It’s the early part of the year and you have a million things on your mind. For most of us, we’re far too anxious about little things that aren’t urgent and could easily wait for another day.
Little, insignificant worries and problems can accumulate and catch up to us, and before we know it, we’re consumed with big worries and problems. It’s better to face these things with a clear mind and an intelligent approach to knock them out.
It’s also not a bad time to ask, how are your big goals and resolutions for 2021 working out for you? Please — don’t give up. It’s important to focus on habits to lock-in to help you maximize your productivity. These are techniques that will help you build successful habits for 2021.
These are things that I have relied on throughout the years and wanted to share with you. Enjoy.
1. Utilize Stephen Covey’s Time Quadrant Approach
This is a baseline that is very valuable when considering how we should invest our time each day. This quadrant is a great tool that allows you to use your analytical mind to diagnose each task or aspect of your day. You can then determine whether that something is an activity worthy of your time, or simply clutter that will waste your time.
As Covey points out in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, we all have to spend time doing important — or unimportant — things that have to get done. No matter how well we plan our days out, there will be fires to put out- that’s just a fact of life. Trust me, once you have children, there are even more fires to put out in a good way, sort of.
For you parents out there, remember that when you’re changing a diaper at 2:45 in the morning and standing tall in the face of a 16-month old child’s screams, as he pounds your eardrums like Dave Grohl.
The point is, there will be difficulties and critical things we need to focus on that we may not want to. The key is to minimize the time we spend on unimportant activities — clutter — and maximize our focus on what really inspires us and deserves our attention: the activities in Quadrant II.
2. Keep an Idea Journal
“As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.” — Henry David Thoreau
Start an idea journal. Every time you have a creative, fun, helpful, smart idea pop in your head, input that by voice or text into the Notes on your phone, or sync it up to One Note or Evernote on your laptop. Some of the best moments that made it into my speeches, workshops, marketing and sales pitches this year came from ideas that popped into my head at random times of the day.
Could have been when I was driving my car, sitting in a doctor’s office, or watching tv. It’s easy at this time of year to rush into thinking about all the ways we want to change our lives for the better. I’m sure many of us are wondering how we can elevate our businesses, get a promotion or make that move to the dream job we’ve always wanted.
Think big. But think on the granular level, as well. Think of all the little things that will help you get there. As The New York Times points out, use the great ideas you’ve added up over time, and apply those to the goals you’re looking to achieve.
3. Be Curious — Explore New Things that Interest You
Maybe you’ve been there, getting worked up over insignificant things that can destroy your day or even your week. Negative thoughts, anger, worry and envy are common emotions when we get distracted and frustrated. These enemies of our mind prevent us from focusing on the “Quality Time,” in Covey’s quadrant.
Covey describes using new activities and ways to boost out personal growth as, “Sharpening the Saw” time. This is where we learn, read, imagine new ideas, explore our creative side and spend time in prayer, boosting our faith and hope which leads to love. I encourage you to build in five hours per week, despite a busy schedule and juggling lots of responsibilities. Your future you will thank you for this time of development and enrichment.
The times that we get down are when we’re doing things we don’t enjoy. Does this sound like you? As much as I try not to, I am occasionally prone to wasting my time on little nuisances — that can morph into large obstacles — that dominate my thoughts with negativity. I fall back into old traps of envious or lazy thoughts.
These time-wasters eat away at the precious minutes or even hours we have.
As I write about in my book, Emotional Intelligence for the Modern Leader, a great way to embrace our curiosities is to plan them into our week. Ensure you have the time to pursue these!
To find activities that stimulate creative, imaginative thought. We all have things that we love that are tried and true. But what about trying new things? It’s amazing the new ideas we’ll find and remarkable experiences we’ll enjoy when we’re open-minded to trying out new things.
4. Keep the People and Things You Love at the Forefront of Your Thoughts
I’m successful when I surround myself with people and things that create positive energy. The thoughts that enter our minds can permeate our being and rapidly change both our emotional and physical states. Norman Vincent Peale addressed this beautifully in his mammoth bestseller, The Power of Positive Thinking:
“We are beginning to comprehend a basic truth hitherto neglected, that our physical condition is determined very largely by our emotional condition, and our emotional life is profoundly regulated by our thought life.”
We have to remind ourselves that we’re better than whatever anger, worry, doubt or envy creeps into our mind. The surefire way to block these thoughts out is to dominate our subconscious mind with positive thoughts, rooted in the belief of self. Our values, self-confidence and things that matter help give us that view.
I think we all experience the proverbial peaks and valleys for a reason. The down periods help us to make better sense of what brought us to moments of exultation and powerful, emotive feelings of self-satisfaction. The clutter is such a waste of your time and mine. Our thoughts and our being are much bolder than that.
Hopefully, these four habits will give you the inspiration, motivation and practical guidance you need to achieve exactly what you desire in the new year.
I share tips for productivity and inspiration with over 20,000 people every week. Come join the journey.
This article originally appeared in Medium.