How I get the big stuff done

Stack of post-it notes

Stack of post-it notes
I check my email too often.

I crave the opportunity to provide and receive instant answers. Instead of chipping away at larger projects, I look for the quick reinforcement I get from resolving the smaller issues of the day.

Even so, I am probably the most productive person I know… I achieve big hairy goals and small daily goals.

First, the small daily goals. On any given day, I easily empty my email inbox. I use a specific method to manage my emails, calendar, and tasks. Using this method, the inbox clears, and I’m rarely uncertain about what I should be doing next.

Now, to the big, hairy goals. Even though I have a system that works great for daily time management, it’s not very helpful when I insert a task such as: move heaven and earth. I’m talking about the kind of tasks that need more than one day to get done.

First, let me tell you what I don’t do. I no longer stop everything else I’m doing so I can focus without interruption on my big, hairy goal.

And it’s not because I’m a genius. It’s because I tried that once, and it didn’t work.

I used to think, “If I could just get away for a week then I could finally get [insert any big project that I never seem to make time for] done.”

I told myself there were just too many day-to-day demands on my time. I imagined the solution was to remove myself from interruptions by taking a vacation.

So, I took a week of vacation by myself.

I was finally going to create that online course I had been putting off for so long.

The vacation was great. I drove up the Pacific Coast Highway and back. Talked to strangers. Posted selfies on Facebook. Hiked. Got dehydrated. It was a blast!
The course creation? Did not get done.

I did spend some time thinking about it but I had already been doing that at home.
My big plan didn’t work.

I had the time and I didn’t use it to work on my big project—the online course.
What was the problem?

What it’s not about

Since that experience, I’ve learned ways to get more work done in less time. I never wonder if I am working hard enough. Instead, I wonder how I can get more work done with less time and effort. This way of thinking is like getting a new pair of eyeglasses for looking at my work.

Getting my online course done wasn’t about working harder. Back then, I didn’t know how to play the Post-it Note game.

The Post-it Note Game

At the end of every day, I put a short list of 3 or 4 tasks on a Post-it Note. These are simple things I want to complete the following day. I limit the list to 3 to 4 items because I want to make it super easy to finish my list.

Of course, I do a lot more each day than what is on my list. In fact, I have a more sophisticated method of managing my daily emails, calendar, and tasks.

But, the Post-it Note rules.

The Post-it Note contains things I will get done that day no matter what.
Of course, I’m playing a game with myself. Even better, the game is rigged.

I win every time.

This daily accomplishment has a side effect. I feel motivated by the quick results. Every day I’m a winner! It has been the most important factor in helping me achieve those big hairy goals.

Not all at once. A small piece at a time.

The Post-It note forces me to break down those big goals into dozens of tiny daily tasks. They have to be small enough to fit on my Post-It note. They have to be tasks I know with 100% certainty that I can finish in one day. If they feel any bigger, I get overwhelmed. I don’t even know where to start.

That vacation was four years ago. I still don’t have my online course. [Update: I did it! Find out how to access my free online WordPress course here>>.]

But just in the past 12 months, while continuing to complete all my day-to-day tasks as CEO, I have also:

  • hired and trained three new team members
  • rebranded my company (website. video. logo. The whole nine yards.)
  • implemented an automated email campaign
  • moved our physical office space to a new location
  • sold a business
  • started a new blog with a weekly publishing schedule

I haven’t been wrestling with myself over the lack of progress on the course.
When I decide to work on that project, I will know how to get it done.

The Post-it Note game is a daily discipline but doesn’t feel hard to do.

It gives me the small yet irresistible reward of daily accomplishment.
I can stay right where I am and go far.

Comment or ask a question below.

Welcome to WebDev Success. I’m Emily Journey and this podcast is where I take a hard look at the challenges facing the website development industry. Learn how to attract loyal customers, how to raise your prices with confidence, and take steps to craft the work life you’ve always wanted. Subscribe, listen in and develop brilliantly.

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Hi, I’m Emily Journey. I founded and lead a website consulting agency with six coworkers. This blog is where I write about the things I’ve learned at my real job.
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