Focus On This Podcast

117. 3 Anchors to Hold Steady in the Holiday Chaos



The holidays are here. Family is in town. You have more parties than normal. You have events at your kids’ school. At the same time, it’s Q4 and you have year-end deadlines you’re racing to meet. All of a sudden, life is more crazy than usual. How do you keep from dropping the ball or burning out?

In this episode, Courtney, Verbs, and Blake walk you through three anchors you can cling to this next month to avoid entering January thinking, Wow, what just happened? You don’t have to get swept away this holiday season. You can stay grounded and come out on top when you get back to basics.

In this episode, you’ll discover—

  • How to resist the temptation to overcommit
  • Why defining the win for each day keeps you anchored
  • The power of keeping—but adapting—your rituals in busy seasons
  • Tips directly from a planner user on making the planner your own



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Episode Transcript

Verbs: Guys, here we are. This is the final stretch. As some would say, the final countdown. Hopefully you enjoyed your Thanksgiving, Courtney and Blake. How was it?

Blake: It was fantastic. It was great to see the Packers win and the Lions lose, or whatever always happens on Thanksgiving. I don’t know. Just a bold prediction.

Courtney: It’s not a prediction. Thanksgiving was great. I feel like, just as a PSA for all of the people listening, that our Black Friday through Cyber Monday deals… Today is Monday, so if you haven’t gotten your Full Focus Planners for all of your friends and family, today is a really great day to do that. You don’t want to get to the end of the year and be like, “Oh, yeah. I forgot to do presents this year,” because of all the supply chain… I’m kind of over hearing the term supply chain, frankly, this year, so let’s strike that from the episode.

Blake: This is the most wonderful time of the year. Is it not?

Verbs: I think it is.

Blake: Is it not, Courtney? It’s great, because there are two things that are happening. First, obviously, Santa is on his way, bringing lots of toys and goodies on his sleigh. (That was Scott Stapp from his Creed Christmas.) The other cool thing about this season is it’s the end of the year, and you get all of those… “Oh, I can’t believe it’s already the end of the year.” It’s the final… I don’t even like to use the word push, necessarily, but we probably all have some deadlines, either from work or just personally. What are the things we wanted to actually accomplish this year?

It feels like that time is winding down in terms of how much time you have to hit those goals. At the same time, your social calendar might be picking up, and your normal rhythms are being disrupted by different things. So, stuff is getting crazy, and that’s actually really exciting. I guess it could be stressful too. Maybe you’re feeling that… I’ll speak to you guys. Have you guys ever had a December that feels like, “I would love to just be chilling out on my hot cocoa and marshmallows, but I am a little stressed”? Have you guys ever been there?

Courtney: Yeah.

Verbs: Absolutely.

Courtney: I had a newborn last December, so, yeah. That was a little crazy.

Blake: Listen. Mary had a newborn at Christmastime, and she had to have that thing in a barn.

Courtney: She did just fine.

Verbs: And they were moving at the same time.

Courtney: That’s true.

Verbs: You know, we can get to the end of the holiday season and just ask ourselves, “Wow! What just happened?” So, today, the goal is to talk and walk through three anchors you can cling to this holiday season and hopefully avoid some of that “Wow! What just happened?”

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, and happy Monday to you, Blake.

Courtney: Happy Monday.

Blake: Happy Monday unto you.

Verbs: Touché.

Courtney: So, the first anchor is… You’ve been listening to this podcast for a while. You’re probably not going to be surprised. It is the Weekly Preview. If you just started listening to this podcast and have no idea what we’re talking about, the Weekly Preview is the connection point between your Annual Goals and your Daily Big 3. It’s this point in the week that you stop and have a moment to think, “Okay. What do I need to do this week to move forward on my annual goals?”

In addition to that, it’s this moment where you can stop and think proactively about what happened the previous week…you know, what worked, what didn’t work, what needs to improve…then also look into the future and say, “Okay. What’s coming up? What do I need to think about? What things do I need to do to take care of myself? And what is my Weekly Big 3? What are the three things that, if I get done this week, it’s really going to be a successful week?”

I feel like when you get stressed and you have a lot to do, it may be easy to be like, “Okay. I’m just going to skip my Weekly Preview,” which is exactly the opposite thing you need to do. You need, in this season more than ever, to be intentional about what you’re going to do. That’s why this is so critical as you move into this season. Do not let go of your Weekly Preview, friends. This is your future self telling you, the ghost of productivity future.

Verbs: Look. I say this all the time: Weekly Preview is the secret sauce. Here’s a better analogy. Remember when you were young and you’d get a train set for Christmas? You have those little toy trains that go onto the track, but the train set does not work properly unless you link your trains together to the engine.

This Weekly Preview is really like those little plastic nubs on the back of a train that connect to the train behind it so your train can actually go somewhere. To me, this is how I see the Weekly Preview. That’s how important it is. It links everything else together to keep you going forward and getting that stuff down the road.

Blake: Exactly. It’s the stuff that reminds you of what’s important but also brings you the connection to the granular details of your life. The temptation for me in December is to start saying yes to everything. I’m saying yes to stuff at work. “Hey, it’s just the last push. Just one more thing. Just this.” And then to say yes more in my personal world. “Well, it’s Christmas” or “Hey, we’re only in town for so long,” or whatever it is. The person is saying, “Hey,” and I want to say, “Yes, of course.”

