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How to get important things done today

Do you feel like you are not getting the important things done in your day? This needs to stop!

Few feelings are better than those of getting something really important done and out of the way and moving closer to your goals. Few feelings are worse than those of time slipping through your hands while you are busy but somehow do not get the important things done.

Pencil Planner

Follow this routine for maximum effectiveness each day

It only takes 5–10 minutes each morning and you will earn back this time a hundredfold.

  • Start each day fresh: Each day, you want to decide what your most important outcomes and tasks are for the day. Do not get bogged down by full email inboxes and never-ending running todo lists.
    • Start with a clean sheet of paper or an empty organizer page for this day.
    • Do this FIRST thing in the morning. BEFORE you check email, Facebook, social media, etc.
    • Even better: do it the evening before when you stop working. I never really got myself to do it but it seems to work for some people.
  • Write down your ONE THING for the day.
    • If you are using a white sheet of paper, draw a horizontal line that divides the paper into a top quarter and a bottom three quarters. Use the upper section for your most important tasks.
    • Write down your ONE thing first. What is your “one thing” you ask? It is the answer to the following questions (whichever works best for you):
      • What is the one thing I can do today that will make everything else easier or unnecessary?
      • If I can only achieve one thing today before I leave work, what should that one thing be so that I feel like I achieved something significant today?
      • What is the thing that I dread the most doing, that I keep putting off?
    • Highlight your one thing, underline it, star it, write it on a post-it note and stick it to your computer. Whatever it takes to tell you that this needs to be done today!
  • Do you have other important tasks? Write them in the upper section as well. These tasks should be #2 and #3 after your one thing. Do not choose more than 3 very important tasks unless they are all very short and you are confident that you can do more. Writing done lots of tasks that are important but that you do not manage to finish will be frustrating.
  • Write down the rest. When you are done with your important tasks, use the lower section to write down all the other tasks that come to mind. Include those that are left over from yesterday. I like to put a small box in front of them so that I can check them off later.
  • Block time in your calendar to do your one thing and other most important tasks. Take a look at your calendar. Now, block uninterrupted sections of time where you will work on your 1–3 most important tasks in order of priority. Set an actual appointment with yourself that you treat just as you would treat a meeting that you are going to.
  • Start working on your most important tasks!
  • When you get interrupted, continue with your most important tasks.
  • When new tasks come in, write them down in the lower section of your sheet and continue with your most important tasks. Only in emergency situations can incoming tasks become your new most important tasks! It will drive you crazy if you treat all incoming stuff as urgent and important…
  • When you complete a task, check it off. Then cross it out. Okay, I’m not sure of you have to do both, but having a box to check off makes me feel like these are todos, and crossing an accomplished task out gives me immense pleasure, so I do both.
  • After you are done with your most important tasks you can deal with all the other stuff on your sheet. Choose a task and do it. Having achieved your most important stuff already will give you exceptional motivation to keep on plowing through your todo list. When new tasks come in and you finish them quickly, still write them down and cross them off as if they had been on your list all along. It will satisfy and keep your momentum going. Also, it will show you how much you can accomplish in a day without even realizing it. Often, we accomplish a lot but feel like we were not being productive precisely because we do not work on our most important tasks but did a lot other things.
  • When you are done with your day celebrate having accomplished your most important stuff. Celebrate all the tasks that you did and that are right in front of you!

Some bonus tips on processing email

  • Do not check email constantly. Reward yourself if you must after accomplishing one of your big tasks. Other than that, set a few times during the day when you will check email. Close your inbox afterwards.
  • Go through your emails one by one. Process each one of them. Processing does not mean working on them. Processing means deciding what to do with it. Is it a todo? Is it just reference material? Is it junk?
  • Delete and archive as much as possible.
  • Do things immediately that take less than 2 minutes.
  • Write down incoming tasks on your task sheet. Afterwards, archive the email. Do not work on them straight away. You are currently processing emails, not working on them!
  • Close your email tab or program afterwards. Continue working on your most important tasks.
  • Do not work on tasks out of your email inbox. If it is an important email that you have to draft, do it in a simple text editor like notepad or TextEdit.

Using a day planner

I like to work with a blank sheet of paper for my todos. This works especially well if you do not have many meetings or pre-existing time commitments. If you have a lot of meetings, consider using the free paper-based ‘Emergent Task Planner’ by David Seah. It’s a great way to discipline yourself by starting each day with this planner. Decide on your most important tasks and enter them in the respective section. Write down your appointments on the left and get a good overview how much time you have available today between those commitments. Then use the section for all the rest.

If you follow this process you will see your effectiveness increase dramatically! There is no better feeling than feeling in control of your work and getting done what matters.

All the best, and keep learning,



PS: Do you have anything to add? What helps you to get done what matters? Please share in the comments!

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3 Responses to How to get important things done today

  1. regina March 28, 2015 at 11:12 am #

    johannes, I was thinking lots on procastination these days, just reflecting my personal habits. In general it s seen negative but might it just be a subconscious sign that we are on the wrong track? Pursing the wrong thing? Or do you rate this a habit, ineffectivness of workstyle. I mean, e.g. when you really like playing tennis you probably won t “procastinate” on doing less interesting and challenging work out exercises when you are totally convinced that they will help you playing tennis better. I Would love to hear your thoughts on that.

    • Johannes March 28, 2015 at 4:37 pm #

      Hi Regina! You are right, I think that may be an explanation – sometimes.
      Just reading a great book that Oshikan recommended me: Martha Beck – Finding your own North Star. It’s a lot about the difference between your Social Self and your Essential Self (with your Social Self being the rational side of you that lives in society, and your Essential Self being the part in you that knows what’s true and what it wants to do with life). When your Essential Self doesn’t want to do things that your Social Self rationally thinks should be done I’m sure procrastination is what happens when you’re not disciplined or your energy batteries are low. That would be a good thing, IF you are enough in touch with yourself to understand and change course. When you procrastinate on your taxes, that is something that just has to be done, and you need discipline / effective habits to do it. And I think procrastination can also be resistance against the things that your Essential Self knows that should be done but that are hard or that scare you. In those cases, I also think that effective habits or a good workstyle can help you overcome procrastination when you decide in advance what needs to be done and then go into execution mode without making space for your fears and resistance.
      Does that make sense to you?

  2. Regina April 6, 2015 at 6:55 pm #

    Hi Johannes, thank you for your answer. I guess you are right. I saw your book recommendation on FB and just started to read it this weekend. It´s awesome! Thanks for sharing. Until now, the “Everybody on deck” – exercise is my favourite. Looking forward to read more!

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