We live in a world of distraction.
Phone calls. Message alerts. Push notifications. Those are just the beginning, and they’ve become a normal part of our day.
Then, there’s our work.
Who of us doesn’t have enough on our plate? Every day is a battle to get as much as we can done–knowing full and well that we can’t get to everything.
And herein lays the problem that keeps us from reaching the best version of ourselves:
The fact is, in trying to get done as much as we can, we often neglect the tasks which are most important.
Kevin Kruse highlights this problem in his book 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management:
Many of us jump into our day trying to take care of all the quick and easy things. Responding to all those overnight emails, sorting our stack of mail, signing off on purchase orders…it all feels so productive! Look, it’s only 11:00 in the morning, and I must have done at least 50 things.
Think of your priorities as large stones that you need to fit into a jar. Those 50, easy-to-accomplish tasks are like small grains of sand. If you start with the easiest first, you’ll fill the jar up with sand…but the rocks will no longer fit.
In contrast, place the rocks in first, and the sand easily falls into place, filling all the empty space between the rocks. Now you’ve accomplished everything–priorities and simple tasks–but you’ve given your best to the things that count the most.
This thinking leads us to the 2-step solution.
The 2-Step Solution
In order to make sure you’re doing the best work possible, focus on the following:
1. Identify your most important task (MIT).
In his book, Kruse extols the value of obtaining a “clear, singular focus.”
“The key to your productivity, says Kruse, “all comes down to understanding what is most important to you–and what activity will provide the greatest leverage to getting there–right now.“
Think about it: Most of us know that the ability to multitask is a myth. You can really only focus on one thing at a time–at least, if you want to perform the task well.
Identifying your MIT takes things one step further–not only are you focusing on a single task; you’re focusing on the single task that is most important right now.
Your MIT may change from one day to the next, or it may not. But identifying it will make sure you always know what’s truly the highest priority.
Which leads us to step two…
2. Work on your MIT as early as possible.
Early in the day, early in the month, early in the year.
I was taught that maxim years ago as a way to make sure I give my priority tasks the time they deserve.
Have you ever noticed how clearly you think after a good night’s rest? Or that the longer you work, how your productivity begins to sink?
We all have our morning routines. But too often, we waste the most productive hours of our day on things that aren’t truly important–at least, not as important as our MIT.
Make sure to focus on the MIT first, and all “the sand” will still fit into place.
How It Works
Let’s see our two-step process in action:
Let’s say you have a project that you need to finish in two weeks time. You determine that your MIT for tomorrow is to work on a specific aspect of that project.
You wake up tomorrow morning, and now you’re ready to work.
Do you need to check your emails? Sure. But why not read those emails after working on your MIT for two hours?
If your work is the type where the top priority can change based on a late-night or early-morning message, simply scan your email subject lines for anything life-changing–but don’t read any emails that have nothing to do with your MIT.
Now, make real progress on the single most important thing to your work: your MIT.
So, what’s your MIT?
Take some time to figure it out, and make it the true, top priority for the start of your next workday.
Then, get ready to crush it.
Enjoy this post? Check out my book, EQ Applied, which uses fascinating research and compelling stories to illustrate what emotional intelligence looks like in everyday life.
A version of this article originally appeared on Inc.com.