You’ll Only Get the Most Important Things Done

Start with the important and finish with a clear conscience.

Do you ever feel frustrated that you didn’t get everything done on your list? It’s a common feeling for high achievers. We have grand ambitions for the day: Many books will be written about it, paintings will be painted to capture it, and statues carved to immortalize it. Songs will be sung in fire-lit taverns as steely-eyed men gather ’round to tell their tales. “Where were you that day?” “Lad, I was there. I knew him.”

You may not go so far as casting the movie adaptation, but admit it—you have plans for the day. You have plans for your plans. And yet the day never goes quite the way you want it to.

It’s frustrating. We had a vision in place, a dream we were working towards, and now it feels like it will never happen.

Take a deep breath. You’ll get there, even if you have to write the books yourself.

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Are You Putting First Things First in Your Life?

What does your schedule say about what’s important to you?

What were you doing one year ago today? (This question is easier to answer if you keep a journal.)

Since then, have you made any progress towards being the man you want to be? Read any good books? Switched to a more fulfilling job? Gotten out of debt? Or do your dreams seem all the farther away because here you are, a year later, and you’re no closer to living the life you dream of?

You’ve had three-hundred-sixty-five days to work on it. Eight thousand, seven hundred and sixy hours. Five hundred twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes you could have used to shape yourself into the embodiment of your personal mission statement.

Did you seize the opportunity? Or did you sacrifice the wildly important on the altar of the whimsically immediate three-hundred-sixty-five times over?

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Survey a Large Field, Cultivate a Small One

5 Principles of Personal Growth in Agrarian Wisdom

There is an old saying, “Survey a large field, cultivate a small one.” Like many aphorisms, we don’t know who originally said it, nor the specific context. That’s also part of its strength.

Rules can be applied only in a very specific, narrow context. Principles, on the other hand, have broad application. It’s the difference between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law—when you understand the spirit, you can usually apply the letter pretty accurately, and with less memorization. It just takes judgement.

I don’t work on a farm. You probably don’t, either. But there are principles in this saying that we can apply in our daily lives. It’s just as relevant to us as it was our agrarian forefathers.

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When You Should Ignore the Big Frog on Your Plate

Your most important thing today might not be the most important thing right now.

Whatever approach you take to personal productivity, there is one common theme: identifying your most important tasks and working through them, methodically, until you’re done.

Ivy Lee coached Charles Schwab’s executives on this principle. Stephen R. Covey taught us to identify our A1 task and start there. Brian Tracy wrote about starting your day by eating the big frog on your plate.

Focusing on your most important task can be your key to having a productive day. It can also completely ruin your day. There are at least seven times you should ignore the big frog sitting at the top of your task list.

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You’ve Forgotten How to Be Bored and It’s Ruining Your Life

Giving your brain a break is essential for high productivity.

Normally, I put on an audiobook or podcast while I’m driving. Even for short trips.

Last week, I drove home in relative silence. Instead of Cal Newport’s Deep Work, I listened to the rain hitting the car, the intermittent rub of the wipers and click of the blinkers, and the spray of the tires on the wet pavement.

Halfway home, I hit a breakthrough. Letting my mind ruminate on the problem I’d spent half the afternoon trying to solve, I made the connection. I could use something I’d stumbled across the day before to fix it.

I had to chuckle, because it perfectly demonstrated one of the challenges we face today, something I recently heard Newport talk about in an interview: we’ve forgotten how to be bored and it’s ruining our lives.

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The First Step to Changing Your Life

Change has one requirement, and it’s not January 1

January 1 is just another day. There’s a year behind it and a year before it. We ascribe supernatural significance to it to effect change in our lives, but if we don’t decide to we’re going to change anything, the day will go right past us. Just like the other 364.

All of the wisdom and best practices you’ve heard about setting goals are there for a reason. They work. Most change doesn’t happen by itself. It needs reinforced.

The status quo exists because we’ve developed habits, either by design or by default. If we aren’t happy with the results we’re currently getting, it’s going to take more than twelve new photos of scenic trains to evoke change. We need a decision.

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How to be Present when You’re With Family

Five ways to keep your attention where you want it most

If you ask people to name a few of their favorite things about the holidays, “time with family” ranks consistently towards the top of most lists. The decorations, good food, and festive music are all the merrier when we can share them with the people who matter the most to us.

I started to write something here about technology bringing us together, but also making it easier than ever to be a wedge that drives us apart. There’s an element of truth to that, which makes it so easy and seductive to pile on the fist-shaking, technology-is-ruining-our-lives bandwagon.

Technology is an amplifier—it’s a tool that lets you do more. The problem is attention management. We don’t get the benefits of time with family—the deposits we’re trying to make can end up being severe withdrawals—unless we’re intentional about being giving them our attention, too.

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The Only Way They Can Insult You

No one gets under your skin without permission.

In the 1760s and 1770s, it was fashionable for English gentlemen coming of age to embark on a grand tour of Europe. When they came back, this generation of well-dressed, well-heeled, and sophisticated men was collectively referred to as “the macaroni”. The line in “Yankee Doodle” was a derisive insult. You couldn’t just stick a feather in your cap and call it fashionable or high-class, or in other words, call it macaroni.

British troops would sing the song to taunt the colonists. It didn’t work. They took the song and owned it. Instead of an effigy of scorn, Yankee Doodle became the patron saint of the fledgling nation. Today, it’s known as nothing but patriotic, if slightly confusing.

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Five Ways Gratitude Will Improve Your Life

The right attitude will reinvent every relationship you have.

One of the fastest ways to ruin your life is to take everything for granted. Feel you’re owed everything—it’s rightfully yours, and if it isn’t, it’s because someone else is hoarding it instead of giving it to you.

When you step back and say the words out loud, it sounds like a ridiculous attitude. You probably know someone who feels that way. It’s a seductive way of thinking: you don’t have to work for it, you just have to want it!

The key to keeping that kind of entitlement mentality in check is to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Gratutude is one of those concepts that should permeate our lives, but we tend to only think about it at specific times. Like Thanksgiving.

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Have You Forgotten Why You Do What You Do?

Every challenge has a purpose. Do you still remember yours?

Why do you do what you do?

When did you last stop and think about that? If you’re like most of my readers, you make some difficult decisions every day that most people aren’t willing to make. You take the road less traveled. You sacrifice. You do what others won’t so that you can do what others can’t.

Taking the challenge starts to become a reflex. Given the choice between easy and hard, we choose hard. It’s often the right choice, but not always. Sometimes it just comes down to why we’re doing it.

In the midst of all these difficult decisions you’re making (good for you!), don’t lose your connection with your why. You may end up making things harder for yourself for no reason.

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