It sounds so simple and obvious: Spend your day on your priorities.

But most of us don’t do that.

“You might say that something is your priority but don’t actually treat it that way,” productivity blogger Donald Latumahina observes. “That’s why we need to learn to make our priority a priority.”

Here’s the five-step process he offers:

  • Decide what your priority is: He stresses it should be a single priority, not priorities. What is the most important thing – the one activity that would make the most difference in your life?
  • Set aside sufficient time: Don’t just treat this as a nice-to-do. Build your life around it. “Not only should you make time for it, but also you should make enough time for it. It’s your most important activity, after all, so it deserves a big portion of your time,” he says.
  • Do it early: Tackle the priority early in the day – the earlier the better. This guarantees it will get done. Priority comes from the word prior, so do it prior to other things, as the word suggests.
  • Say no to less-important things: Avoid things that get in the way. Simplify your commitments.
  • Eliminate distractions: You want the time devoted to your priority to be high-quality, with top results. You will want focus and flow. So get rid of distractions. Turn off your phone, ignore the lure of the web, and generally protect your focus.

Following his advice will probably involve breaking habits. Perhaps you like to ease into your day slowly. Perhaps you have built a work life that invites distractions. If you need to break habits, consider the “Ctrl-Alt-Delete” method championed by Lifehack founder Leon Ho.

Start with one habit rather than tackling a bunch. Then focus on mastering your desire, a step he labels Control:

  • Identify your triggers: “It’s important to identify what is triggering you to continually act out your bad habit. This isn’t always an easy step, because our habits have been built up over a long period of time,” he writes.
  • Self-reflect: As well as identifying those triggers, you need to spend time considering what comfort they bring and why you need that comfort. He was trying to reduce the amount of Coke he drank in a day, but the reality was that it tasted good and made him feel better when he was stressed.
  • Write in a “diary”: Jot down your feelings regarding the habit. This will force your brain to address the issue at a deeper level.

With that, proceed to finding a replacement – or Alt in his schema:

  • Find a positive alternate habit: Instead of fighting to eliminate the habit, see if there is a similar alternative you can embrace that works better – helping you to focus more intently on priorities, in this case. If you like to ease into the day, how might you get involved with the priority sooner but in a way that felt like easing into the day?
  • Create a defence plan: What will you do when you weaken and want to embrace the bad habit? “Decide on something you will do once you feel triggered to go back to your old habit. Repeating these positive alternative habits consistently will help wire your brain to see them as your normal new habit over time,” he notes.

In the final stage, remove stuff that reminds you of the temptation and avoid people or places that serve as reminders. That was probably easier for him – getting the Coke out of his office – but it still can apply here, for example, to distractions that keep you from focusing on your priority.

You may need to stop starting your day in a coffee shop, if doing so ruins your focus and slows down your effort to make deep strides on the task at hand. On the other hand, if you get ambushed and diverted from task when you arrive at your office, maybe an hour in a coffee shop is ideal.

After one habit is defeated, address another. “Bad habits are easy to form, and making changes can seem difficult, but remember that it’s all about consistency and repetition,” he concludes.

Harvey Schachter
Special to The Globe and Mail
March 22, 2018