1.tFigure out what’s doable in a day.
Set realistic boundaries. Create goals that can be accomplished in the space of a day, Core says. “Remember, nearly all problems, challenges, and needs are best faced if they are brought down to the scale of ‘what can be done right now’ by taking on one small piece of a difficult situation.”
2.tGet big things done before 9:00 a.m. (instead of snoozing, procrastinating and lurking at the water cooler).
Ever notice how your morning sets the tone for your whole day? If you start your day with positive and productive ideas, actions, thoughts, and feelings, you’re likely to gain momentum throughout the day, Core says. “The truth is this: What you do first matters.”
3.tDO first, and then KNOW (not the other way around).
Most people believe that the knowledge that something is important should make you want to do it. But in reality, that’s not the case. “Study after study shows that knowledge alone usually isn’t enough to impact our desires,” Core shares. “In fact, the opposite is true. First, you must do something — like bite the bullet and put on your workout clothes! If you experience positive feelings, attitudes, and results because of your action, you will learn that whatever you just did is good, and you’ll want to do it again, and again and again. Over time, you’ll develop a new habit, and you’ll become an evolved person.”
4.tOwn up to your junk hours.
“Junk hours” are a little like junk food: While they provide short-term pleasure, they contribute to long-term imbalance and exhaustion. Junk hours might include surfing the Internet, shooting the breeze with colleagues at the water cooler or checking email in order to avoid doing other work. “In order to maximize each day, you need to own up to your junk hours,” Core instructs. “You need to identify when you’re going through the motions of work, versus when real work is being done. Don’t be ashamed that your junk hours exist, because everybody needs to take breaks and shift gears. Your task now is to exchange your low-value junk activities for ones that build greater health and value into your workday.”
5.tInstead of adding to your to-do list, build a new pattern.
“To build a productive new pattern into your life, you usually won’t have to add new tasks to your day,” Core confirms. “Instead, you’ll simply do what you are already doing, or want to do, in a way that becomes habitual. For instance, if you want to wake up an hour earlier so that you can jump-start the day, you simply have to change the time your alarm rings and the time you go to bed. If you want to be more productive at work, you might have to replace aimless procrastination with scheduled breaks. In both cases, you’re changing the way you perform existing tasks, not adding new ones.”
6.tStart with one thing. Then add another. Then another.
“Don’t take on more than you can handle,” Core says. Break each goal down to its smallest components, and then pick one of them to tackle. Pursue this change until it becomes a habit, then move on to the next one. Start with one thing and don’t add another until you’re ready. “Positive motion creates positive emotion,” he says.
7.tMake a big-box checklist.
It’s a given that you have a to-do list. Maybe it’s on paper, on your smartphone, or just in your head…but you have one. It’s also highly likely that your list isn’t as useful as it could be. Too often, you get stuck doing the urgent instead of the important. Core has a solution: Make an actual, on-paper checklist each afternoon for the following day or each morning. Put a box by each task — the more important that task is for you to complete that day, the bigger its box should be. “I focus first on my big-box tasks,” Core explains.
8.tThink about it so you don’t have to think about it.
We all have “those” tasks and obligations that eat up a lot of our time, that we find difficult and frustrating, or both. For instance, when you come home at the end of each day, maybe you find yourself standing in the middle of your kitchen with no clue what to cook for dinner. “Figure out where these areas are for you and commit to learning a new pattern,” Core urges. “That might mean getting into the habit of planning meals and shopping for their ingredients each weekend. Yes, learning new patterns can initially be tedious and laborious. But once they’ve taken hold — often in three weeks or less — they’ll speed up your performance, streamline your effort and lower your stress.”
9.tInfuse meaning into your work.
First, let’s get one thing straight: Doing meaningful work does not mean that you will “love” every second of it. “Meaning” can simply be recognition of what you enjoy about your work. “You’ll come to find that the ‘administrivia,’ the mundane and routine chores required of you, and the not-so-exciting aspects of your work become easier to do and get completed more quickly if you have a strong focus on what you do find exciting, rewarding, or fulfilling.”
10.tSeek to serve, not shine.
To some extent, it’s human nature to look out for No. 1, Core says. We all want to rack up accomplishments, receive accolades and garner recognition. “Ironically, the key to shining is putting others first,” Core explains. “People who channel their efforts toward making others’ lives easier are nearly always respected, included, and considered valuable. When you help others reach their goals and become their best, you’ll usually find that the same things happen to you.”
11.tFill up your energy bank account so you can make withdrawals when you need them.
Throughout life, circumstances arise that are beyond our control. You may experience a major illness, lose a loved one, or be forced to relocate. You may have to occasionally work long days and go without sleep. The list goes on. It’s because of these out-of-our-hands circumstances, says Core, that we must all focus on controlling what we can. “Get enough sleep. Eat nutritiously. Exercise when time permits. That way, when you do find yourself needing to push the limits, you’ll have a healthy margin of energy, motivation or whatever to draw on. Manage what you can manage as often as possible in order to compensate for what you cannot manage.”
12.tForgive yesterday so you can work on today.
Core says most successful, hardworking people are often hard on themselves to an unproductive level. They are their own worst critics and spend valuable time lingering on mistakes and slip-ups. Long after the event — whatever it was — is over, they beat themselves up relentlessly instead of spending their time in a more productive state. “Treat yourself with the same compassion and generosity you’d extend to another person who’d messed up or fallen short of a goal.”