You’ve probably heard something similar to the following phrase:
It’s better to spend 5 minutes per day learning a new language than 5 hours once per month.
It’s better to do anything daily than sporadically. If you do something daily, your chances of mastering it are very high.
The challenge (and the hidden benefit) is that there are only 24 hours in a single day. This 24-hour constraint will force you to decide what really matters to you.
What are you serious about?
What are you working on?
When it comes to your own goals or dreams:
- Are you like the person who studies a new language 5–10 minutes per day?
- Or are you like the person who “studies” a new language for an hour or two here and there?
If you’re like most people, you’re the latter. And if you’re like most people, that means you’re not making very much progress.
Life is extremely busy. It can be tough strategically fitting other things into your daily schedule when you have a job, family, and other responsibilities. However, if you don’t fit your big dreams into your daily schedule, you probably won’t achieve them. Or in the least, you won’t achieve them in a timely fashion.
This article is not for people who are fine achieving big things once or twice in their lifetimes. Instead, this article is for people who want to achieve several big things every single year.
If you learn to prioritize your life and your time, then you can do several big things on an annual basis. When you develop consistency, you also develop momentum. With momentum comes confidence and increased motivation. With confidence and increased motivation comes inspiration and bold ideas. If you’re not consistent, then you’re missing out on all of the psychological benefits that ripple into a life of success.
Your daily routine is the clearest indicator of where you’re going.
The trap of believing you need big chunks of time
When it comes to big goals or projects — such as starting a business, writing a book, cleaning the garage, etc. — it’s easy falling into the trap of only working on it when you have a 3+ hour chunk of time.
I myself fell into this trap. I’m nearing the completion of my PhD in Organizational Psychology and only have my dissertation to complete. But a dissertation is a really big, complex, and challenging project. It felt so big that I didn’t feel I could work on it for just 10–20 minutes at a time. I felt like it took an hour just to “get into” it.
That premise resulted in me regularly going weeks (sometimes months!) without touching it. It’s taken far longer than it has needed to complete. I have learned from sad experience the truth of Meredith Willson’s words, “You pile up enough tomorrows, and you’ll find you are left with nothing but a lot of empty yesterdays.”
Once I made working on my dissertation a part of my daily schedule, and worked on it like I was learning a new language — just 15–30 minutes per day — I started making huge progress. I began caring about it more. I got more motivated and excited to do well. I went from push motivation, where it took willpower to work on it, to pull motivation, where I intrinsically wanted to do it. I began finding more pockets of time to squeeze it in.
Here’s the 5-step process and how it works:
- Establish clear priorities of what you truly want to do (it must fit into your daily schedule, or it’s probably not a huge priority)
- Design your daily routine to ensure you get it done optimally
- Use the Pomodoro Technique — where you work for a set period of time without any distractions
- Report your progress immediately after you’ve completed your session
- Have a weekly reflection where you assess your progress and make future plans
Establish clear priorities
“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” — Bruce Lee
What do you really care about?
What do you really want to do?
If you cannot fit something into your daily schedule, it’s probably not that important to you. Because just like learning a new language, you don’t need more than 15-30 minutes per day.
If you can’t find 15-30 minutes per day, then you’re not serious.
If you do something consistently, even for a few minutes every day, it will start to become a bigger part of your life. In the book, The Compound Effect, Darren Hardy explains that small habits done repeatedly over a long enough period of time experience exponential results.
If you do something repeatedly, eventually it starts to get momentum. It’s like pumping a water-well. It takes some time to get going. But once you get going, you start getting pulled forward.
You can get momentum doing something 15 minutes per day.
Overtime, you’ll start to develop competence at what you’re doing. When you increase in your competence and consistency, you’ll develop fare more confidence.
As your confidence, motivation, and momentum increase, you’ll become more passionate and excited about what you’re doing. You’ll make more time for it. You’ll become more successful at it.
Design your daily routine
“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” — Mark Twain
The “bookends” of your day are your evening and morning. These are the times that you need to learn to optimize. Most people waste their evenings in a state of subconscious self-sabotage — usually distracting themselves with unhealthy food and mind-numbing technology.
According to eMarketer’s latest report, US adults’ spend more than 12 hours daily consuming information on the internet.
That’s more than half the day!
You probably have WAY more time than you think. The problem for most people is that they have no clue how much time they actually waste.
Here’s the thing about time — if something becomes important to you, you’ll find the time. A few years ago, my friend Benny and his wife, Nicole, were trying to convince Nicole’s mom that she should watch the show, 24, with them. She told them she had no time to “fit it in.” They convinced her to watch just one episode with them. She got hooked and started watching hours of 24 every single day. For the next few weeks, whenever Benny and Nicole would go to Nicole’s parents house, they would find her mom glued to 24.
I guess she figured out how to “fit it in.” Who knows what other “priorities” in her life disappeared as a result. But life went on.
Even if you are legitimately extremely busy, which we all feel that we are, you can find 15-30 minutes daily to work on your goal. Your evening and morning routine are your best bet.
The first thing you do in the morning is reflective of how the rest of your day will go. If you start right, your chances of continuing to have a solid day are very high.
One of the 7 habits of “Highly Effective” people (that one book that sold over 25 million copies), is to put first things first.
Does this mean you may have to wake up 30-60 minutes earlier than you’re used to for a while? Does it mean it’s sometimes going to suck pulling yourself out of bed? Does it mean you’ll want to jump right back in bed?
But it also means you’re going to experience an incredible amount of satisfaction that you didn’t used to have in your life.
I often wake up at 5 AM to work on my goals before my three kids wake up at 6. Until about 5:07, I’m really tempted to get back in bed. Many times, I have gotten back in bed.
