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Janet was struggling with trying to keep her life in balance and her productivity high. It seemed too difficult – too much to sort out in a complicated life in order to regain a sense of equilibrium and competence. That's when her personal coach, Andy Core, simplified it for her and came up with a mantra he now regularly uses. "Janet, you don't have to change your life. You just have to change your day," he said.

The Fayetteville, Ark. work-life expert believes in simplification. Don't worry about your whole life, just worry about your day. Don't worry about everything in your day; just focus on one behavioural change that will give you momentum. Don't worry about the 21 to 66 days it supposedly takes to accomplish behavioural transformation. Just find a trigger that will remind you to build a new pattern of behaviour that after about a week will start to become comfortable and set you on the right track.

He divides people into three categories: thrivers, strivers and strugglers. Thrivers are more productive. They push through the day with more energy and less stress. The difference between them and the other two groups? Healthy patterns of behaviour they have built into their life, from which Mr. Core has built his approach.

It starts when you wake up. Your first thought might be to hit the snooze button, head for the washroom, or brew some coffee. Instead, he asks you to take a few minutes to clarify why you are working so hard. Set the theme for the day by reflecting on your goals and purpose. This is one change that he contends will transform your life.

The specific modifications beyond that will depend on your own life. But start small, building in triggers to help ensure you stick with the new habit. For example, entrepreneurs can transform their lives by selling more of their product or service, but most avoid that burden, preferring other tasks. Mr. Core's speaking engagements don't come serendipitously; they require him talking to prospects, and winning them over. So 9 a.m. is his trigger. At that time, every day, he starts making phone calls to the prospects he has identified, spending two hours at the task. It was one adjustment that he could build into his life.

If these efforts require extra time, he urges you to jettison the junk hours in your schedule. In his book Change Your Day, Not Your Life, he compares junk hours to junk food, which may taste good and offer short-term pleasure, but provide no real nutrition, and can deplete rather than provide or sustain energy.

"Junk hours may or may not seem to be 'fun' in the moment, but they produce no significant productivity, and often push real work beyond the workday and into the night. Junk hours can be spent chasing rabbit trails on the Internet, with colleagues at the water cooler, with a few jokes and laughs, but they do not genuinely build friendships or enhance work skills. Junk hours can sometimes be spent in meetings that are not necessary, acquiring information that is not essential to doing high-quality work," Junk hours are going through the motions of work, but no real work is being done," he writes.

He asks you to focus on four core requirements that can provide tailwinds in your favour or headwinds retarding your progress, depending on how you harness them: Meaning, energy, confidence, and patterns. You must have a reason underlying what you choose to do. You must have sufficient physical and emotional energy to undertake and sustain an activity toward change. You must believe that you can make modifications. Finally, you must build momentum through establishing patterns.

To keep on track, he recommends developing checklists. As our work becomes more complex, we need some guides to help us ensure we aren't missing important elements. Checklists also free the mind, allowing mental energy to be devoted to creativity rather than the details of getting work done. He found thrivers use checklists better and more often than strivers. Ironically, some people view checklists as a sign of weakness; they shouldn't need anything more than their brilliance to accomplish their work. He warns you not to fall into that trap.

He recommends something called Big Box Time Management to help manage your day, writing down the tasks you intend to accomplish and putting a small box before those that are less important and a big box beside the critical ones. When a task is accomplished, it gets, accordingly, a small check mark or a big check mark. Lots of big check marks signify and celebrate a successful day.

Remember, each day is critical. "You don't have to change your life. You just have to change your day. And when you change your day it can change your life," he concluded the interview.

Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter