Three Powerful Steps to Make the Most of Every Day

“The problem with life,” a wise sage once mused, “is that it’s so daily.”

That is the problem, isn’t it? The years that add up are, quite simply, a collection of the days we live, so it’s essential that we learn how to make the most of each one.

Here are three powerful steps to do just that:

1. Focus on five or fewer Very Important Tasks

This simple, yet extremely powerful step, is one I’ve adapted from Leo Babauta, founder of the popular blog, Zen Habits. The idea is, from your list of things to do for the day, selecting five or fewer that are the most important things to do that day. They may not be the only things you do in a day, but they are the most important: your highest priorities for the day.

Leo refers to these as MIT’s, Most Important Tasks. I prefer the acronym VIT, Very Important Tasks, but the concept is the same. Focus first on a few top priorities each and every day.

Here’s how to do this.

At the beginning of the day, or even the night before, review the upcoming day and the things you have to do in it. Ask yourself, “What’s the most important things I can do today? What will fulfill my highest priorities, both personally and professionally?”

Pick five or fewer, three might even be best, and write them down. You can use a 3 x 5 card, a list on your smart phone, or a dry erasable board on the wall. I like the small Moleskine cahier journal that’s the same size and thickness of a passport. Whatever method you use, these VIT’s are your focus for the day.

Here are some of my VIT’s from last week:

  • Finalize sales process proposal
  • Prepare executive team presentation
  • Schedule a second appointment with Prospect A
  • Conduct a mid-course review with Client B
  • Complete long run of 8 miles

2. First Do Your Very Important Tasks

I know this is a well-worn metaphor, but it works. Consider a five-gallon bucket in which you must put rocks and sand. When you put rocks in the bucket first, there’s plenty of room for the sand because the sand sifts around the rocks. But put sand in the bucket first, and there’ll be no room for the rocks.

By extension, then, if you begin your day answering email, browsing the Internet, and running errands, then you’ll never find the time to do that which matters most. If, however, you begin your day by taking action on your highest priorities, the sand in your life–lower priority tasks–still gets done because sand finds a way to sift around the rocks.

This may mean, even, scheduling these tasks in your calendar so nothing conflicts with them. I do this for things like running and weekly dates nights with my wife. I’ve found over the years that apart from this practice, some things never get done.

Bottom line: Your VIT’s are the big rocks of your day. Like the fingers on your hand, you only get five. Identify them at the beginning of every day and do them first.

3. Finish Your Very Important Tasks

Here’s now where it gets good.

Many of the leaders I work with have an endless string of half-done projects and unfinished tasks hanging over their head. Few things ever get done completely because important details are left up in the air.

The third step in this process, however, is finishing your VIT’s without fail by the end of the day. The net effect of this is that things actually get done every day: real things, important things. Productivity soars beyond belief. Execution becomes a reality.

Defining your VIT’s, then, as something that can be completed in a day is critically important. This may involve breaking up a big task into sub-tasks, but that, too, accelerates execution by helping you make meaningful, step-by-step progress toward a goal.

How do you eat an elephant? One bite as a time.

The Power of Focus

The sun is a powerful source of energy. Billions of kilowatts of light pour from its rays every day. A laser is a weak source of energy, just a few watts, infinitesimal compared to the sun.

But those few watts are focused, unlike the sun, in a narrow stream of light. Under the direct penetration of a laser beam, diamonds–one of the earth’s hardest substances–are cut into pieces and cancerous tumors are removed.

Making the most of every day means living your life like a laser, defining that which matters most every day and getting it done no matter what.