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?

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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…

  1. they don’t have a clear goal
  2. they don’t have a good reason to reach that goal
  3. theydon’t have a clear plan to make consistent progress
  4. they have no way to measure their progress towards that goal
  5. they undertake activities that aren’t easy and fun (i.e. creating videos and outsource the boring activities like writing)
  6. they have no business partner (or team) to help
  7. 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:

  1. Send broadcast message to email list and to Facebook – 10 minutes (DONE!)
  2. Record video seven of new product. – 45 minutes. (DONE!)
  3. Contact three new joint venture partners – 45 minutes. (DONE!)
  4. Setup Facebook ads – 45 minutes. (didn’t do it, ran out of time)

Then this was Tuesday night:

  1. Send broadcast email and schedule one followup email – 10 minutes. (DONE!)
  2. Record new podcast episode – 45 minutes. (DONE!)
  3. Dictate five new articles – 45 minutes. (DONE!)
  4. 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.

Self-Calibration

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.

speed

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?

31 thoughts on “Four Daily Tasks: Focus Yourself, Defeat Overwhelm, and Enjoy Peak Productivity Using a Solution That’s Far Easier Than Time Management

  1. Ron Chamberlain

    Great advice as usual Robert. I like how you and Lance keep each other accountable.

    What is the link to your new book?

    -Ron

  2. Martin Hamilton

    My toughest thing to do is to get started. The pleasures of morning coffee, news, facebook, and even cruising around town listening to my favorite XM radio station tend to block my good start. I’m going to implement the 4DT approach today. My Amazon book was supposed to be submitted Friday. It’s now Saturday morning, I’m sitting at Barnes and Noble cafe, and the book is still on my computer needing the final edit. But no more. 4DT to the rescue!! Thanks again Robert for a very content rich and useful post.
    Martin

  3. Jeanette Cates

    While I don’t think it works for everyone, I have seen your four daily tasks work for a lot of people. I would certainly recommend anyone struggling with overwhelm try it. I particularly appreciate your precision in defining the 45 minutes for the three tasks – that makes it much easier to judge task size.

    Congratulations on your new book! You’ll help even more people with it.

  4. Bob Stovall

    Great post! I am usually fairly dedicated to getting what needs to get done, done. My biggest problem is responding to client needs during the day while I am supposed to be working on specific projects. Scheduling tasks in this manner might help me respond outside of task-specific time slots. I’ll give it a try.

  5. sharon martin

    Food for thought. Great advice as usual thanks Robert. You correct when you mention all the other methods advised don’t tend to work. I have my to do list setup every evening and some tasks are now long overdue. Time to change plans and try this and hopefully more time well spent!

  6. wayne

    This is some greate advice Robert, as a newbie i’m constantly getting overwhelmed, and out of steam, it’s always a breath of fresh air when i read posts that remind me of my time managmentand my ultimate goals to get back on track.

    Thanks again Robert for grate advice

    Regards Wayne

  7. JoLynn Braley

    Hi Robert,

    I really love how you break things down and make them so simple. Great example is your Podcrusher course. I bought that on 12/31/12 and had my first episode of The JoLynn Braley Show live on Thursday, 1/2/13. I’ve continued every week since.

    It was so easy to follow your steps, and I really like that. Just like you’ve outlined above, I can now see even more clearly how you “do things” in your own head. Clarity and focus are so key, and when I am most productive I have both.

    My challenge has been in feeling like I’m not accomplishing enough each day, when I’m really doing 10-15 tasks in a day. Did you have any challenge at all when you implemented doing ONLY 4 daily tasks each day? Meaning, did you have a challenge with wanting to go on and do more?

    Just curious, thanks!

  8. Robert

    Robert, your emails that lead to your blog posts consistently grab my attention and make me want to read — and then when I arrive, you provide better content than anyone else I read.

    Quality.

    What a genius “system.”

    You should market that, LOL …

  9. Tracie

    I’m sure many people will get a lot of assistance out of the “outside accountability” component of your plan. However, for me, I couldn’t imagine wanting to do that to myself.