However, by 5:11 or so, I’m starting to feel pretty good. By 5:59, I’m really glad I got up. I have far more energy than I had when I woke up. I may not have made a huge dent in my goals. But I took a few steps forward. I put first things first. And now I’m ready to see my kids. And you know what? They are going to interface with a parent who has self-esteem and confidence.
Use the Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s.
The technique uses a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks.
These intervals are named pomodoros, the plural in English of the Italian word pomodoro (tomato), after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that Cirillo used as a university student.
You don’t have to do 25-minute focus sessions. You can do 10-minute sessions. Or you can do 90-minute sessions!
The point is, you give yourself a timer and you work in complete focus until that timer is done. Once the timer goes off, you can take a break.
Most people will immediately jump into their digital addiction, such as Facebook, for their break. That’s completely fine. Give yourself a small victory for being focused.
However, as you become better and more serious about what you’re doing, you’ll realize just how important recovery is for your performance. As such, you’ll want your recovery to actually be restful and rejuvenating. Social media is mind-numbing, for sure, but it certainly isn’t rejuvenating.
Commit to a certain amount of time that you’ll focus on your goal each day. If it’s 10 minutes, then give yourself a 10-minute timer. Once that timer goes off, be done.
It’s very important that you stop when you say you were going to stop. Chances are, you’ll feel very excited for having done even 10 minutes of focused work on something you’ve been procrastinating for a long-time. In your excitement, you may be tempted to do another 20 or 30 minutes. If you do, then you’ll create an unsustainable expectation for yourself the next day.
Just do your pomodoro — whatever timeframe you give yourself. Once you finish, be done.
Then do it tomorrow.
And the next day.
And the next.
Get consistent and if you find time to squeeze another pomodoro into your day, then do another. But stick with your initial “morning” pomodoro.
Do it every day and eventually you’ll start to experience “the compound effect.” Eventually, you’ll start to develop competence and thus confidence. You’ll get momentum and motivation.
Your priorities will begin to shift. Like Nicole’s mom, you’ll find more time. You’ll delete more of the non-essential distractions from your day. Your day will become increasingly filled with things that truly are priorities that reflect the future you want to embody.
Because your days will become increasingly high quality and congruent, your life will become better and more successful. You’ll begin looking and living different from the norm. Indeed, to be normal or average is to not have clear priorities. Being average means you haven’t put first things first. “Normal” means you don’t have momentum or confidence or clarity.
Overtime, you’ll get far more effective during your pomodoro-time. You’ll develop routines and strategies for getting as much done in 30–60 minutes as used to take several hours. You’ll have a pre-performance routine for immediately putting you into a flow-state, so that you’re doing deeper and deeper work.
Report your progress immediately
“When performance is measured, performance improves. When performance is measured and reported back, the rate of improvement accelerates.” — Thomas Monson
If you don’t have someone you’re reporting your progress to, then you haven’t designed your life for optimal productivity. Accountability is essential for success.
You want to have someone meaningful who you report your progress to. This could be a friend or accountability partner or mentor or coach.
Every morning after you complete your pomodoro — you send a text message or email saying: “Done.” Or, if you want to add a little more detail, you could provide a few sentences, paragraphs, or bullets explaining how it went.
In any case, you not only want to track your progress, but you want to report it. If you track and report your progress, it will improve.
Have a weekly reflection
“I think of the learning process of an undulation of deep learning and periods of surfacing and reflection.” — Josh Waitzkin
At the end of each week, it is powerful to have a reflection period. Take 10-20 minutes and reflect on your week. How did it go?
— — —
Did you actually work toward your goal every single day?
What came up during your week that you hadn’t anticipated?
Do you need to get up a few minutes earlier?
Are there things in your daily schedule you need to shuffle around to become more effective?
Are there activities or behaviors you could delete from your life to make more room for this growing priority?
What goals should you set for yourself this week, based on your experience last week, for this goal?
Should you work at it an extra 10-15 minutes daily?
How can you ensure your time is most effective during your daily pomodoro?
— — —
Those questions were simply prompts to get your mind going. Every week, you should be taking a few minutes to reflect on where you’re at. That’s a huge part of the learning process. You take a step back and examine how things are going so you can correct and perfect your process.
Each week, you should be getting better and more effective at what you’re doing.
Each week, you should be getting more momentum and motivation — more competence and more confidence.
Each week, you should be clearer on your priorities, and deleting the distractions from your life that are simply that, distractions.
“You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.” — Greg McKeown, in Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
Success isn’t as hard as it appears. It’s not that far away. Success simply requires:
- Reflection and improvement
If you’ve been stuck in the past and haven’t made much progress on your dreams or goals, you need to make it a part of your daily life.
When it becomes something you do daily, you can be sure that you’ll begin making progress. Eventually, your progress will turn into enormous momentum. Eventually, your whole life will change as you become clearer on your priorities.
As you become clearer on your priorities, your standards for yourself will improve. You’ll stop justifying low-level distractions to take up huge portions of your time. As a result, your time will be invested far better. And as your time gets invest rather than spent, you’ll become more successful and happier.
Moreover, as you get better with time, you won’t be content having moments of quality mixed with moments of self-defeat. You’ll begin “stacking” quality habits together — such as exercising and journaling in addition to focusing on your goals. When you begin stacking quality habits, your results will compound even more. You’ll get more bang for your buck from each solid habit you cultivate.
Ready to upgrade?
I’ve created a cheat sheet for putting yourself into a PEAK-STATE, immediately. You follow this daily, your life will change quickly.
This article first appeared on Medium.