With unlimited access to productivity doodads, apps and planners, knowing our priorities is supposed to be effortless. But what if everything you need to do that day — finish an article, work on that presentation outline, work out, and so on — all feel like a priority?
Image by andrewr.
I once heard on the Tim Ferriss podcast that, when it comes to each item on his to-do list, Ferriss asks himself: "If this were the only thing I accomplished today, would I be satisfied with my day?" If he answers yes, then that's what he prioritises.
At the time, I didn't think much of it. While drowning in a sea of urgent and important tasks — which I often conflated — I was reintroduced to this idea by my highly productive and accomplished friend, who told me about a planner from Intelligent Change (who are also behind the Five-Minute Journal that I use and love).
Well, I bought this planner, and it's since helped me take much better control of my to-do list. It isn't because I have a nicely organised to-do list, but it's because the planner has forced me to take a "less is more" approach. I have enough room to write down only five things I need to do that day and only one can be the Most Important Task of the Day, which is guided by the prompt:
If this was the only thing you did today you'd be satisfied.
This has challenged me to ponder whether the thing I thought was super important really was that important; or whether it was merely a distraction from the actual thing that I should be working on. As Intelligent Change points out in their notebook, important work is often the stuff that you tend to procrastinate and makes you feel uncomfortable doing.
You don't have to go out and buy a planner specifically for this purpose, but to help identify important work you should ask yourself, as Ferriss does, if that one item will make you satisfied with your day:
Will moving this forward make all the other to-do's unimportant or easier to knock off later?
Since approaching my important tasks this way, I feel a lot less anxiety around all the work I feel like I have to get to and can shove away the clutter to focus on the truly important things that move the needle for me.