I looked down at my iPhone after three hours in a stuffy meeting.
2 voicemails, 5 text messages, 57 WhatsApp notifications and an extra 25 emails, taking the total 'unread' to over 70.
And now Snapchat flashes up... 'Bae is typing...'
Bae, for the record, is Rick, my buddy who owns the studio I work from.
We send each other videos every day, shouting each other's name into the camera and pulling silly faces. Sometimes he even sends me videos of him using the toilet. I don't like those ones as much.
But still, I open it anyway, the very first thing I do.
Thankfully, it turns out to be a close-up of his big head saying 'Paaaaaaaaaaaaaaaatrick'.
I chuckle and send something equally juvenile back. We've got 42 fires now.
But I digress... My point is this:
When faced with immense complexity, we predictably choose the path of least resistance.
I did the easiest and most immediately gratifying thing possible. Even if reward was only a fleeting smile.
That's why it's important to have a plan. The classic saying goes, 'If you don't work YOUR plan, you'll spend your life living SOMEBODY ELSE'S.
I think I heard Terence McKenna say that first, but it goes around on those motivational Instagram posts almost every week.
We like it, but don't apply it often enough, do we?
When I managed some folks in a design agency, my life was super-reactive. A phone call could change everything and I didn't have time to action the things on MY agenda. Does that sound familiar?
So, this is what you should do:
Have a master 'to-do' list that has EVERYTHING that you need to do on there.
Use different colours to differentiate things that are for YOUR goals or SOMEBODY ELSE'S goals. (I use green and blue, but this really doesn't matter).
Work through the list like you would any other, but make sure you complete one of your goals every single day. Over time, you will start to dedicate more time to your goals, but you've got to start somewhere.
Then at the end of the day, as the last thing you do, take ten minutes to plan your priorities for the next day. (You could even re-write your list if you like, although I like to see ticked off task, but whatever works for you is good).
Taking the time to reflect on what has been completed during the day and plan what will be done the next day will give you closure. It helps your mind to let go of work and also gives the subconscious mind space to start solving problems for you.
In the morning, take ten minutes to go over the list again.
Deal with any quick tasks or issues that will stop you from focusing on what you've prioritised... But then get started, as soon as you can.
The phone will ring. Emails will still pile up. The system doesn't fix that, unfortunately.
But if you can be strong enough to dedicate time to your priorities every single day, you will start to see a shift in how people work with you.
People respect your time and processes when you do.
You won't get everything done. But you'll be doing what matters to you.
And that's a pretty good start.