The most important work you’ll do today is planning what you’ll do. I learned that from business consultant David Rock, author of Your Brain at Work. He says to use those first fresh moments of the day to do the heaviest lifting your brain will do all day—high-level strategizing. It’s “easier” to stay in reaction mode and just deal with whatever comes up, but when you remain reactive, you allow stress to rule your day, instead of the other way around. Not to mention you don’t get nearly as much done.
Here are some key strategies for staying proactive—and one step ahead of stress.
- Do a brain dump. Jot down all the things (obligations, due dates, must-do’s) that are swimming around your brain. Don’t filter or edit. Get them out and down and then you can move on to the next step. (Tip: You can rely on regular old paper, or take things up a notch and try apps like Carrot and Any.Do to manage your to-do’s.)
- Determine what’s at the top. You can’t—and won’t—get everything done today. In fact, when you die, you will still have a to-do list with stuff you didn’t get to. So figure out what you can and will tackle now—and if you don’t finish, at least you’ll start.
- Identify the tasks. What are the tactical steps that need to happen to get you to the high-priority items. Create those lists under the goals
- Delegate, delay, or delete. What less-urgent items can you knock off the list quickly—or hand off to someone else, put off, or take off your list altogether? Be sure to keep the small stuff from filling up all your time while the more important goals suffer.
- Start fresh, not frantic. This bit of genius comes from productivity expert and creator of listproducer.com Paula Rizzo. (Check out her video.) Because you never know what chaos the next day will bring, Rizzo creates an end-of-day list. Before she leaves the office (she’s also a producer at Fox News), she jots down specific tasks that have to happen the next day, based on how this one panned out and tomorrow is looking. When you do this, no matter what comes up, you’ll have a clear map of what you need to do—and far less likely to get derailed.
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