won't last for longer than a couple of days) OR you can...
Admit you want to change
Decide what to change, and...
Make SMALL but LASTING improvements
to your everyday life...
To solve the problem, you might have heard advice like this:
- Create a long to-do list (now you have 100+ items you'll never complete)
- Say "no" to everything (now I'm bored within my own business)
- Schedule all activities, including bathroom breaks and free time, into a calendar (but what if I fall behind?)
- "Learn" about the 80/20 rule, Inbox Zero, Parkinson's Law (cute but how does that help me? And now I'm checking my email every 5 minutes to keep it at Inbox Zero)
- Delegate, outsource, lifehack
- Chunk down large tasks
- Organize your to-do list into A-B-C-D, or "Urgent But Not Important" (now I've spent all week organizing my to-do list or to-do lists)
- Just get started (gee, why didn't I think of that?)
- Write everything down on a whiteboard or on hundreds of post-it notes (how will you keep it all organized?)
I believe that you ignore most problems until they become so bad that you NEED to make a change NOW... so you take too-drastic measures, and now the solution is worse than the problem.
The Brutal Truth...
Example: You're 10-15 pounds overweight. Unhappy but comfortable. Not disturbed enough to make any real change. But suddenly, your high school reunion is a month away, or you realize you somehow became 30 pounds overweight without noticing, or you can't fit into that pair of pants...
You vow to stop eating fast food forever, wake up at 5AM every morning and hit the gym for a one hour run every morning.
What happens? You do it for one day, maybe two, until you realize HOW miserable you are. HOW much of a pain it is to wake up so early. Can't you just sleep in this one time? You're so hungry for a Quarter Pounder now... why not just quit?
Now, if your reunion was six months away, and you could REALISTICALLY lose the weight in time... you'd create a clear weight loss goal. Count your calories using an app to track your progress. Limit your portions, substitute one meal per day, swim or walk for a short time every day, get a partner to exercise with you and make yourself accountable to someone who ISN'T participating with you. That sounds to me like better planning.
7 Ways the "Regular" Approach Fails...
The same is true with your business. Most entrepreneurs that fail...
- they don't have a clear goal
- they don't have a good reason to reach that goal
- theydon't have a clear plan to make consistent progress
- they have no way to measure their progress towards that goal
- they undertake activities that aren't easy and fun (i.e. creating videos and outsource the boring activities like writing)
- they have no business partner (or team) to help
- they have no accountability partner to report back to (this is a DIFFERENT PERSON than the partner mentioned above)
The time management and productivity systems you've heard of have so many rules, and are so complicated, that the SOLUTION is less fun and more "work" than your old habits. Your old procrastinating ways. You'd rather be comfortable and slightly unhappy, than in unfamiliar territory trying to make some confusing time management system behave the way you want.
You know the type... set that timer and "work" 15 minutes, then take a 5 minute break, then "work" for 20 minutes, and break for 30 minutes... or something like that?
Or... list everything you have to do in a notebook in multiple columns and give yourself a "point" system.
Or... one of the worst, list 100 tasks and then pick the 10 that are the easiest to cross off your list today. Great, now you're just finishing the easy unimportant tasks every day.
The "Real" Easy Answer You're Looking For
Or, how about this? Follow a VERY SIMPLE system so that you don't have to throw your entire way of life out the window and make a few SMALL changes in your everyday lifestyle to point yourself in the right direction...
Here's what will help:
- 4DT: Complete just four small tasks everyday (three 45-minute tasks and one 10-minute task) and nothing else
- Calendar: Use Gmail instead of a desktop email program (it's the best solution for labeling, filtering, archiving, and searching for emails), and Google Calendar (to keep track of meetings, product launches, and other "milestone" activities)
- Accountability: Create your four tasks in the morning (or the night before) and list these to someone who is not a part of your business, but wants you to succeed, like a friend or a spouse. Don't go into detail about what they are, but meet with them at the end of the day so you can explain that you finish each task, or, if you left some unfinished, what was your excuse?
I go into each of these three building blocks in more detail in my new book, "Four Daily Tasks" which you should check out right away. The fact is that this is all you need, and you SHOULDN'T take drastic measures throwing out all the usual rules.
The Most Important Tasks
When you limit yourself to four tasks per day (not 10 or 20) they'll be the most important tasks. Here's what I mean. Let's say this was your task list on Monday night:
- Send broadcast message to email list and to Facebook: 10 minutes (DONE!)
- Record video seven of new product: 45 minutes. (DONE!)
