What's the most important thing on which you could spend your time right now? Really think about it, don't just keep skimming. Maybe it's a work thing, maybe it's an errand, maybe it's spending time with someone important, maybe it's finally starting a new important habit. Or maybe you don't know?
It's not always obvious what you should be doing, especially when you consider multiple areas of life at once. How do you compare investing in a relationship to building your business?
Before you can know what your most important thing is, you must know what's important to you. That's not as easy as it sounds, because we've all been influenced so much by society that it's hard to know what we care about and what we're just expected to care about.
If you don't know what you actually want and why, it will not be motivating enough for you to get it, so there's no point in trying. For a long time I wanted to build a big company. Why? No idea, really. It's what you're supposed to do when you're in tech, but I had no personal connection with the goal, so it never happened.
Once you figure out what it is you really want, ask yourself if there's a better way to get it than to go down the path you're planning on going down. Maybe you want to be rich so that you can travel all of the time. But do you really need to be rich to do that, or is there any easier way? For example, I wanted to be rich to buy an island, but then figured out how to do it without going through the hassle of getting rich first.
It's easiest to commit to a task when you know that the end result is something that you really want, and that you're on the most efficient path towards it. If you have a vague purposeless goal and haven't thought about the best way to get it, it is very difficult to find the most important task to work on.
Once you've committed to a path towards a goal that matters, think about what could happen which would most effectively bring that goal closer. If you wanted to be a photographer because that would allow you to have the best lifestyle you can imagine, maybe having a great portfolio would be the biggest leap forward. Or maybe it's getting a good camera. Or making friends with an instagram model who would promote you.
When you figure out what that thing is, come up with a daily task that will guarantee that you get there eventually. If you can't think of one, choose the next biggest leap you could make and come up with a daily task for that.
So if you needed to make a great portfolio, maybe your daily task would be to take and edit 10 photos, compare them to the best 50 photos you have now, and replace any of those 50 with any new ones that were better. If you did that for a year, your portfolio would be the top 1.5% of the 3650 photos you took in a year. I'm not a good photographer, but I bet I'd have a pretty good portfolio if I did this.
The important factor here is that there's a chain of accountability linking your goal to your daily task. You know why you want to be a photographer, you know what you can do to give yourself the biggest advantage, and then you know what you can do every day to ensure that you gain that advantage.
Then you just do that one thing every day. Almost no one finds it easy to do the most important thing every day, but this process will make it as easy as possible. And, of course, this isn't the only thing you do all day. You might have several most important things for different areas of life. Or you may take 50 photos one day because you're in the zone. Or you can just use the rest of your time working on other useful stuff because at least you know that the number one thing is getting handled no matter what.
I love having bursts of inspiration and hardcore productivity days/weeks/months. There's nothing like the feeling of making major progress in a short period of time. But the best way to ensure long term progress is to come up with a daily most important task that guarantees making huge progress on your most important task. It's not a comprehensive life strategy, but it's part of one.
Photo is a cool platter for serving fish that I saw at the Gulbenkian museum in Lisbon
Let's say you're going to put ten hours of effort into something, either a project or a habit. Your goal, or one of them, is to get as much out of those ten hours as possible. What will be important at the end isn't the number of hours put in, but the results.
One of the factors contributing to how effectively you spend your time is how you divide it. Do you do it all in one chunk? Ten one-hour chunks? Six hundred single minute chunks?
The answer to that depends heavily on the task, but for many habits, daily execution is ideal. You can break something huge like language learning into daily chunks that are manageable. You get the benefit of constant forward momentum. It's easy to remember that you're supposed to do something every day.
Someone asked, at a recent reader meetup in Budapest, how I do things every day. At this point it's such a fundamental part of who I am that I don't have an immediate answer other than: I just do them. But having to answer an earnest question made me think about it in depth. I used to be the kind of person who couldn't do anything on a regular daily basis. What changed?
An interesting discussion with a reader follows. While you're reading, if you have experience with half-finished projects/apps/websites/businesses/etc, please think to yourself, "What would I do?" and answer in the comments.
First off, thanks for making yourself available to talk. I just saw the comment saying you're surprised more people don't take you up on your offer, so I figured I'd send you an email :)
I have a project which has potential, but I'm not sure I can be the one to take it places.
It is a task-oriented team chat application, similar to campfirehq. Its task-oriented nature sets it apart, because you can make a task as easily as typing !implement history search and hitting enter. This makes it very easy to see who is working on what, and discuss it. The barriers to communication and organization are lowered, helping teams move more quickly, and stay organized.