    Seriously, if I wanted to have to report to someone about whether or not I was doing my “job”, I would be working in some ridiculous cubby-hole of an office….possibly a horrible one that also employs cameras to make sure employees are working (much like you also suggest here). The entire idea makes me cringe down to my soul and would make me absolutely hate doing what I am doing.

    I have never in my life responded well to any form of supervision, which is why I have spent my entire life either fully independently self-employed or as an independent contractor, at most.

    While I’m sure there are many that would benefit from creating a self-imposed “boss” to worry about, it shouldn’t be forgotten that there are also many of us that are in this because we do not ever wish to deal with a “boss” or answering to anyone. And creating a situation that is nearly the same as what many are attempting to escape may be actually counter-productive for some.

    I do enjoy & often put to use the great information from your posts, but with this one I just needed to point out that there is another side to be considered. There are many, many different personality types involved in this world of online business.

  10. Philip Rees

    I can confirm that Robert’s concepts deliver consistently. He walks the walk and talks the talks…both at the same time too! Awesome inspiration! Like some who posted before me, I was a little hesitant but I know I’ve proved it to myself with a lot of guidance from Robert and a lot of support from people who are named on this page. I am forever indebted to your kindness. Thanks for posting.

  11. William David

    Like usual you make it sound so simple and matter of fact and I like everything you’ve written. I am a terrible procrastinator because I’m at a loss of focus or because I’m at a lost for ideas, because I want to be perfect so I don’t get started because of course now I have to be perfect about that too. The lost time to do research just to get off track, again, start on something else same thing. Vicious cycle I’m trying to break.

  12. Graeme Austin

    Hey Robert,

    Sound advice! I particularly thought your 4DT strategy was very good and one that I’ll definitely implement in the near future… I also thought that Tracie [#10 above] made a pertinent point about personality aspects relating to ‘supervision or reporting to a partner’ – overall a very good post

  13. Donna Maher

    Hi Robert,

    Thank you for this very detailed post. I think the hardest thing is to “unplug” even for a few hours, but especially for a day. I like the idea of the Camtasia babysitter, too, it would definitely make you feel like you’re being watched and subconsciously make you do a better job with fewer sidetracks. Your ideas make sense!

  14. Miles Austin

    Enjoyed the thought and step by step that you have laid out here Robert. There is so much that should be done that I frequently fall into the trap of 100+ things on a to-do list that of course never get completed.

    Tools can help – I am going to try your suggestion for Cool Timer – great idea. I would also recommend a very effective To-Do list called “Clear” that is available for those with iPhone and/or Mac. Listing my four tasks on Clear and then incorporating Cool Timer into my work time holds great promise for a big change in my daily accomplishments.

    I look forward to waking up in the morning with the excitement of the days tasks, rather than the burden of those that I did not complete from yesterday.

    Thanks for the post!

  15. Byron

    “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”
    ― Albert Einstein

  16. Laurie Mills

    Hi Robert,

    Hey with all that spare time you have I don’t know why you haven’t told us this before, lol, (just joking).

    That is damn good information that we all seem to need and should stick to.

    Too many things on the go doesn’t let you finish anything worthwhile.

    Thanks for another excellent post.

    Regards

  17. Mark Salmon

    “I want to thank you in advance for the comment you’re about to leave on my blog today”

    I received that message from you Robert so I commented!! Like the positioning and the email title ‘my personal secret’. Had to click through to see what the ‘personal’ secret was – hoping that it was more ‘personal’ than it turned out to be!

    However, I think your advice is sound – it’s very easy to have an overwhelming to-do list. I recall having about 70 items on my to-do list at one time in the corporate world. I should have just picked 4 items and binned the rest because it was hopeless with items arriving on the list faster than I could work through them. As you get tired it becomes self-defeating.

  18. Bonnie Gean

    I found by getting up earlier in the morning, I get more work done. I must be a morning person versus an afternoon one. By the time midday rolls around, I’m ready to get away from the PC.

    I tend to take afternoon walks, which gives me added time outdoors. The air does wonders if you’re stuck in writing mode and need a break!

