If you’re anything like me, every day you have a list of things you’d like to accomplish. And if you’re anything like me, you hardly ever get as much done as you’d like. That’s just your optimistic self, having ridiculously unrealistic expectations. But that’s beside the point.
When you have that list of things to do, there are clearly items that are more important than others. Stuff that you really should tackle and stuff that may be less important.
For example, if you’re trying to write a book, that would probably be your most important task on a daily basis.
Despite knowing this fact, you work on everything else. You avoid working on your book as if your life depended on it. As if you’ll contract some rare flesh eating disease if you even attempt it. In the end, your most important task often ends up as the one still left on your list. Why?
There are several factors that might be at play here. For one, it could just be a result of procrastination. You completely avoid the work that you should be doing, while keeping yourself “busy” with everything else.
It could be that the sheer size or difficulty of the task is overwhelming you. That book seems like a monster of a task, so instead of attacking it head on, you keep pushing it back, until you end up not working on it at all.
It could be that when you finally get to that task on your list, you’re already exhausted. The day is almost over and you don’t have the brain power to dive into your most challenging endeavor.
There are a lot of reasons why we may not tackle our most important task on a daily basis, but there’s also one simple adjustment we can make to change everything: start with the most important task FIRST. Let’s take a look at how to use this idea.
1. Make a Task List
The first step is simple. Make your daily task list of what you want to accomplish. And try to be realistic. More often than not, we overestimate what we can feasibly achieve in a single day. A general rule is to pick between 3 to 5 tasks that you want to tackle and leave it at that. I’m sure you’ll have no trouble adding to the list if you complete them all.
2. Order It By Importance
The next step is to order those tasks by importance. What is going to change your life? What is going to bring you closer to your goals? What is going to make you feel proud? That’s what should go to the top of the list. For example, “work on book” should be the number one item on your task list. All the errands, busy work, and hobbies can follow.
3. Breakdown Big Projects
Some of our to-do’s can be huge endeavors that we’re not going to finish in a day or even a week for that matter. In these situations, breakdown these big projects into more manageable chunks. In the case of writing a book, your task could be to write 1,000 words or two pages or possibly a chapter. The point is to make the task something that is much more attainable, but still feels like progress.
4. Start From the Top
Now that you’ve got your list, it’s pretty straightforward. Start from the top and work your way down. Don’t jump around and don’t put off the first task. Finish you most important task first and go from there.
If you can attack your most important task first, comes with a number of benefits and can completely change the outlook for your day. Here’s how.
Peak of Willpower
As I explored in a previous post, your willpower and decision making ability is at a peak in the morning and gets depleted throughout the day. Armed with that knowledge, it only makes sense to tackle your most important task first, as you’re best suited to truly complete it. Leaving it for later only makes it more likely that you won’t have the energy or willpower to complete it.
At the same time, working on your most important task first thing, especially in the morning, has the benefit of fewer distractions. If you can wake early, you’ll find a much more peaceful environment, without the constant interruptions from emails, colleagues, and life in general.
Starting the day with your most important task is certainly challenging, but everything after that is going to be so much easier. Knowing you’ve finished the hard part of the day from the get go, builds a confidence and momentum that will carry you throughout the rest of your day.
Sense of Accomplishment
Actually working on tasks that you feel are important and successfully crossing them off your list is one of the most rewarding things you can do during a day. How many times do you get into bed at night and think, what did I really do today? Having that important task under your belt from the beginning, can prevent that from ever happening.
Happiness does not come from doing easy work but from the afterglow of satisfaction that comes after the achievement of a difficult task that demanded our best. Theodore Isaac Rubin
The takeaway? Getting your most important task done first just may be the best productivity hack ever.
Originally published at alyjuma.com on October 27, 2015.