Identifying the Essential

This article is part of a 2-part series. Part 2 of the series can be found here: Doing the Essential


I’m a big advocate of identifying the essential tasks in my life to ensure that I’m making progress on the important tasks and not just checking off non-important tasks to make myself feel like I’m busy.

This process requires a bit of extra work as you need to determine what tasks are important and which aren’t. Typically this comes easy for me, but occasionally I struggle.

In these instances where I struggle, I think back to a great exercise I learned from Tim Ferriss’ book “The Four Hour Workweek.” Say what you will about the book and it’s premise, but it’s chapter of elimination was quite eye opening for me.

The chapter on elimination provided a question and action section whereby Tim asks the reader to imagine a doctor has given you a strict warning that to preserve your health you were to only work two hours per day. The task was then to identify what you would do in those two hours to make the most of your day. The tasks that you identified should be the tasks that you focus on day to day.

After reading this, I did try to put this into practice when I would come into work each morning. While this worked great for a few days, what I found was that I would eventually start to slip back into opening my email before doing this thinking in the morning. This lead me to start more days firefighting items that came into my email than focusing on the big tasks that I had previously identified.

Eventually I changed my approach and started spending a few minutes before I went to bed each night thinking about what I wanted to accomplish the next day. The results were eye opening.

When I would wake up in the morning, I already had a clear sense of how I was going to spend my day. My brain would be actively preparing to tackle the key tasks I had identified the night before. Sure, I would still have to open my email and respond to urgent requests, but I no longer started any day without having a clear picture in my mind of what needed to be done.

Develop a nightly routine

Do make this process work for you, what I would suggest is to start making it a nightly ritual to spend 10 minutes of time by yourself to think about and list what you want to accomplish. Try to do this thinking in a quiet place so you’re not distracted by kids/TVs/spouses/etc.

Think about the ongoing projects that you have that you want to get moving forward. Think about what tasks you could do to get the ball rolling on these projects.

The important tasks should eventually bubble to the surface. Once you have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish, make sure you write them down so they’re made concrete.

Your subconscious will start working on these immediately, looking for solutions to help you get these tasks done.

When you wake up in the morning, you’ll be primed with an action list in hand as you get ready to take on the day.

What about the rest?

Obviously you will also have some day to day tasks that you will need to complete as well. I’m not suggesting that you ignore those tasks and not do them at all.

What I’m trying to get you to avoid is having your day revolve around accomplishing these more trivial tasks while putting off your more essential tasks.

For example, you may have some items that need to be mailed or you need to pick up some groceries. These tasks still need to get done, but don’t view your day as a success based on whether or not you accomplish these tasks. They’re not going to move your life/career/relationships/business forward.

Focus your day around your essential tasks and at the day be honest with yourself on whether or not you can call your day successful. If you can’t say it was successful, well there’s still some time left in the day to complete them.

If you end the day looking back on more successes than failures, then you’re going to see some giant leaps forward in your life.


If you found this post helpful, you may be interested in my free eBook Boost Your Productivity Instantly.

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