We’re all facing more to do, fewer people to do it, and thus, an overall sense of burnout. Ironically, many of the traditional time management techniques aren’t going to work in this environment; we need a way to triage and prioritize, not to identify and categorize every possible to-do with a complex system.
Rather than worrying about every single item on your to-do list, I want you to start every day by asking yourself a simple question, “What are the three activities I need to complete today in order for this to feel like a successful day?”
The items that emerge from this exercise are radically different from your to-do list. The standard to-do list is an extant survey of every activity we should complete. But assigning yourself 30-50 items in a typical workday is a recipe for failure. And the more items you add to your list, the more frazzled and overwhelmed you’re likely to feel.
Tens of thousands of people have taken the online test “How Do Your Time Management Skills Stack Up?” and one of the questions asks respondents to choose between the following options:
- In the morning, before I check email or voicemail, I develop a plan so I know exactly what I need to achieve that day to make it a successful day.
- In the morning, the first things I do are check email or voicemail.
Unfortunately, 66% of people check their email, while only about 34% make a plan for the day. It’s pretty typical to reach for the phone next to the bed and start checking messages. But when people avoid checking messages and instead grab some coffee and make a plan for the day, they’re far more likely to achieve peak productivity.
The research from this test shows that if the first thing you do in the morning is to check your email, you’re about 82% more likely to have over half your time wasted at work.
One of the reasons this incredibly simple technique works so well is that it forces you to create an intentional plan for the day. You’re taking control of your priorities and exerting proactive control over your day.
Having an internal locus of control is the ability to take action, be effective, influence your own life, and assume responsibility for your behaviors. People with a high internal locus of control believe that they control their future. Research shows that internal locus of control predicts better health outcomes, work satisfaction, and academic success.
Based on the Leadership IQ study, we know that only 17% of people have a high internal locus of control, while about 29% of people have low or moderately low internal locus of control (aka an external locus of control). This matters because people with a high internal locus of control are 136% happier with their careers.
When you start your day with a plan, rather than responding to emails from others, you’re exerting control; you’re taking charge of your destiny for that day. And that’s going to dramatically improve your overall sense of wellbeing.
In addition, this technique is forcing you into a more proactive psychological state. Rather than waiting for others to dictate your priorities for the day, you’re getting in front of them and determining for yourself where you should be spending your time.
Proactivity is one of the characteristics that really separates high achievers from their less successful colleagues. In the study “Employee Engagement Is Less Dependent On Managers Than You Think,” we discovered that proactivity was a key determinant of whether someone would feel engaged and inspired at work. When you’re passively sitting back and waiting for direction, you’re almost invariably going to feel more frazzled and overwhelmed.
Even though this technique is incredibly simple, starting your day with a single question puts you into an incredibly healthy and powerful mindset for the rest of the day. And it’s one of the fastest ways to stop feeling frazzled and overwhelmed.