This morning I drove 2 hours into the office, where I work for 8 to 9 hours each day as an engineer.
After work, I’ll commute back home, spend time with my fiancé and dog, get my sweat on, eat, then wind down (read, journal, plan) for 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime. Rinse, repeat for the rest of the week.
It’s a one speed, pedal-to-the-metal type of life – straight Charlie Sheen style.
To top it all off, I’m growing a wellness blog as a side hustle. I have a goal of earning enough from it to pay the rent and bills someday.
For now, however, engineering is the best place for me. I enjoy it. I’m good at it. And it takes care of me financially.
Which brings me to the point of this article today…
Life is busy as hell, and it’s incredibly easy to let weeks, months or even years go by without reaching your goals.
My life is crazy busy, but unfortunately it’s the way things have to be until I can afford to free up some time. I know your life is much of the same. There are always things to be done and always a reasonable excuse to put off your goals for the immediate situation at hand.
Even when that situation is diving into the couch face first to relax for a moment.
Whatever the case may be, I get it.
But guess what?
Life probably isn’t going to slow down anytime soon. For those of you waiting for the load to get lighter, or for the perfect window of opportunity, I’ve got some unsettling news for you…that time will never come.
In fact, it will likely continue to get crazier.
That only leaves us with one option: we’ve got to power through to achieve the goals we set for ourselves.
Since I can’t slow down time, it’s become important for me to make the best use of what I’ve been given. These 3 tips below have always helped me to stay on track and focused – no matter what life throws my way – and I’m sure they can help you, too.
- Aim for Consistency
I’m a huge fan of routine. I’ve read Daily Rituals by Mason Curry, and I’ve listened to just about every podcast Tim Ferriss has put out. So believe me when I say that I get the importance of routine.
Unfortunately, that all goes to sh** when life starts throwing curveballs your way.
That’s why instead of routine (which I usually promote), I tell my readers to switch to consistency.
And there’s a big difference between the two:
Routine is doing something at generally the same time each day, following a specific sequence. Think of routine as a series of habits ingrained into your daily activities.
Example: Every night at 9 pm, I turn off electronics, brush my teeth, journal, then read for 30 minutes.
Consistency, in this context, is simply doing something every day, with no set time or series of events.
Example: Every day, I read.
You can see how routines can easily fall apart with a busy lifestyle. You might not be able to do all those things at the same time every day, but consistency, as we defined it, is totally possible.
As long as you make reading (or whatever your goal is) a priority, then you just have to force yourself to do it whenever you have time for it. No excuses.
It doesn’t matter if it’s for 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 30, or a full hour. The important thing is to make sure it gets done, no matter what. This ensures progress, which is what this article is all about.
- Do the Most Important Stuff First
To quote habits expert James Clear:
“We often assume that productivity means getting more things done each day. Wrong. Productivity is getting important things done consistently.”
There’s that darn “consistently” word again. It just keeps popping up.
Anyways, in our busy lives, we commit to hundreds of obligations to other people. Sometimes it’s because we love them (helping out family or friends), other times it’s because we need food on the table (doing work for your boss).
Whatever the case, these things add up, and it becomes easy to forget which tasks are actually important.
When you identify and perform your most important task first, you do a few things for yourself.
- You’re being mindful and reminding yourself what’s important to you.
- You guarantee progress before competing priorities have a chance to knock you off course.
- You make the best use of your energy and willpower, which is at its peak in the morning hours. This makes it easier to start and actually finish the task since you’ll be primed to overcome the resistance of starting.
This is the only productivity advice you’ll ever need. At the end of your day, regardless what happens, at least you’ll feel satisfied knowing you moved one step closer to your goals.
- Use Written and Environmental Cues for EVERYTHING
Environment design plays a key role in the development of habits. It’s essentially using environmental cues to trigger the desired behavior.
There are two ways busy people can make use of environment design:
They can use it to gain more headspace.
If there’s one thing a busy person needs more of, it’s headspace.
I don’t know about you, but once I have more than 2 or 3 things I’m supposed to remember, I start losing track.
Throughout my day, a lot of stupid, yet essential stuff pops into my head. I could be working through a design when suddenly I’ll remember a text I need to send my landlord. Rather than doing it right then or trying to recall the thought later in the evening, I’ll put it on my Google calendar as a short task to do at a specific time when I know I can handle it.
I do this for literally everything.
Most others might block out the things on their calendar, but I wanted to be as transparent as possible. You’ll even see at the top my “Valentine’s Day, dumbass” reminder. This was just to make sure I had everything ordered and good-to-go for my sweetheart.
Don’t worry, I did a pretty great job ;).
All of this stuff is in addition to my daily work and life routine that I follow.
I don’t want to have things pop up and distract me from what I’m doing. My way to combat this is to write down (on paper or electronically) my thought, put a timed reminder for it, then forget about it until later when cued.
This is just a high-tech version of environment design in action. I let my mind focus on the task-at-hand, and rely on reminders to make sure everything else gets done as needed.
The other way busy people can use environment design is to immediately trigger a desired behavior.
Everybody’s life is more or less just a series of actions or reactions to events that occur. Sometimes those events are unprecedented, other times they’re planned.
More planned triggers means getting more stuff done that you truly wanted to.
I was pretty terrible at writing every day until I placed my laptop on the couch with a sticky note that said “Time to write, you sexy MF’er”.
I didn’t read every night until I put my Kindle in plain sight on my nightstand.
I forgot to take my daily fish oil until I started putting the bottle in the open on the counter.
Environment design can do some wonderful things for you. You just have to make sure you actually use it to your advantage.
We’re all busy people. We all have lives that are chalk-full of crazy things. But it’s necessary. We love it. Whether we like to admit it or not, being busy keeps things exciting.
I’m not saying I’m perfect. I definitely have times where I get overwhelmed and completely drop the ball, but the strategies I’ve outlined above are the system I use to make consistent progress on my goals, even during chaos.