How to Make Something Happen Every Day

It's pretty easy to have a whole day go by and have nothing to show for it. Ever have one of those days where you say, "I know I got up. I think I ate breakfast. I got to the office. And then it's a blur..." It's a real problem when you start stringing those days into weeks, because they eventually become months and then years. That's not much of a story to tell and it's all too common. If you want to break out of that pattern then you need some strategies. These are some that have worked for me.

Five Strategies for Making Something Happen Every Day

1) Start the Night Before. 

Part of my inspiration for this post was Michael Hyatt's Productive Day post. He said that he gets to bed on time. I don't know how much sleep you need, but you know how much you need. Get it. I'm an early riser. I know lots of people who say they aren't. When you ask them a few more questions you find that they typically don't get to bed until after midnight. If I went to bed at midnight, I wouldn't be an early riser either. I know how much sleep I need by listening to my body. You can too. If you need 7 hours a night, then get it.  If you need 9, then plan accordingly. Failure to get your minimum keeps you from performing optimally each day. If you are going to make something happen, why start the day in a hole?

2) Plan before you Stand. 

Movie directors plan their movies before they shoot them. They sketch them out on story boards. I do the same thing with my day, in my head. After I wake up, but before I stand up, I visualize the BIG things I am going to do during the day. I think about what it will take to accomplish them, why they are important to me, and how I will feel once they are done. I sometimes discover during this process that I have forgotten some needed element. This give me a chance to correct my action plan before I've even started. Most importantly, the plan before you stand methodology lets you validate your approach, before you actually begin.

3) Do the Hard Thing First.

The list of things you are going to get done in any given day is always shorter than the list of things you'd like to get done. Why not go for a big win first? I guess if you need encouragement, you might want to start with the easy stuff, but that can sometimes kill your drive. So start big. Do the thing with the most impact first. After that, everything else will be easy.

4) Avoid Low Value Distractions.

The Internet has made getting distracted easier than ever. I could be writing my book, writing things that matter, or reading all of the cool stuff flowing past my screen in Twitter. My phone beeps, and I am off looking at Facebook. The real book, the work that matters can easily get lost among the distractions. The only real way to make this problem go away is to turn it off. EMail, Facebook, Twitter, that's my list not yours, I put them in a box. I don't allow alerts, I set my phone to DO NOT DISTURB to get the focus I need to get the big things done. When working on an extended project, I only read emails at specified times during the day. If you are going to get the big thing done, you can't let the little stuff sap your attention. Turn it off.

5) Reward Yourself.

The race is long and if I don't break it up into pieces I find it hard to keep up my best effort all the way to the end. So, I set up rewards for getting hard things done. Incentives work for the economy, they work for my kids and I figure they must work for me as well. There are certain things I really like to do during the day that I set up as rewards for getting things done. It might be a trip out for a special cup of coffee, a ten minute conversation with a friend, a walk around the block or smoking a cigar. I consider those activities, as well as the sheer internalized joy of getting good work done in front of me, as rewards. This can help me move forward when the going gets tough.

These are just a few of the techniques I use to try to create things that matter every day. If you've got some tools to add to this list, then drop me a line or post a comment below. I'd love to hear your ideas for staying focused.

About Phil Yanov

Phil Yanov is a Technologist, Columnist and Public Radio Commentator.

He is the founder of Tech After Five as well as the founder and President of the GSA Technology Council and the IT Leadership Council.

His personal technology column appears in Greenville Business Magazine and the Columbia Business Journal.

He co-hosts the Your Day technology shows heard on NPR radio stations across South Carolina and is a frequent contributor to technology stories appearing on radio and television.