Mindset

How to Have a Powerfully Effective Day

Set your goals, create a focus habit, lighten it up—and live a little
BY Leo Babauta TIMEJuly 24, 2022 PRINT

Many people I talk to are unhappy with their ability to get stuff done in their lives. They feel they’re wasting a lot of time, never really getting anything important done.

What I like to play with is the idea of having a “powerfully effective day.”

It’s a big topic, probably worthy of a whole book, but in this article I’m going to lay down some of the key principles and tactics.

If you can follow these—imperfectly, and with practice—you’ll transform how effective you are in your life. These principles and tactics are simple and powerful, but they require your wholehearted devotion to them.

Let’s dive in.

Principle 1: Align Your Targets

You can’t be effective if you’re working on unimportant stuff. You have to work on the stuff that matters. But how do you know what matters?

The tactic is to pick one to three tasks a day that align with your targets. Here’s how it works:

  1. Set medium-term goals for yourself—six months to a year. What do you want to create in your life and in the world? These can be purposeful work goals, personal goals, etc.
  2. Set monthly targets that align with the long-term goals. Then weekly targets that align with the month. This requires a monthly review/planning session, and a weekly one. Set reminders.
  3. Every day, pick one to three tasks that align with your weekly targets.

It’s a pretty simple system, not revolutionary, but what it means is that every day, you’re moving yourself closer to what matters most. Every day, you’re knocking out tasks that are meaningful and effective.

The daily, weekly, and monthly sessions only have to take five minutes, once you get into the swing of it. The yearly or six-month sessions might take a little longer, because you want to give some thought to what you really want.

Today, you can just set a monthly goal for yourself and a weekly target that aligns with that goal. Then pick one task that will help you move toward that weekly target.

Principle 2: Create the Focus Habit

Once you know what you need to focus on, it’s a matter of actually focusing. But this focus habit doesn’t only apply to the one to three tasks that move you toward your targets—if you use this habit everywhere, you’ll create a powerfully effective day. I use the task with email, messages, writing this very blog post, recording videos for my courses, reading books, and doing workouts.

Here’s how it works at a tactical level:

  1. Pick one thing to focus on. This is a really important first step, because most people don’t ever do this.
  2. Go full-screen mode. Make this the only thing in your world. Devote yourself to this one task.

Those are the only steps. If you do this with everything you do, relentlessly, you’ll be powerfully effective. Especially if you’re doing one to three tasks a day that align with long-term targets.

Most people will ignore this tactic, but don’t. It’s the key to the whole simple system.

That said, don’t ignore the next section either!

Principle 3: Lighten Up Every Focus Session

Once you’re in the focus session for a particular task, you might have the tendency to try to get it over with. There’s a sense of doing what you’re “supposed” to do, doing a chore, maybe a sense of burden.

Who wants to do something like that? No wonder we procrastinate and go to distractions. That’s boring.

Instead, I suggest finding a way to lighten up the focus sessions. Make them come alive.

That means bringing a different, more alive approach to every task. Some ideas:

  • Play—how could this be fun?
  • Ease—how could this be easeful?
  • Curiosity—how could you learn something as you do this?
  • Wonder—how amazing is this miracle we call life?
  • Service—how is this serving people you care about?
  • Love—how is this an expression of your love?
  • Connection—how is this task connecting you to others?
  • Creation—how can you bring the joy of creating something to this?

Other ideas: dance, music, spaciousness, peace, compassion, and abundance.

Or come up with a different approach that lightens you up. Bring a sense of experimentation and curiosity to finding the approaches that work for you.

Principle 4: Create a Sense of Aliveness to Your Day

These principles/tactics are great for when you’re focusing on something, but our days are more than tasks. There’s life that’s being lived, all day long.

So I find it important to not only focus on individual tasks, but on your experience of the whole day—a unifying approach to having a powerful day. And for me, that approach is wonder and aliveness.

Many people will ignore this because they don’t understand how it makes you more effective. We can’t let ourselves forget the power of feeling a sense of well-being, feeling inspired, feeling connected to others, and feeling connected to a sense of meaning. Do these things make us more effective?

So ask yourself:

  1. Do you have a fundamental sense of well-being? If not, what would you need to do to get there? Sleep, movement, some whole foods, self-care, and a little meditation?
  2. Do you feel meaning and purpose in what you do? If not, how can you find the meaning in what you do, or shift to doing something that feels more meaningful?
  3. How connected do you feel to others in your life whom you care about? If that’s lacking, can you take steps to increase connection? Either way, can you feel more connection to others as you do your meaningful work?
  4. How inspired and alive do you feel throughout the day? How could you bring more of that into your day, if it’s lacking?

For me, after making sure the first three things on this list are taken care of—my fundamentals—I focus on the fourth item. This is where I can get the most return on my investment of effort. If you’re lacking in the first three areas, focus on those first, because they’ll give you the most return.

How can we feel more inspired and alive during the day? For me, I play with these practices:

  • Wonder—how can I see wonder in everything?
  • Curiosity—how can I learn something from every moment?
  • Love—how can I bring love into everything I do?
  • Aliveness—how can I feel lightened up about my life?

These four things are my favorites. But I play with other things as well: adventure, play, expansiveness, and joy. It’s all powerful!

How alive would you like to feel today? And how could that contribute to a powerfully effective day for you?

Leo Babauta
Leo Babauta is the author of six books and the writer of Zen Habits, a blog with over 2 million subscribers. Visit ZenHabits.net
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