You start your workday with high hopes for productivity and great results–but in a fast-paced world where you’re bombarded 24/7 by electronic and real-world distractions, how do you stay the course?
Let’s talk about building your day on a strong foundation.
Humans have two selves–an external, task-oriented self and a thoughtful, reflective self. Which one do you think wakes up first in the morning? It’s your task-oriented self. The alarm clock goes off and bang! You leap out of bed and jump into your task-oriented self. You’re in a hurry–eating while you’re getting dressed and talking on the phone while you’re on the way to work. Once at the office, you’re racing to this meeting and answering that email. Soon you don’t have a clear sense of what you’re trying to accomplish.
You rush through your whole day that way, and by the time you get home, you’re exhausted. But it’s hard to sleep because your mind is bombarded by the events of the day and concerns about tomorrow. Before you know it, it’s the next morning, the alarm goes off, and the rat race starts all over again. The trouble with the rat race, as the great philosopher and comedian Lily Tomlin once pointed out, is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.
Notice you’re awakened by an alarm clock, which presents your task-oriented self with a problem to solve right away. John Ortberg, a preacher, theologian, and author based in Menlo Park, California, asks why it’s called an alarm clock rather than an opportunity clock or “It’s going to be a great day clock.” But no, it’s the alarm clock that drives you out of bed.
A better way to keep your day on track is to begin by waking up your thoughtful, reflective self. You do this by starting your day slowly. Sit quietly for at least 10 minutes and ask yourself: “What do I want to accomplish today? What will a good day look like?”
As my coauthor Spencer Johnson and I point out in The New One Minute Manager, all good performance starts with clear goals. Before you start working, establish what you want to accomplish that day and what a good day will look like. This doesn’t mean you won’t have to deal with interruptions throughout the day. If you’re clear on your goals for that day, then you’ll have a much better chance of achieving them.
At the end of the day, take time to reflect: “How did I do on my goals today?” If you did well, praise yourself with a proverbial pat on the back. Pause to allow yourself to feel good about your accomplishments. By catching yourself doing tasks right, you’ll be motivated to keep up the good work.
If you were sidetracked and didn’t achieve your goals, then redirect yourself. Reflect on what went wrong and how it made you feel. Clarify your goals and think about what behavior or circumstances you need to change to get back on course. What are you going to do differently tomorrow?
Your external, task-oriented self may be arguing these three secrets are very simple. That’s true. They’re so simple they’re often overlooked.
Noted philosopher Socrates once said an unexamined life was not worth living. By activating your reflective self first thing in the morning–then setting goals, praising progress, and redirecting yourself when you get off track–you will experience the satisfaction of work worth doing.