Want to have a highly productive week and accomplish all or most of what you set out to do? Then start Monday morning with any of three quick micro-challenges that will set you up to reach your goals. Or, if you want, you can do them all--which will take ten minutes or less.
You start the week with big ideas about what you'll get done between Monday morning and Friday afternoon. By the time Friday afternoon rolls around, much of what you planned hasn't happened. Some of that may be inevitable if you found yourself dealing with urgent matters you didn't know about when the week began. But some of it is because you got sidetracked, lost sight of your priorities, or got bogged down in things that really weren't that important.
While there will always be unexpected issues to deal with, doing a few simple exercises--or micro-challenges--will set you up for a more mindful week and help keep you on track even through interruptions and demands on your time. All you need is a piece of paper (or journal), a pen, and ten minutes of your time.
Micro-challenge 1: Write down what you accomplished last week.
Why: Because reminding yourself of what you've already achieved will make you feel happier and more successful. And research shows that happier people are more productive.
So before you start planning this week, take just a minute or two to look back on the great stuff you got done last week, and write it down. It's important to focus on the positive here. Do not write, "Sent out three of the five pitches I was planning to send." Instead, write, "Sent out three pitches and received good feedback on one of them." (Or whatever positive result you got.)
Or, if you wrote a list of your priorities last week, cross off those you made progress on. Crossing things off a to-do list is one of life's great pleasures.
Micro-challenge 2: Write down your priorities for the coming week.
Why: Because experts agree that you will remember things better if you write them down, especially if you write them by hand. Also, writing down your priorities will put the week into perspective.
After you've made note of last week's achievements, write a list of the most important things you want to get done this week. This shouldn't include things that are already well ingrained in your routine. For example, if you have a weekly check-in with each of your employees and you've been doing it for a while, don't include that in your list. Include projects you want to begin or complete and new routines you want to start. This is also a good place for reminders of tasks that aren't part of your routine that you don't want to forget, such as: hire a printer for our new promo materials.
Once you've written your list of priorities, take a minute or two to challenge yourself: Is it realistic that you will accomplish everything you've written down this week? If the answer is no (which it is for me most weeks), eliminate some things that may be important but can't get done right away. You can make a note to yourself about the things that are priorities but won't fit into this week so you can add them to your list in a future week. Or do what I do and make a list called "Future Tasks."
This is a good moment to use the power of "not now." Yes, these things are important, and yes, you will get to them at some point but no, they will not happen today or this week. Accept that this is OK. (If you put the same task off three or four times, either pick a week and make it an absolute priority, or consider eliminating it forever.)
Micro-challenge 3: Center yourself.
Why: Starting the week from a place of mindfulness and calm will help you handle Monday's challenges and frustrations.
So, just for a few moments, close your eyes and focus on breathing. Just take three deep breaths. If you can, make your exhales longer than your inhales. This will automatically slow your heartbeat, making you feel much more calm and relaxed. If you like to meditate, this is a great time for a brief (five-minute) meditation, but simply breathing slowly for a few breaths, or even one breath, will help you center yourself. When you open your eyes, you'll be ready for whatever the week throws at you.
There's a small but growing group of Inc.com readers who get a daily text from me with a self-care or motivational tip--or micro-challenges like these. Often, they text me back and we wind up in an ongoing conversation. (Interested in joining? You can learn more here.) When challenges at work or in life threaten to throw you off balance, these simple steps can keep you mindful and focused on what's most important.