How to Get Things Done

A bit pet peeve of mine is when I hear people say “I got nothing done.” The reason is because I highly doubt not a thing was done. Surely, one doesn’t spend a day sitting around staring into space. We don’t spend all our time meditating, though that would be nice. “I got nothing done” really means, “I did a lot of things today but none of them moved the needle towards where I am trying to go.” To me, that is a shame. Wasted time and wasted energy are two of the most unfortunate results of our unintentional lives. So I wanted to write a post today about how to get things done. More accurately, I am writing about how to get the most important things done. So that we can all end our days feeling fulfilled and closer to the person we wish to be tomorrow.

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Identify the ONE thing

The first reason why things don’t get done is simply because we are not aware WHAT exactly we want to get done. I guarantee you that a majority of people will not be able to recite off the top of their head what their number one priority for today is. They may have a long laundry list of to-do items, but they have not taken the time to prioritize the list. How can we expect to accomplish anything without a compass to guide us?

The most important thing you can do to attain a goal is identify the ONE thing that needs to get done. Every day, you should have a clear idea what HAS to be checked off your list. This one thing should be the most important step towards achieving your goal. However, some people have trouble identifying the one thing in the first place. So let us go through an example.

An Example

Let’s say you want to become more fit. That is your goal. In order to become more fit, you can exercise in the morning. Some people might think to themselves, ‘Okay, that’s my ONE thing. To exercise in the morning’ But it isn’t the most important thing because in order to exercise in the morning, they have to wake up an hour earlier. So then they think, ‘Fine, that’s my ONE thing. I have to wake up earlier’ But in order to wake up earlier, they need to sleep earlier. And in order to sleep earlier, they need to turn off the TV earlier. Which means the ONE most important thing that will set them up for their goal should be turning the TV off earlier.

If you say exercising in the morning is the most important thing, then you are setting yourself up for failure. Because getting up early is crucial to working out. Sleeping early is crucial to getting up early. And turning off the TV is crucial to getting to bed on time. By skipping all those steps, you will miss your morning workouts once in a while. And when you miss a morning workout, you will be disappointed. After feeling disappointed, you will give up on your goal.

Therefore, the first step is identifying the ONE thing.

Prioritize In the Morning

Tackling your ONE thing is easiest when you have the most motivation, energy and inspiration. To be honest, the time when you are most prime for all of that is early in the morning. I cherish my early mornings. I wake up early and do my most important work at that time. That’s why early morning jobs are my favorite! When planning your day, clear your early mornings for the things that are most important to you and your goals.

Early mornings are NOT the time for checking emails, commuting, or cleaning up around the home. Those are trivial tasks. This sacred time should be spent doing the most important thing that will advance you towards your goal in one of the seven circles: Physical health, Spirituality, Personal Life, Key Relationships, Job, Business or Finance. Pick one of these seven circles to focus on a goal, then pick the ONE thing.

Put Yourself First

The last reason why people never get things done is because they don’t put themselves first. Let’s use our job as an example. What is the first thing people do when they log into work?

They fire up their computers and check their inbox. They get back to other people’s emails. A morning meeting is called. After the meeting, they have five minutes to spare. They check social media or emails again until, PING! A message is received from Slack.

At the end of the day, they get nothing done. Why? Because they spend their whole day prioritizing everything else but their one thing! My priorities don’t live in my inbox. Everyone else’s does. It’s a fallacy, and quite ego-centric, to believe that everyone else needs you right now. Trust me, if they really need you, they will find you.

When you log into work, focus on the ONE thing you need to get done for your job that day. This will turn you from being an ordinary worker to an extra-ordinary one. Ask to leave meetings if they don’t serve you. Stop responding to emails that don’t require a response. Actually, I don’t even bother opening up emails that I don’t believe to be urgent or necessary. Likewise, I don’t play phone messages from people I don’t know. If they really need me, they will send it again or find another way to reach me.

The Fallacy of Emergencies

And by the way, even if someone “really needs you”, and they seek you out, you still don’t have to give them your time. At least, not right away. There are very few emergencies that require your immediate attention. When my WFH husband comes to me and asks for my attention in the middle of my blog work, I simply say, “I am busy right now. Let’s revisit this later.” I do the same for my assistants at the dental office. That’s it. Because most ’emergencies’ can wait an hour.

In a work environment, a majority of ’emergencies’ are actually emergencies because someone else did not do their job. Someone did not have the foresight to predict what a deadline needs. The reason there are urgencies in an office is because of procrastination, not because of a sudden requirement.

How many times has someone messaged you on Slack begging you to help them finish something that is due at the end of the day? Isn’t it because that person did not prepare enough to get all the pieces for their project done? Well they are adults and they know how to plan better. They just don’t plan better because they assume their time is more important than yours. They assume everyone else will drop their to-do lists for them, because in the past, that’s probably what everyone else has done. It’s a perfect example of our work email culture.

How to Respond to False Emergencies

For those scenarios, I am very honest and say, “Sorry, I am booked.” Even at the dental office. If a patient calls and my schedule is full and they say they a tooth broke when they bit down on something soft, I don’t squeeze that patient in. That would be unfair to everyone else who has a designated appointment time. That would be unfair to my assistants and my staff. Plus it would stress me out, which would be bad for my health. I simply say, “Sorry, I am booked. But you can come on another day.”

In reality, that patient probably had a fractured tooth or a cavity that set up their tooth for failure. That would mean they haven’t come in for their recommended treatment, or they haven’t come in for a while for an exam. It is very likely something like a fracture or a decay would be caught if the patient had come in every 6 months. What they are essentially saying through their actions is that their life and their time are more important than yours. And they expect you to drop everything you’re doing to accommodate their timeline.

Reframing Your Role

Now, you might be thinking, ‘That’s not very nice’. You might be thinking, ‘My boss will think I’m a slacker.’ Or, you might be thinking, ‘I’m not a team player if I do not help my co-workers.’ But none of that is true. Let’s reframe.

It isn’t nice to your assistants, staff, yourself, or your scheduled patient when another person gets squeezed into the schedule and you run behind.

Your boss will not think your a slacker. The true slacker is the person who keeps getting promoted because they get everyone else to do their work for them.

You are a team player because you are holding your co-workers accountable for their job responsibilities. By doing so, you are actually making them better workers. They will improve their organizational skills, plan for projects better, and become more efficient at work.

Put Yourself First In Everything You Do

And putting yourself first does not apply to just your job. If the circle you are focusing on is personal life, perhaps getting the morning to yourself before the kids wake up is important to giving you the stamina for the rest of the day. In that case, wake up 20 minutes earlier to do something for you. This could be reading a book, making a mindful cup of coffee or meditating. Without it, the whole day will feel horrendously arduous.

So you see, you have to put yourself first. Ignore the rest. Focus on the ONE thing for YOUR goal. And trust me, you will get things done earlier in the day. You will jump from being an ordinary person to an extraordinary person. You will achieve your goals and improve your life.

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