Skip to main content
power points

Harvey Schachter.Wayne Hieber/The Globe and Mail

It sounds so simple and obvious: Spend your day on your priorities.

But most of us don't do that.

"You might say that something is your priority but don't actually treat it that way," productivity blogger Donald Latumahina observes. "That's why we need to learn to make our priority a priority."

Here's the five-step process he offers:

  • Decide what your priority is: He stresses it should be a single priority, not priorities. What is the most important thing – the one activity that would make the most difference in your life?
  • Set aside sufficient time: Don’t just treat this as a nice-to-do. Build your life around it. “Not only should you make time for it, but also you should make enough time for it. It’s your most important activity, after all, so it deserves a big portion of your time,” he says.
  • Do it early: Tackle the priority early in the day – the earlier the better. This guarantees it will get done. Priority comes from the word prior, so do it prior to other things, as the word suggests.
  • Say no to less-important things: Avoid things that get in the way. Simplify your commitments.
  • Eliminate distractions: You want the time devoted to your priority to be high-quality, with top results. You will want focus and flow. So get rid of distractions. Turn off your phone, ignore the lure of the web, and generally protect your focus.

Following his advice will probably involve breaking habits. Perhaps you like to ease into your day slowly. Perhaps you have built a work life that invites distractions. If you need to break habits, consider the "Ctrl-Alt-Delete" method championed by Lifehack founder Leon Ho.

Start with one habit rather than tackling a bunch. Then focus on mastering your desire, a step he labels Control:

  • Identify your triggers: “It’s important to identify what is triggering you to continually act out your bad habit. This isn’t always an easy step, because our habits have been built up over a long period of time,” he writes.
  • Self-reflect: As well as identifying those triggers, you need to spend time considering what comfort they bring and why you need that comfort. He was trying to reduce the amount of Coke he drank in a day, but the reality was that it tasted good and made him feel better when he was stressed.
  • Write in a “diary”: Jot down your feelings regarding the habit. This will force your brain to address the issue at a deeper level.

With that, proceed to finding a replacement – or Alt in his schema:

  • Find a positive alternate habit: Instead of fighting to eliminate the habit, see if there is a similar alternative you can embrace that works better – helping you to focus more intently on priorities, in this case. If you like to ease into the day, how might you get involved with the priority sooner but in a way that felt like easing into the day?
  • Create a defence plan: What will you do when you weaken and want to embrace the bad habit? “Decide on something you will do once you feel triggered to go back to your old habit. Repeating these positive alternative habits consistently will help wire your brain to see them as your normal new habit over time,” he notes.

In the final stage, remove stuff that reminds you of the temptation and avoid people or places that serve as reminders. That was probably easier for him – getting the Coke out of his office – but it still can apply here, for example, to distractions that keep you from focusing on your priority.

You may need to stop starting your day in a coffee shop, if doing so ruins your focus and slows down your effort to make deep strides on the task at hand. On the other hand, if you get ambushed and diverted from task when you arrive at your office, maybe an hour in a coffee shop is ideal.

After one habit is defeated, address another. "Bad habits are easy to form, and making changes can seem difficult, but remember that it's all about consistency and repetition," he concludes.

Handling grudge purchases

Not everyone can sell products or services that customers relish, such as luxury cars or deluxe resort vacations. Many purchases are done out of necessity, such as supplies for a business, winter tires, liability insurance, and dental work.

After 25 years advising companies that deal primarily with reluctant customers, consultant Jeff Mowatt offers four tips for helping your customers feel better about grudge purchases:

  • Focus on task over mood: If you sense your customers are rushed or frustrated, as they might well be, don’t opt for the standard, “How are you doing?” That may simply remind them that they’re not having a good experience. Instead, ask, “What can I do to make your day go a little better?”
  • Acknowledge delays: A customer in a fine restaurant may not mind waiting if the appetizer is delayed, he notes, but the same person will likely be less tolerant of a wait at the dentist. The dentist might be wise to try this approach: “Thanks for your patience. A previous patient had a serious condition I needed to spend a little more time with. I’ll still take all the time you need. By the way, how is your time – are we OK?”
  • Share your intent: Let the customers know you understand what they really want. An employee at the licence plate registry might tell a customer running errands at lunchtime, “Let’s take care of this quickly so you can hopefully get a chance to eat.”
  • Offer pricing perspective: With a big-ticket purchase, break the price down into something less daunting. He gives this example for a roofer: “The new roof will be 10K,” you should say, not using the more alarming words 10 thousand dollars. “Keep in mind the new roof is protecting your seven-hundred-thousand-dollar home investment. Whatever you invest in the roof is likely to increase the value of your home by at least that amount.”

He notes that too often, service providers fail to realize how much their customers don't want to be there. Avoid that mistake.

The Office Politics Song

Lazar Wall, founder of the rock band One Man Mambo, has written the Office Politics Song, which he agreed to share with readers. Hopefully it doesn't remind you of your day:

Another day in the office

Bonding with snitches and gossips

Another day in the office

Juggling cliques and credit robbers

Another day in the office

Another day in the office

Cube savant from 9 to 5

Extreme commuter in overtime

Promotion delayed

Is promotion denied

Another day in the office

Bonding with snitches and gossips

Another day in the office

Juggling cliques and credit robbers

Thrown shade and power played

Sneered at, knifed in the back



Baited into reacting

My heart rate's up and my palms are sweaty

A tranquilizer a day

Keeps the coroner away

Quick Hits

  • Consultant Anthony Iannarino recommends establishing three 90-minute blocks of time for your most important work each day. Ninety minutes is sufficient to make real progress on a project or item, and three blocks provide 4.5 hours a day for what’s vital.
  • After an attendant on a train spilled orange juice all over consultant Alan Weiss’s breakfast and him, Weiss could have lost his temper but instead was gracious. Reflecting on that incident, he says sometimes our outrage makes us feel worse than the transgression that prompted it.
  • Swedish researchers found that when women got promoted to the top job in their field, it doubled their chances of divorce. The same was not true of men.
  • Asked to rank 10 different types of media for effectiveness, advertisers and agencies picked TV first, followed by online video and social media. Radio was sixth, newspapers seventh, and magazines tenth. But ad contrarian Bob Hoffman says that belief is wrong. The evidence does have TV first, but followed immediately by radio, newspapers, and magazines. Social media is actually seventh.
  • The Taskful app handles tasks that can’t be completed with a single checkmark but involve several perhaps recurring steps, helping you to divide up the time you need to devote to such ongoing activities.

‘I think the bottom line is that we should be prepared to apologize’

Globe and Mail Update

Report an error

Editorial code of conduct