By Leo Babauta
People have often told me that they’re surprised by how much I get done during the week, from team members to clients. I’m not saying that to brag, but to relate that I forget how much work I’ve done to be able to make a bigger impact in the world.
So in this article, I’d like to share some of my secrets.
In truth, they’re not really secrets, but things you’ve likely heard before. That said, I’m hoping that something here might be the inspiration you need to put a key idea into action.
Why Get Things Done?
I’m not a member of the productivity cult — getting stuff done just to feel like you’re optimizing your life, or to feel good about yourself. I definitely have been a member of this optimization cult, but these days I reject it outright.
Being productive just for the sake of being productive, or because it’s a “good thing to do,” feels like it’s missing the point. It turns us into machines that just churning things out meaninglessly, and this leads to burnout and a feeling of pointlessness.
Instead, I care about impact and meaning. I’m on a mission to create change in the world, helping the world to open to uncertainty, and that feels really meaningful to me. In service of that mission, I’m committed to creating things like this blog, my podcast, my Fearless Living Academy and all the courses in it, my Fearless Mastery coaching group and all the transformation that’s happening in there. Those creations will serve the impact I’m committed to.
That’s why I get things done — because I care deeply about the impact I want to make in the world. It’s important to keep that in sight.
Setting Targets & Regular Planning
It’s easy to get lost in our tasks and emails and messages, and forget where we’re going when we’re cranking out tasks. This leads to a ton of wasted effort.
If you want to make the most impact, set targets so you know where you’re going.
Here’s what I do:
- Yearly: Every December, I spend time reviewing my previous year, and reflecting on what targets I want to hit in the coming year.
- Monthly: At the end of each month, I do a review of my previous month, and then set targets for myself for the month. I align these, as much as I can, with my yearly targets.
- Weekly: Every Monday morning, I review my previous week and set targets for the current week. I try to align these with my monthly targets, so that each week I’m moving closer to the monthly targets.
- Daily: Every day, I plan out what I want to do in the day. I don’t always hit it, but that’s not the point. I get clear. And I try to align my daily targets with my weekly targets.
You can see that this aligns me with where I want to go long-term, so that even if I get lost in my tasks and emails, I can trust that I’m moving forward with what matters.
You can also see that there are reviews built into this simple system. They help me notice when I’m off track, and help me get back on track.
Along with the reviews and setting targets, I hold myself accountable — to a group of entrepreneur friends, to my coach, to my team. Sometimes I do things to hold myself accountable to my family (for fitness challenges), or to the public if that will serve me.
Accountability, as I mentioned in a recent podcast episode, isn’t about beating myself up if I’m not doing something. It’s helping me take a clear-eyed look at where I might be going astray (more on that in the Continuous Learning section below), where I might be getting blocked (“Working with my Blockers” section below), and where I might need to get more committed.
Accountability calls me forward into my bigger intentions, when I might just feel like staying in my comfort zone.
Focus Sessions for Resistance
When I’m feeling resistance (very often), I’ll use a focus session to move myself forward. I have focus sessions set up in my Fearless Living Academy as well as Fearless Mastery. These work like magic.
The way they work: you get on a video call with one or more other people, then each person says at the beginning of the call what they’re going to focus on. You go on mute, focus on the thing(s) you’re resisting, then report at the end of the call how things went.
It always moves me through my resistance. When I work with resistance, I also like to notice the uncertainty that I’m feeling in my body. It will feel like a tenderness in my heart, and often a tightness in my chest. This isn’t a problem, just a feeling of uncertainty. I breathe, and let myself be with it. Then I turn towards my work.
I start the mornings with a planning session, like I said — it just takes about 5 minutes. I like to block things off on the calendar so I know that I’m making time for the important stuff. If I know I’m facing some resistance around a couple tasks, I’ll save them for my focus session for the day.
I’ll clear out emails and messages, then start on my first block.
How the rest of the day flows depends on what I have on the calendar — if it’s a bunch of calls and meetings, I don’t have too many long focus sessions. Maybe a short focus session in the morning, and another in the late afternoon. If I have fewer calls, then I try to block off a good amount of time for important things, so that I’m moving my targets forward.
I always leave space for exercise, some rest and self-care, meditation.
I finish my work day with a short review and post a check-in with my team. Then it’s family time. That’s my usual daily flow, though it changes a lot if there are other things going on, like family visiting, or I’m traveling to give a talk or lead a retreat.
Working with my Blockers
If I’m getting stopped in an area — like I’m not moving it forward, I’m avoiding, etc. — then instead of ignoring that, I’ve found it powerful to take a look at it. This helps me to learn from the blocker and use it as an area of growth, rather than just thinking it’s something that sucks about me that I need to judge or fix.
The first thing I will do is reflect on it, or if it seems unclear to me, I’ll bring it to my coach (if you’d like some coaching with me, let’s talk). What do I notice about this blocker? What fears do I have? What feelings are there for me?
Once I’ve done that, I will try to bring more awareness in the moment I’m getting blocked. In that moment, there’s a number of things I can do, if I have awareness: breathe, bring some compassion if I’m feeling something, choose something new, and more.
Over time, with practice, this becomes less and less of a blocker, and this part of my life becomes easier.
As you can see in the last section, every obstacle becomes a lesson for me. So I try to draw learning from whatever is going on with me, and bring curiosity.
The main way I do that is with reviews. You saw in “Setting Targets & Regular Planning” section above that I do regular reviews — every day, week, month and year. The daily reviews are brief (just 5 minutes), the weekly and monthly ones aren’t long either (10-15 minutes), but the yearly one is something I’ll spend more time on (days or more than a week). All of this means that I’m often catching whatever is happening, and using it as learning. I’m far from perfect at this, but even when I fall short here, it’s a place of learning.
It’s all a bunch of lessons to me. This helps me not only to get better at all of this, but to deepen into my learning of life. And for me, that’s much more rewarding than being productive.