- Contact three new joint venture partners: 45 minutes. (DONE!)
- Setup Facebook ads: 45 minutes. (didn't do it, ran out of time)
Then this was Tuesday night:
- Send broadcast email and schedule one followup email: 10 minutes. (DONE!)
- Record new podcast episode: 45 minutes. (DONE!)
- Dictate five new articles: 45 minutes. (DONE!)
- Setup Facebook ads: 45 minutes. (didn't do it, ran out of time)
Do you see what happened? Two days in a row, I didn't setup those Facebook ads like I planned. Here's what will happen on Wednesday: I'll either schedule it AGAIN, and not finish it AGAIN, and have to report back to my accountability partner once AGAIN that I didn't finish this task.
Maybe you ran out of time because the other tasks ran longer and you need to either budget your time better, take on smaller tasks, or just get those darned Facebook ads out of the way first thing on Wednesday, to save yourself the embarrassment and disappointment of reporting that, once again, you didn't do it.
OR! You might even leave those Facebook ads OFF the list for Wednesday, because they weren't important in the first place.
The more you use the "Four Daily Tasks" system, the better you'll be focused because your easy task HAS to be done in 10 minutes, and your medium tasks HAVE to be done in 45 minutes.
You'll also find yourself completing more tasks in bulk. Instead of putting out twenty 5-minute fires here and there... like, check Facebook, respond to blog comments, check YouTube, check Twitter... you're doing all those 5-minute tasks back to back so there is no break time, no procrastinating, no switching gears, just finishing everything.
Over time you'll get a good idea of what tasks really do take 45 minutes. You'll have one day after another where you will get all four tasks done, get all four tasks done, get all four tasks done, then look back and notice how many accomplishments that added up to. As opposed to having a 20-item "marathon day" and then taking the rest of the month off.
Because you built up this momentum, it's now hard to stop! Because you're moving in the direction you want, there's less overwhelm, less indecision, you'll get good at making snap decisions and you'll have renewed drive and focus like never before.
I need to stress that these must be four tasks in your BUSINESS, not in your personal or home life. They need to have DELIVERABLES, such as, write chapter 7 of book, and not "degrees of doneness" such as, "write 90% of book" or "edit web page." These need to be accomplishments that you can literally PROVE if you had to.
I've tried all the other "extreme" time management systems. They didn't last for me, and they didn't last for most people. I ended up spending my time on non-money-making tasks, I'd have trouble finishing tasks, trouble starting tasks, or accomplishing goals here and there but not actually PROGRESSING in the direction I wanted, if that makes sense.
Everything Changed When I Simplified It!
And if you find yourself completing four tasks every single weekday (or every day you choose to build your business), you've organized your life in Gmail and a Google Calendar, and you've created a private Team Site to share tasks with an accountability partner, there are a few more milestones you can use to inch yourself even closer to Peak Productivity:
- Countdown Timer: use a program like Cool Timer to countdown the amount of time you have left to make sure you stay on task and finish on time
- Unplug Days (for family): decide in advance which days of the week will be 100% dedicated to yourself or your family. This means no checking email, Facebook, or even cell phones
- Hotseat Computer (with no TV next to it): speaking of taking breaks, LEAVE the computer, leave your office and possibly go outside between tasks. That way, when you return to your computer, you can sit down, knock out the next task for today, and then leave the computer again before you have time to distract yourself with email or social media
- Camtasia Babysitter: if you're really trying to overcome a focus problem, use a tool like Camtasia Recorder to literally record yourself completing a task. You'd be surprised at how well this gets you in gear!
- Clean Desk: don't spend too much time on this, but clear out all the papers, clutter, and notes on your desk and at least store them away in a drawer or file cabinet so you aren't distracted and can dedicate yourself to the task at hand
- Cautious Outsourcing: hire someone to manage the parts of your business that you don't enjoy, or can't do, like customer support, traffic, copywriting, graphics, or email marketing
- Self-Awareness (turn "needs" into "wants"): the bottom line is that you aren't going to make any lasting change on yourself unless you gain pleasure from it and you enjoy it, so don't "force" yourself to take any action and if you find yourself stressed, confused, or just not having fun, then find out why you're not getting closer to your goal and what you can do in order to look forward to the day and eagerly knock out the tasks you have in front of you
That's the simple Four Daily Tasks approach that took me from a lazy, bored, unproductive person into someone who makes a lot more money, puts in a lot less hours, and has a lot more fun building my business.
Which of these components will you use, or have you already used, in your everyday life to achieve your goals and get to where you want to be?