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How to Kickstart Your Year So It’s Super Productive

By Daniel Gold

The start of a new year always brings a renewed desire for change, a sense of wanting to improve. It’s a really good feeling. Wanting to be better, do better and serve others better is an excellent sign of the desire for self-growth — so go with it! Here are my top tips for a highly productive year — including the things I do to set myself up to have the best day possible every day.

Plan on Sunday Evenings and Own Every Day

This is a big one for me. If you take time on Sunday evening — less than an hour — to plan out the coming work week, on Monday you’ll spend more time being productive and less time figuring out what you should be doing next. Here are my Sunday evening tips:

  • Take time out to clean up your inbox. I use four major rules for this, which I have applied since I first read “Getting Things Done” by David Allen: 1) Do it if it takes two minutes or less; 2) delete it; 3) defer it; or else 4) delegate it. Mercilessly attack your inbox like a spider monkey so you are dealing only with what you have to deal with — not the clutter.
  • Make sure your calendar is up to date with all of your appointments.
  • Line up three to five action items that absolutely must get done each day. Next block out time for yourself on your calendar to get things done. This is critical. While some think multitasking is a great skill, I assure you that monotasking to get a project done will serve you, your clients and your practice exceedingly well.

Of course, things happen every day to shift our priorities, but you either own your day or your day owns you.

Pick a Few Things That Must Go Right Every Day

Setting expectations with your clients is important, but so is setting expectations for yourself. Don’t put yourself in a position of failure. What are the top three tasks that must absolutely get done for your day to go right? To get a step closer to completing your projects and goals? We all have to-do lists a mile long, but limit yourself to choosing only three tasks each day. (Think of everything else as a bonus.) If you get those top three things done, awesome. Consider yourself a rock star.

Then, turn your focus to the next set of three. If you get those done, work on the next day’s tasks.

Understand What’s a Task and What’s a Project

People often confuse tasks and projects.

  • A task is a single-action to-do item such as “Call Tom.”
  • A project is something that involves multiple tasks that must be accomplished in a specific order to reach completion.

For instance, a simple project might be “File Expense Report.” This involves multiple tasks such as “scan receipts,” “cross-reference credit card,” “upload receipts,” and “input each item into antiquated expense system.”

While it may seem basic, understanding the difference will allow you to understand who is responsible, when tasks need to get done, and how to effectively work backward from the date the project is due.

Rethink Your Morning Routine

I’m an early bird. I wake up at 5 a.m. in hopes of accomplishing the right things before I have to wake the kids at 6:40 a.m. and the chaos begins. While my exact morning routine has changed over time, I can tell you that recently I’ve found the below ingredients are a fabulous recipe for a productive and successful day. A lot of credit goes to Hal Elrod and Laura Vanderkam for inspiration.

  • Drink a glass of lemon water and take the day’s vitamins. So many studies say doing this before drinking your coffee is a great way to kickstart your body.
  • Meditate for 10 minutes. This does wonders, for both my patience and my blood pressure!
  • Write for five minutes in a gratitude journal. Don’t snicker, the act of writing down what you’re grateful for every day is on the list of many of the most successful people.
  • Read a book for 10 minutes. For me, this is about the time it takes to get through a chapter of a book that will help me grow personally and professionally. Currently, I’m finishing up James Maxwell’s “The Difference Maker.”)
  • Work out for 10 minutes. (It’s a decent workout and enough for me!)
  • Spend 10 minutes planning for my day.

Bonus: A Great Way to Get Going for the Entire Year

Clear a wall in your office, grab some big sticky notes and find a Sharpie. (You can also do this with a tool like Trello, which I use to visualize big-picture projects.)

  • Your master “theme.” Write “2017” on one sticky note, and below that, the word “theme.” Place it near the top of your wall. Now figure out what the theme of this year is going to be for you. What is your one goal, the one thing you want to do really, really well? At the end of the year, what do you want to be able to look back on and say, “I did it!”?
  • Quarterly themes. Take four more sticky notes and write Q1, Q2, Q3 and Q4 on separate ones. Now, add the word “theme” below. What can you do in that quarter to get closer to your 2017 goal? Write it down and add the sticky notes to the wall.
  • Add your objectives. Next, take 12 more sticky notes and write down the months of the year. Place them on the wall below the corresponding quarter. On each month’s sticky note, write three to five major objectives. These are the things you need to do, month by month, to reach your master 2017 goal.

Once you’ve got all that down, create tasks, put them in your task management app (I use Todoist and Trello) and add them to your calendar. Make it happen!

Related: What’s Your Word for 2017? by Ruth Carter

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Daniel Gold

Daniel Gold is a lawyer, consultant, technologist, speaker and author. Dan’s mission is to make a difference in the lives of professionals both at work and in life. He is known for his productivity e-books such as “Evernote: The Unofficial Guide to Capturing Everything and Getting Things Done” and “Make It Happen: How to Write, Publish, and Sell Your eBook.” He is also regarded as an expert in e-discovery and IT managed services. Follow him on Twitter at @DanielGoldEsq and @DEGConsulting.

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