104. Helpline: How to Hit Your Daily Big 3
You’re in a funk where you find yourself consistently missing your Daily Big 3. You’re getting pulled off-track by other people’s priorities, feeling bogged down by too many meetings, and losing sight of what your Daily Big 3 should be. It’s like you’re on a treadmill—always moving but not getting anywhere. How can you break out of this trap?
In this episode, Courtney, Blake, and Verbs offer up 4 strategies for nailing your Daily Big 3 every day. They show you how little changes can go a long way and discuss practical tips for getting back on track, so you can stop feeling pulled in too many directions and start building momentum again.
In this episode, you’ll discover—
- The efficacy of narrowing the time designated for each project
- How to mentally pace yourself throughout the day
- The difference between a project and a task
- Why it’s totally fine to sometimes have a Daily Big 1 or Daily Big 2
Verbs: Welcome to another episode of Focus on This, the most productive podcast on the Internet, so you can banish distractions, get the right stuff done, and finally start loving Mondays. I’m Verbs, here with Courtney Baker and Blake Stratton. Happy Monday to you.
Courtney: Hey, guys.
Verbs: This is a question for anybody, even the listeners. There are times, I believe, where we can kind of get into the dumps because we’re not able to accomplish our Daily Big 3 consistently. We go from a long to-do list, and we’ve chunked that down to the major three things we need to accomplish that are high leverage for the day, but if we can’t get to those three, it can be deflating. I don’t know if either one of you agree with that statement or if that happens to you. You may be nailing it every single day, but I know I’ve missed a couple.
Blake: You’re talking to Courtney Baker. She gets her Big 3 done and then the other seven things every day.
Courtney: That is not always true. I wish it was. I will tell y’all, for everybody listening… We’ve talked about this on the podcast before, but the place I usually fall into this trap is by not taking into account what I have for the day. For example, we’re doing podcasts today, or a day where I have a whole lot of meetings and I really only have a very small chunk of time to do my Daily Big 3, especially if all three are professional, that I don’t hit all three of mine. So maybe you find yourself in that same place or maybe… There’s a long list of reasons that could be happening, but today, we’re going to help you, if you find that, with some strategies on how to get back on track.
Blake: Yeah. You can sort of lose your mojo a little bit, your confidence, when you’re coming up short, and if you’ve actually taken the time to write down the Big 3… To me, it makes me not want to write down the Big 3 the next day, almost, because I feel like, “Oh, I’m running behind.”
Usually, this happens because of some kind of change…some type of season change, maybe a job change, something added or subtracted to your role, or life changes. You know, you’re doing something in a different life domain. You’re moving house or something like that. Something else is going on. Whatever the reason, we do have some strategies to share with you for getting back on track so you can get that energy back, that confidence back, that sense of control over the most important things in your life.
Verbs: So, that’s what we’re going to walk through today: four practical strategies to nail your Daily Big 3 every day. Blake, what is one of the first strategies we can focus on? No pun.
Blake: The first strategy would be to schedule project blocks. With this strategy, you’re going to be using the oldest productivity tool in the book, the old calendar.
Courtney: Oh ye calendar.
Blake: This is huge for me. I have the type of work where people can make appointments on my calendar without my… I mean, that’s sort of the idea. I’m taking… We call them discovery calls or business consultations. They’re calls with potential prospects of our coaching programs, primarily. I do some other stuff as well. I want there to be calls scheduled.
Sometimes the temptation can be, “Oh, I want to leave this open” or “I don’t want to make a commitment,” but then what happens is sometimes those on-the-business types of things, those more important things that need to get done to move a project or a goal forward… All of a sudden, it’s Friday afternoon and I’m like, “Oh man! This week went by and I fell behind” or “I didn’t get that Big 3 done.” With scheduling a project block, essentially you’re making that appointment even if the only person attending that appointment is you.
Verbs: Along with that, it’s important that you take the time… Say for instance, for myself, the type of work I do is more project-based on the creative or artistic side, so what I used to struggle with was estimating the amount of time it’s actually going to take to complete a project, because it could go forever. If I can keep tweaking it and making it better until it satisfies what I think it should be, that can go almost all day.
But for me, to narrow down the time it should actually take for this task to be done helped my Daily Big 3 out a ton. Before that, I could have had three Daily Big 3s, and one of them might have been “Build a slide deck for the webinar,” but that could bleed into the end of that day, and then I’m left with another “Daily Big 2” just hanging there. So, forcing myself to estimate how much time this task should take helped out my Daily Big 3 significantly.
Courtney: I think that leads us really well into the second strategy, which is set a timer and a reward. First of all, I’m so curious to know if you two do this. I do this all the time. It’s not necessarily for the reason that we’re presenting it here, although I think this is a really effective way to use it. The idea is, basically, “Okay. I have an hour. I’m going to knock out my first item on my Big 3.”
You tell Alexa to set a timer for an hour. (Oh, she didn’t do it. I was thinking she was going to do it.) You get to it, and I like to say I get coffee when I get done with that time. But really, why I set timers is because, guys, if I get into deep work, I will straight up miss meetings. It’s really bad. So I have to set that timer just to tell me to go to the meeting that is on the books.
Verbs: I’ve done that a time or two.
Courtney: Do you use this strategy, and then what rewards do y’all use?
Blake: I definitely use this strategy. I accompany the timer thing… There’s an app I use called Brain.fm, which essentially is like a soundtrack for deep work. I use it for meditation and stuff too. Essentially, when the music stops, it’s like, “Oh, I guess it’s over. I can shift.” For me, the reward is to, I guess, not have back pain later, because I realize, “Oh, I need to get out of my seat and go take a walk or something like that.”
Sometimes the reward is just simply scrolling Instagram on a walk just to take my mind off things. It is so gratifying. It’s not even getting the “reward” in my experience. It’s just the experience of… It’s like if someone were to tell you to get on a treadmill and just run, you would want to quit after two minutes. You’d be like, “Okay. How much longer do I have to do this?” But there’s something about setting a timer for the important work…
It’s almost this internal deadline, but it also has this motivating factor of “Oh yeah. I know…” I can get on a treadmill if you say, “Hey, you’re going to run for five minutes.” Then I’m sort of mentally pacing myself for what I have in store, and I can definitely hit that. It’s the same thing with work for me. So I love having the timer. This is a great tip.
Verbs: Along with that, there’s an app one of our teammates shared awhile back. This one is called Time Out. It actually loads onto your computer, and then you set your increments. When it approaches the end of that increment, your screen will start to black out or gray out. It’s signifying you, “Hey, it’s time to take a five-minute or eight-minute break.”
Then when that expires, your screen is open again. Of course, you can fast-forward to the next break and keep working, but to have that visual reminder on the actual workspace you’re on to kind of close out, to let you know, “Hey, it’s time to take a break. Get up, stretch, do whatever you need to do…” That has been helpful.
Courtney: I love that. Very fancy.
Verbs: Fancy indeed.
Courtney: One other tip I will give with this… I think all three of us practice a workday startup. If you think of that startup as a way to remove the low-leverage work…checking email, Slack, all that stuff…getting that out of the way so you can focus on high-leverage work… I really have to be mindful… Slack, for me, if I let it… I could spend a whole day in there. I could just hang out responding to Slack. So, I really love setting a timer for my workday startup and then immediately going into my Big 3 if I don’t have a meeting during that time slot.
The reason is I need that mental shift of “Don’t stay in the low leverage. Let’s move to the high leverage.” I know if I do that, at the end of the day I’m going to feel fulfilled. I’m not going to feel fulfilled from hanging out in Slack all day or, for those of you who aren’t in Slack, just letting email run my to-do list for the day. At the end of the day, I’m going to feel like, “Oh my gosh! I worked really hard. I didn’t get anything done.” So, for me, doing that right out of the gate, as soon as I hit that 30-minute workday startup end time, moving into my Big 3.
Blake: Let’s do the third strategy, which is leverage visibility. The big strategy here is don’t close your eyes too long because then you’ll fall asleep. You definitely want to maintain active visibility.
Verbs: It becomes a work hazard at that point.
Blake: Naps should be another strategy, though.
Verbs: Courtney liked that one.
Blake: Oh my gosh. Courtney, this is not a funny joke. This is horrible. It’s like the worst…
Courtney: I think that’s why it’s so funny. It was not funny.
Blake: It was awful.
Verbs: You’re encouraging the man.
Blake: It was absolutely terrible. I couldn’t make a joke like that until I had a child because it was such a dad joke.
Courtney: I know. That was straight-up dad joke. Oh my gosh. Keep your eyes open, people. Keep your eyes open.
Blake: This is very, very simple. If it’s a goal, a Big 3, whatever you want to accomplish, put that thing in front of you physically. This is why I’ll have my planner… Once I set my Big 3, I don’t close my planner and put it away. It’s not because I’m doing any more work in my planner but because if I leave my planner open on my desk where I can see it in my peripheral vision, there’s this awareness of… I’ll just glance at it and be like, “Oh, right. Have I done that?”
When I’m tempted to drift into a different task or someone says, “Hey, do you have 10 minutes to jump on a quick call?” or all of those types of things… Just that visibility. Some people will transfer this to a sticky note. Maybe with their Weekly Big 3 or their Daily Big 3, they’ll have that sticky note on their monitor or something. This is so simple. It’s really nothing more than this. Literally, just have the things written down and keep them visible throughout your day.
Courtney: All right. The fourth strategy is to take smaller bites. What I mean by that is, a lot of times, you might fall into just listing your high-leverage projects in your Daily Big 3. I think it’s important to shift your mindset not to the project, because the project most likely is going to take multiple Daily Big 3s, and depending on the size, it may take months and months of Daily Big 3s to accomplish the project.
What you’re really wanting to do here is to get the high-leverage task, the thing that really can be completed that day. So, if you find yourself getting stuck in “Oh, it’s because I’m choosing this massive thing…” Yes, that massive thing may be the thing you need to be focused on. It’s really the task you’re going to complete that day that goes into your Daily Big 3.
Verbs: I think that’s a really good distinction. For example, the way it may play out is if you’re trying to prepare for a product launch, you wouldn’t put “Product launch” as your Daily Big 3, but “Plan for the launch timeline” and what that looks like or “Outline the launch strategy” or “Launch a coordination meeting,” and that would go on your Big 3 instead of just the overarching macro task of product launch.
Blake: It’s subtle, but it’s a big deal how you write your Big 3. If you just write that project down, you’ll inevitably feel like you’re always running behind because you didn’t “get anything done.” That’s usually not the case at all, but that mental/emotional state really does affect your productivity tomorrow and your stress level the next day. So identify what that task is.
As a bonus thing, there may be some projects that you don’t know how long a certain task may take or how far along you could reasonably get because something involves other people. In those instances, I would still be creative about creating a clear finish line. Give yourself the power to mark that done. “Could I legitimately check that off today?”
For example, going back to Verbs’ product launch example, maybe it’s simply “Spend 90 minutes working on the product launch project,” because maybe it’s the first product launch you’ve ever done and you don’t even know yet how far you’re going to get, or whatever, but could you spend 90 minutes of your best energy time on that today? Yes. That’s something you can check off the list and you’ll have that positive reinforcement and that clarity.
Courtney: I say this all the time. Do not be afraid to set a “Daily Big 2” or a “Daily Big 1.” This is so important. The idea is that you’re checking off all of the things in your Daily Big 3 at the end of each day, so if you’re just trying to cram three things in because we’ve called it the Daily Big 3, that is going to leave you unsatisfied.
Again, I said this at the beginning of the episode. This is where I fall into this trap: having three items when it’s humanly impossible for me to get three important tasks done when I only have 30 minutes of no meeting time. It’s totally appropriate for me to have a Daily Big 1. So remember that and use it to leverage. Again, to what Blake said, it’s important because if you continually have that unfulfilled, unsatisfied, “I never got these three things done,” that starts to compound. You really want to give yourself momentum.
Verbs: What’s important, too, is just remembering a lot of these can be sussed out as you complete your Weekly Preview, which, again, for me is always the secret sauce to the whole upcoming week. I can get greater visibility of what needs to be done and then help spread that out throughout the week. That has been helpful.
So, the good news is you don’t have to keep missing your Daily Big 3. You can get back on track when you schedule project blocks, set a timer, leverage visibility, and take smaller bites. Blake, Courtney, any final thoughts for our Focus on This listeners?
Courtney: Well, I know we talked about this at the beginning of the episode, but I think we all are really excited about the Free to Focus course that is coming out that all three of us were a part of.
Blake: You think we’re all excited about it?
Courtney: I think we’re all excited about it.
Verbs: I think we should be.
Courtney: I say that because there were a lot of new things, a lot of makeup wearing…I’m not going to say who wore makeup…a lot of new things all three of us got to be a part of with this course.
Blake: Yeah. Michael did a whole “Phantom of the Opera” type thing with his makeup. I thought that was very, very engaging.
Verbs: Prosthetics and all of that.
Courtney: You have to get this course to check it out. We all got to be a part of it along with Michael. It was really, really fun to do. If you’re not familiar with our company, the Full Focus Planner was built off of Free to Focus, this course. So, if you’re ever like, “Oh, I would love to leverage this planner in an even bigger way,” or just to take your productivity knowledge to the next level, this course is for you. I think you’ll love it.
Courtney: Okay. If you want to check it out, if you want to see Blake and Verbs and me and Michael Hyatt, the prince of productivity himself, in Free to Focus, you can get the course at freetofocus.com. Hopefully you will all check it out. Wait, wait. You two should say… What was y’all’s favorite part of recording the course?
Blake: Getting my shirts ironed by Robin…steamed.
Verbs: Steamed. Yeah. Not ironed.
Blake: That’s the nicest my shirts have ever looked.
Courtney: When I was with this course, one of the sessions I was doing there was a part about remembering that for every yes there is a corresponding no. We’ve talked about that before. It’s just such a great tip. I keep using it over and over again on the flip side of recording the course, that for every yes there is a corresponding no. It has really made me think more as I’m saying yes to things, like, “Okay. If I’m saying yes to this, what am I saying no to, sometimes without knowing it?”
Verbs: For me, it was just a vivid reminder of how much of a recording beast Michael Hyatt is.
Verbs: He used to do these courses all by himself and knock them out. He has done it before in one day. I came in with two and I was exhausted. I was like, “This guy is amazing.”
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All: Stay focused!