If you don’t pay appropriate attention to what has your attention, it will take more of your attention than it deserves. — David Allen
To become more more successful at everything you do in life, you need to do three things: reduce the amount of time you waste, be more organized, and get rid of the “mental clutter” that distracts you, preoccupies you, and stresses you out.
There are literally thousands of ways you can accomplish that, but some are far more effective than others. Here are eight of the most effective success habits that you can start implementing within the next few days:
1. Keep a schedule, even if it’s a rough one.
Keep a short to-do list for each day. Don’t include every tiny miscellaneous item you need to do, like running the dishwasher or collecting the mail. Just the big stuff. In fact, the fewer items, the better; the goal here is to focus on your biggest must-complete tasks.
Organize these tasks into a schedule. It doesn’t have to be all that precise; you probably can’t predict exactly how long a task will take anyway. But it helps tremendously to know the order in which you’re going to complete your tasks for the day.
Generally, it’s best to start with the most important tasks and work your way down, so you can handle the big stuff early while you have the most mental energy. One exception: if you have a hard time getting started, put a very small to-do at the beginning of your day to give yourself a quick win and get the ball rolling.
2. Keep your alarm clock on the opposite side of the bedroom.
If you have even a little bit of trouble getting out of bed in the morning, put your alarm clock on the opposite side of the bedroom so that you’re forced to get up to turn it off. That small amount of physical activity will go a long way toward waking you up.
When it does go off, turn on the lights in your bedroom before deactivating the alarm clock; the light will also help to wake you up. You may even want to set the alarm clock outside your bedroom, if your living situation makes that practical.
3. Do one minute of bodyweight exercise first thing in the morning.
As soon as you’re out of bed, perform at least one minute of fast-paced, bodyweight exercise. A simple circuit of 10 pushups, 20 squats, and a 30-second plank would be ideal.
This small amount of exercise will prime your nervous system and immediately bring up your energy level, helping you to get the day off to a running start. Performed immediately after the last habit, walking across the room to shut off your alarm clock, it also guarantees that you won’t go back to bed.
4. Separate planning from execution.
Plan out your tasks in a separate session from when you perform them, ideally at least a day in advance. During this planning session, break down all the steps needed to complete the task.
If you have to write an article, outline every section and sub-section. If you have to design a website, sketch out every page and write down the order in which you’ll make every section. The more detailed your plan, the better.
Having a detailed plan dramatically cuts down on the amount of time wasted executing tasks. You always know exactly what you need to do next- you won’t have to continually switch between “planning mode” and “doing mode.”
5. When you’re feeling emotional, delay your response.
Any time you’re feeling caught up with emotion and you need to respond to someone, wait a while before responding. That could mean pausing a few seconds if you’re talking to someone in person, or even waiting a few hours, or overnight, to reply to an email.
Strong emotions ― whether anger, sadness, excitement, or something else ― have a way of clouding our judgement. Taking a little extra time to think will substantially improve your decision-making, so you’ll be less likely to do or say something impulsive that you’ll regret later.
As a bonus, not only are you giving yourself a little extra time to cool down and think, you’re giving that to everyone around you as well, so that they can make better decisions as well.
6. Clean up messes as soon as you make them.
Make your bed as soon as you get up in the morning ― not later that day. Clean up the kitchen immediately after cooking ― don’t wait until right before the next time you cook. Clean your desk before you leave it.
Messes have a way of occupying our minds. A cluttered environment produces mental clutter. By keeping your environment clean and organized, you free up more mental processing power to think about the things you want to focus on.
As an added bonus, keeping your tools and workspace clean and organized reduces the psychological friction of getting started on something. It’s easier to start working if your desk is clean. It’s easier to cook if your kitchen is clean.
7. Meditate for two minutes a day.
Meditation is one of the most proven, time-tested ways to clear out mental clutter and improve cognition and emotional well-being. Incredibly, as little as two minutes a day can be enough to produce noticeable benefits.
Meditating is as simple as anything could possibly be: just sit down in a comfortable chair, in a quiet place, close your eyes, and relax. Quiet your mind and focus on breathing as deeply as possible.
Most importantly: do this every day for at least two minutes, not less often for longer times. Consistency beats duration here.
8. Plan your weekend on Thursday.
One of the biggest wastes of time and mental energy is spending your weekend juggling last-minute plans. This leads to all sorts of problems including stress, flaking on people, showing up late to stuff, and missing out on events you wanted to go to because you didn’t plan ahead.
Just say not to all of that by making concrete plans ahead of time. Refuse to wait until the last minute just in case something better comes along ― finalize your plans on Thursday. Before you go to bed on Thursday night, you should know exactly what you’ll be doing all weekend.
Call to Action
If you want to build good habits that allow you to be happier, healthier, more productive, and more successful at everything, check out my free Habit Change Cheat Sheet.