Planning My Days Around Willpower

Dan Pink shared 4 lessons from Manage Your Day-to-Day in his newsletter. Number 1 has been on my radar since a recent chat with Mark McGuinness (who wrote one section of the book.)

“The single most important change you can make in your working habits is to switch to creative work first, reactive work second. This means blocking off a large chunk of time every day for creative work on your own priorities, with the phone and e-mail off.”

I posted the graphic a couple days ago. Here’s the detail:

I get up every morning and plow through my email to “get it out of the way.” I go so far as to read the least important first because I know they won’t take long; in fact, I can probably delete most of them without even reading them (In screenwriting, that kind of apparently-meaningless aside is called “foreshadowing” because it’s gonna come back and bite us in the bum any minute now.)

After I’ve done all the hard stuff, I get to the fun stuff. Except I’m too emotionally exhausted to do it.

My books languish. Important graphic work goes untouched.

But the noisiest interruptions are dealt with religiously.

I’m changing that. The graphic below (also posted a couple days ago) is how I’m going to plan my days around willpower.

plan for willpower
Links to larger image

By quadrant:

A: little willpower required, but high value outcomes. Reading is vital to my writing, my coaching, my personal and professional growth. I used to leave it for late at night when everyone else was asleep (and sometimes, me too.) No more. Reading is vital, and at least a few days a week, comes first.

Fun client interaction is easy. I respond to what clients ask, nudge them along, share something I liked. Easy low-stress stuff, but the outcome is priceless: showing my clients I really care about them as a person.

Answering questions for others is also easy, because it’s reactive. James finds questions on Linked In that are in my wheelhouse, sends me a link, and I answer as best I can. It’s fun, gets me thinking, and makes good first contact with folks (or further connections with some of the LI regulars.)

B: willpower needed, but outcomes are still high value. Graphic design. Writing, fiction or blog posts or whatever. Studying personal and professional growth books, websites, and plans. This stuff requires deep thinking and focus. Willpower. I haven’t used much on those Quadrant A tasks, so I’ve got plenty for these important projects. I won’t plan more than one per day if possible.

C: low challenge/willpower, but less important outcomes. Answering emails or dealing with clutter in my inbox (no matter how much one prunes, there’s always a certain amount of detritus.)

Neatening my physical space. It’s important to have a certain amount of neatness, and that’s normal for our office. But once in a while, it needs a bit extra in order to avoid visual distractions. Not a big deal to get it done, and the outcome isn’t a big impact on my work.

D: big challenges with less valuable outcomes. My newsletter doesn’t have the same direct personal benefits as the client and prospect interactions in Quadrant A. It’s important, but doesn’t do anything in particular at the moment. (Don’t confuse this graphic with the valuable but very different version from The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People which graphs importance against urgency.)

Writing for hire. Sometimes I still write for others, though it’s rare. I do it because I want to give to the one asking, not because it does anything for me. Yeah, generosity is good, and they always appreciate it. But it’s a minimal outcome for me, yet requires the same care and thought as my most valuable writing because I give others my best work, not factory seconds.

Since I’m focused this year on three words (performance, High Priest, dissident; all in relation to teaching self-publishing) anything that doesn’t support those aspects of that goal has to work to earn its place. When I find myself deleting an email without reading it, I unsubscribe. If I miss it, I can always come back later. Pruning my inbox is a big way to avoid getting sucked into the willpower drain.

A puritanical work ethic works against me in this. I’ve always been taught to do what’s hard and unpleasant first, then do what’s fun and easy.

That’s nonsense and I won’t do it any more.

We need to focus on what’s important in life, not on what’s difficult. Sure, sometimes they overlap, but hard for the sake of hard is just stupid.

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