  19. Mary Pat

    That was an intriguing invitation, had to click though.
    I have moved from a very structured job to a very unstructured
    place creating a private practice & creating seminars
    of my work. I am struggling with lack of structure. I get
    foggy & scatter my energy. I appreciate your advice. I will
    put it in practice. It seems doable and will work better than
    what I am doing now.

    The old adage… Keep it simple!

  20. Lynn True

    OK, time to reboot the habit machine …

    Thanks for the reminder that making a long to-do list just makes everything on it that much more “not-doable” and overwhelming if it’s just the list, but then how do you manage the overall picture of, say, your goals for the week/month/year without some kind of master plan? That might also be a very useful post, thanks.

  21. Nando

    Thanks for sharing your productivity secrets.

    I like the Camtasia babysitter method and never thought about doing that. I’m going to give that one a try.

    As for the Clean desk tips I totally agree with you and found from my own personal experience that It’s nearly impossible for me to concentrate on any one thing without the visual interference of clutter in my work space.

    Take care,
    Nando

  22. Joshua Shoemaker

    Robert, I have found myself caught in this rut again, I quit doing something’s , you always bring me back to reality and make me remember what needs to get done. I appreciate all the great wisdom you give me as I think for the most part procrastination is one of my biggest failures.
    Thanks,
    Josh

  23. Dan Martin

    I hate having a to-do list several pages long. I had to shorten it, and toss the rest. I got rid of my white board too. Your “4 daily tasks” works well when I stick to it. I just can’t go to Facebook to post it. Tools, a plan, now I need an accountability partner. Thanks Robert.
    Dan

  24. John Antaya

    Thanks for the accountability lesson. That’s been my problem as I seem to be doing everything else except what I should be doing. Setting up four tasks in the right direction and being accountable to someone is a great idea and thanks for the lesson.
    John

  25. Josef Lele

    Hey Robert, I’m so glad I met you in person over a beer at Armand’s San Francisco AM2 event. Although I have been on your list for long before that, it wasn’t until meeting you and Lance in person and having that more casual chat that I was able to relate to you. I can even overlook your OTT webinar style (I think you can still learn from Armand’s less hyper style). But I still open your emails (most), and attend your webinars because you do provide good content.

    On this subject of time management, like you others who have commented on the fact that they either don’t work or are unsustainable over a longer term, I’ve tried them all. I’ve even tried to teach the subject to my reports when I was in corporate, with little success.

    I’m also ashamed to say that I owe a “Get Organized” guru a review of her program that she gave me over 4 years ago. I never got to implement it because it was too strict. I am writing this comment as I sit at my daughter’s dining room table, because I just had to get away from my cluttered office and desk that I can no longer put my keyboard on. I just had to get away and clear my headspace from the guilt of not having cleaned up my work environment.

    So this is the most timely Blog Post ever. Thank you for this and all you do. I will try to implement this, starting today. As soon as I finish this comment I’m going for a walk to clear the head. Ready for action….Great Post

  26. Michelle

    I like this system. It’s easy to remember. Also, like the tip that your business partner doesn’t have to be the accountability partner.

  27. K Harmon

    Oh boy. I use organization and planning as a procrastination tool far too often. All those ‘tips and tricks’ on goal setting and getting things done get in the way of actually getting things done, I find. I’m getting much better lately about writing down my goal, writing down what I have to do every day to move toward it and then just sitting down and doing it. K.I.S.S. usually works. Thanks for this.

  28. Debbie

    I recently started to use a desktop countdown timer for tasks I had to do as well. I find that seeing the deadline approaching keeps me on task better. I actually finish one thing, reset the timer like a tiny reward and move on with clarity. You give great ideas here for sure.

  29. Shaun

    Awesome post Robert……we may think this is commonsense but until we actually
    do it we won’t really know how effective this is.

    There was a quote by someone “Completion is excellence”…..and those that achieve, complete stuff…..I would love an accountability partner i would be happy to reciprocate…

    All the best

    Shaun

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