If you’re like me, you get a lot of work done in the early hours of the morning. Dragging your butt out of bed at 5:00 A.M. becomes a frightful but effective norm for getting things done. When I first began to practice waking up early, one hurdle I ran into was that my brain exactly coherent upon regaining consciousness and I struggled to recall what I needed to work on. Coffee eventually helped with the recall, but it took a period of time to work its magic and being unable to install a caffeine IV drip to wake up caffeinated, I was forced to figure out a solution to overcome the morning daze. After careful deliberation (i.e. banging my head against a wall shouting “wake up damn it”), I realized that my stumbling block was the mental disorientation associated with getting up so early, not an inability to do work once I remembered what I needed to do.
The solution was simple and low-tech: short-term goal lists! If you want to get more done during your productive periods, have a list of tasks or goals that you want to get done in the near future sitting on your work space. Short-term goal lists should include specific tasks (nothing like become a superstar or train for the Olympics; save those for the long-term goal list) and be small enough in scope to be completed within a week.
There should also be some way of signifying that a goal has been completed. I use highlighters to signify completion of a task because I like to turn my goal lists into rainbows, but you could just as easily cross off the task or put a check box beside it. The point is that you get a physical and visible marker of your accomplishment and that you do this through a physical action. Whether you use a highlighter, pen, or just paint bulls-eyes on the goals and punch holes in the paper as you complete them, as long as you have some way of visually measuring what you have accomplished and what you still need to do, the goal list is doing its job.
In experimenting with goal list time frames, I have found one week to be the magic number for a short-term goal list. Anything larger, and the tasks can become daunting and demotivating. Shorter lists such as daily goal lists were useful, but I found myself writing new lists all the time.
As a ritual, I sit down every Sunday and write out all the goals I can think of that I need to get done in the week ahead. If I miss some tasks, that’s okay as I can always write them in later. The next morning, when I stumble down at 5:00 A.M. in daze, sucking back concentrated productivity in liquid form (i.e. coffee), I can sit down at my desk and see the task list staring back at me. A quick read over the list twigs my memory on why I am awake at such an hour and I can begin working on my projects. For your benefit, I snapped a photo of part of last week’s goal list (thank you to my roommate Stuart for lending me use of his Smartphone camera) and have included the image below. Don’t feel that you have to include as many goals as I do, as this there are weeks when I have more and there are weeks when I have less. Give it a try for yourself and see if it works for you!