If You Want To Prioritise Something, Put It Where You Can See It

There are two really good techniques to help you remember what you need to carry with you as you walk out the door every morning. One of them is to give yourself a mantra, like “phone, wallet, keys,” and the other is to put the stuff you need to take with you in front of your door.

The idea is that you won’t be able to open your door without jostling the package that needs to go in the mail that afternoon, or won’t be able to turn your doorknob without disturbing the sticky note that reads “do you have your packed lunch?” You’ve made what needs to be remembered highly visible, which means you’ll be more likely to remember it.

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Turns out that technique works for less tangible priorities as well—like your values, or the way you want to spend your time.

As Emily Balcetis, associate professor of psychology at New York University and author of the new book Clearer, Closer, Better: How Successful People See the World, recently told Gretchen Rubin:

One of the most effective tactics I came upon is what I called “materialising” my practice. We prioritise the things that make their way into our calendars. The things we quite literally see on our to-do list for the day. We give short shrift to those things that we just keep in our minds.

When Balcetis wanted to learn how to play the drums, she calendared her practice sessions the same way she’d block off time for a work meeting or a doctor’s appointment. I treat my to-do list and calendar the same way; if I want to get something done (whether personal or professional), I put it on the list and, if possible, assign it to a specific hour.

Why? Because these are the parts of my life I want to prioritise, whether I’m hitting a freelance deadline, making sure I make it to the YMCA in time for class, or connecting with a friend. (Yes, I am one of those people who puts “check in with such-and-such” on the calendar—and yes, it works.)

And if something happens and the item doesn’t get done, whether it’s due to another task taking longer than expected or another priority asserting its importance, I take it off the to-do list and the calendar. That way, I can see what I’m actually prioritising.

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In short, I start every day with a list of what I hope to accomplish, and end the day with a record of what I actually did—and if a certain item keeps falling off the list, I have to ask myself whether something in my life is out of balance, or whether that item is just not important enough to ever get done.

But the list itself is the equivalent of the sticky note on the doorknob or the packed gym bag placed next to your shoes; a pre-prepared reminder of what I don’t want to forget.

Which is why it works.


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