In anything and everything we care about, we want to feel ahead. To feel on top of our objectives. Ultimately, we want to feel that we’re achieving our desired result. When we care, it is very easy to feel behind. To feel like we’re not progressing towards our goals. I experience this feeling regularly when looking at my calendar, my todo list, and the impact I want to continue to create. Leo Babauta at Zen Habits recently commented on how to transform the feeling of being behind, which resonates with me.
How might we create the constant feeling of being ahead?
Identify the habits causing this feeling
Being that I’m human like the rest of us, I’ve fallen into several traps at times in my career in attempting to feel ahead. These are actions like starting the day earlier and staying late (both useful without the other), focusing on how many tasks I can get done instead of their impact, and keeping all of the items on my list because “I can do them myself”. These are unhealthy habits which take time to unwind.
It is extremely important to step back, examine one’s actions and habits, and identify areas where we fall into these potholes along the road. One such example I’ve noticed of myself is keeping my todo list long, instead of focused.
Hacking your habits
As with all habits, there are productive ways of using the habits we do naturally, and hacking ourselves to use these habits in a healthy way.
If you use a todo list, keep it extremely short and focused. This helps to reduce feelings of overwhelm, while also focusing on one task at a time, which is the most any human can actually take on.
If you like to start your day early, be sure to take breaks or to end your day early as well. I love starting early, as it helps me to feel ahead. I also particularly enjoy working outside of my set working hours, as it makes me feel like I have fewer demands on my time.
If you feel your time is in demand from others, block off a portion of your day which is just for you for “heads down” work. Couple this with having 1 item on your todo list, and you’ve now created focus time for yourself.
Stepping outside of oneself is the key habit to build, here. Examine your behaviours as if you are looking at the behaviours of someone else. This approach helps to create objectivity and bring perspective, removing the ego from the scenario.
Putting this into action
To put this all into action is the most important step. One example I’ve identified and practiced is visually reducing my todo list to 1 item at a time. While there are tools which work this way, any todo list tool or text document can achieve the same result. When you look at your list, you then always see only one item- the next most important item to take on. I’ve found this to reduce cognitive overhead, maintain focus, and reduce the size of my todo list overall by reducing overwhelm.
There are days where even the quietest background sound can be distracting for me. I take these opportunities to lean in, feel the distracted feeling, and then act on it by making a smarter choice. I put on noise cancelling headphones, play alpha wave sounds, and maintain focus. I’ve identified that even the act of putting headphones on increases focus.