A simple method to help you finish the work that matters most.
Every once in a while when I am out in the wilderness I do something stupid that gets me into trouble. That happened yesterday when I decided to take a quick kayak trip near St Augustine, Florida. My mistake was that I didn’t check the tide chart before I departed; something you should do in a place where ocean tides create strong currents. St Augustine lies along the intercostal waterway with a narrow opening leading to the ocean. During outgoing tides, all of the water from the harbor and surrounding waterways are squeezed through one tiny channel, creating a deceptively swift current. To make matters worse, the water eventually collides with the waves from the ocean creating some very turbulent conditions. It’s not advisable to navigate such waters in a small boat. I was in a kayak.
It was just before noon and I was making my way across the St. Augustine inlet to reach a sandy beach on the other side. The tide was heading out to sea, but it wasn’t until I was halfway across that I realized the current was flowing faster than I had anticipated. The closer I got to the other side, the more I could see that I was caught in a river which was carrying me out into the open ocean. The surf coming in from the Atlantic was getting ominously close and I knew I had to reach the beach before it was too late. I picked up my pace but the closer I got to shore only showed me how fast I was being carried out to sea. Finally I was within 30 yards of the shore but was about to hit rough water. I haven’t felt a sense of life-threatening panic for quite some time, but there came a moment where I realized I was in real trouble.
For an instant I thought of jumping out of my kayak in order to make a mad dash for the shore but something inside me advised against it. After a quick but intense prayer, I began repeating this phrase over and over again; STAY IN THE BOAT AND PADDLE HARD! STAY IN THE BOAT AND PADDLE HARD! STAY IN THE BOAT AND PADDLE HARD! I don’t even know where it came from but I kept repeating it over and over again. It was like some part of my brain decided to take over operations and gave me two simple marching orders. STAY IN THE BOAT AND PADDLE HARD! Nothing else mattered. With the beach only 10 yards away and my adrenaline pumping, the back end of my kayak began slipping into an oncoming wave. While I expected this to be a bad thing I actually felt the wave lift my kayak and push me back upstream and towards the shore. Now, with only a few feet to go I jumped out and pulled the kayak out of the current and up onto the safety of the beach.
I sat there for a few minutes on the hot sand recovering, which is where I took the picture you see above. I was kicking myself for getting into the situation in the first place. As humans we can make some pretty poor choices, but its also amazing what can happen when we get really focused on what matters most. In those few panicky moments it was STAY IN THE BOAT AND PADDLE HARD, but most of life is not so intense so focus becomes more of a choice than a necessity. But it’s actually focus that helps you reach your goals and create results. In fact, few other things will get you to where you want to go like a laser-guided focus on the things that matter most.
I, like you, am extremely busy, but one thing that helps me is a simple system I rely on to keep me focused. It has made all the difference and I want to share it with you. In fact if you put this simple method into practice, I guarantee you will make more progress on what’s truly important in any given month than you did before. I call it my Three Big Steps Method. Here’s how it works:
Every Monday I get super clear on what I need to accomplish that week. Then each morning before I get going, I write down three things that must happen that day in order to move toward my objectives. I call these my Three Big Steps and I only pick three. While my to-do list is much longer, I isolate three things that matter above all else. They also need to be three things that are taking me towards my larger objectives. I do this same exercise each day of the week, ending on Friday.
At the end of each day, I review my three things list. Did I get them done or not? If not I want to know why and its usually one of three reasons:
- I didn’t schedule it – If you need to get something done, you need to schedule it. Your most important to-do’s must become calendar items. Even though I know this and teach it, there are still times I forget to schedule one of my big three. If you don’t make room for what’s most important it will get squeezed out by the urgent. Guaranteed!
- I wasn’t realistic – Sometimes I didn’t get my big three done because I underestimated the time it would take to complete them. To me this is a failure in planning. Whenever this happens I remind myself to think more realistically when picking my big three for the day.
- I was derailed – Sometimes things beyond my control invade my day and I’m unable to get to one or all of my big three. This is usually rare and when it happens, I don’t let myself get down about it. I simply reload for tomorrow.
Friday is judgment day. I quickly look back on my week and give myself a score out of 15. Three big steps a day for five days equal 15 big steps. For me, a successful week is determined by how I did on my Big Three Score. A 12/15 is pretty good, 13/15 even better. This score is the most important metric I use in my work life. Recently I had two weeks in a row where my Big Three score was 47%. I wasn’t happy and I made sure I found the problem so I could turn it around the following week. Bad weeks can happen, but using this system ensures that I catch myself when I begin to become unfocused or unmotivated. An added benefit is that it gamifies my focus, giving me something to aim for each week. Whenever I have high scoring weeks not only do I feel amazing, I know I made great progress on the things that matter most.
So try the Three Big Steps Method for a couple of weeks and see how it goes. It may take a few weeks to get used to, but it works. When you stay focused week after week, those steps begin to add up and soon you find yourself making progress, achieving goals, and posting amazing results. It all comes down to creating a monomaniacal focus on the things that matter most. STAY IN THE BOAT AND PADDLE HARD!
Do me a favor and forward this on to one manager you know.
Here’s the current I was caught in yesterday.