The Weekly Preview, besides just connecting our goals to our daily activities, is also really useful to not overbook yourself, to not overcommit and then get stressed, because when we overcommit… I’m speaking in theory, not that I’ve ever done this. You overcommit, and then everything is just worse than you hoped for. It’s like, “Not one thing went the way I really wanted it to.” That happens when we overcommit. We overcommit when we don’t have insight into our week. So, that’s why this anchor is so important.

Verbs: All right. Moving to the second anchor: Daily Big 3. The Daily Big 3 is the most basic tool in the planner. For a lot of people, this is where they begin before they try to tackle all of the concepts of the planner. They start with the Daily Big 3. This is probably one of the most crucial ones as well. Especially during this holiday season, as Blake mentioned, the feel of committing to stuff or the feel of wanting to commit to things, and a task list could just continue to grow, but that Daily Big 3 keeps us anchored into the next couple of weeks coming up.

Blake: The Daily Big 3 is when you say, “You know how I have 25 million things to do today? Well, what if I reduced that down to three things?” If you’re not in the habit of doing this, maybe this sounds like an impossible thing to do, but what you want to think about is, “What three items on this task list…? If nothing else were to get done, what are the top three that would move my biggest projects, my most important goals, forward?”

We think of the Pareto Principle. What’s the 20 percent of activities that could drive the 80 percent of the results we’re trying to produce? The practice of setting a Daily Big 3 is really powerful, because in this season, you may have a lot of stuff going on, more than any other time of the year, potentially, but if each day you’re taking time to clarify what’s most important to you, you can define the win for the day. That will bring you so much peace of mind in a really busy season.

Courtney: Sometimes what I see a lot in our Full Focus Planner Community is the… I feel like people really want to play by the rules, so they see “I’ve got to have a Daily Big 3,” but what they don’t necessarily account for is what they have in a day. Like, yesterday, I had an all-day video shoot. I really would have liked to have gotten some things done on budgeting for next year. I could have put that as one of my Daily Big 3, and I would not have gotten it done. It just was not possible. What I see, a lot of times, is people trying to force a Daily Big 3 when that day needs to be a “Daily Big 1.” So, that’s one thing I see that people struggle with, especially in a busy holiday season.

Blake: If you’re struggling with narrowing it down, recognize that you can’t do it all, and there’s actually power in giving yourself constraints. You may actually need to renegotiate or reschedule some things. I promise you, in this season especially, things will take longer than you think they are going to take. So, if you feel like, “I can’t possibly narrow it down,” you can, and there will be power and greater focus in that, but you may also need to then communicate or renegotiate certain commitments so you don’t overextend yourself.

Verbs: All right. The third anchor is rituals.

Blake: We talk about this one a lot as well. The key thing here with this season is, a lot of times, people will say, “Oh, well, my rituals kind of fell away. You know, the holiday season. Things were crazy.” Blah, blah, blah. What I would encourage you is that rituals aren’t something you have to fully start or even fully stop. You’re already doing rituals whether you realize it or not. Rituals are essentially several habits stacked or linked together. The question is…Are you being intentional in what you’re doing?

In this holiday season, it may be a time… If you have a great morning ritual or a great workday startup ritual, but now, all of a sudden, your time is compressed for some reason or another, or you’re traveling or staying up late, or whatever it is, my encouragement would be not to give up on your rituals, because they are going to be an anchor.

I just had this conversation yesterday with one of our clients. I said, “Hey, even if you have to take your ideal ritual from 10 steps to 2 steps, don’t give up on it,” because it is this moment in your day where you take back ownership and take back power and can kind of ground yourself again. That feeling, that agency, that reinforcement that “Oh, yeah! I’m designing my days. My day is not happening to me…” That is so powerful in a busy season.

Verbs: Yeah. And as you talk about that, Blake… I mean, don’t abandon them altogether, but you may want to sit down and see how you can adapt them instead, which would include sitting down, prioritizing what’s going to be the most important thing you need to accomplish within your ritual, and then ruthlessly (and I say ruthlessly) eliminate the rest. If you need to adjust your schedule to make room for your rituals, then just look to see where you can make that possible.

Courtney: That’s such a good point. As I look at my rituals… I think this is the thing to remember: you’re adjusting these. For me, they’re never set in stone. I’m always looking at these. I’m always adjusting them, because life changes. I feel like that’s an important part for this season.

Verbs: Blake, once again it’s time. We are going to be joined by another caller from the Full Focus Planner Community. He actually submitted something a while back. We thought it may be helpful for other listeners to hear some of his techniques of how he uses his daily planner and, specifically, the Daily Big 3. So, I’d like to welcome Mike to the show. Mike, how’s it going?

Mike: It’s good. It’s going well. Thank you.

Blake: Welcome, Mike. I love hearing ways that people are innovating and utilizing the tool in their world. Before we get into the specifics, can you share with me and our listeners what you do for a living and how long you’ve been using the Full Focus System?

Mike: Sure. I work with faith-based and private schools, working with them on their technology, their billing, their financial aid, and providing tools and guidance for those kinds of things. I work in a territory, so, planning not only traveling but planning how you’re going to have a conversation with someone becomes very important. Plus, there are other side projects you have going on as well, not only involved with sales, but with someone who says, “Hey, can we pick your brain?”

Then, of course, there are the other things going on with… I don’t want to say a “side hustle,” necessarily, but I play music, and we have to put that in too. Just so many things with family and friends and obligations. My wife and I run a nonprofit to help fund music camp and private lesson experiences for kids, too, so just a lot of balls in the air, and you really don’t want to let any of them drop.

I’ve been using the planner for about four years and was really concerned when I saw things coming out in quarters, going, “Okay. How am I going to deal with a book for a quarter, and here’s another book?” But after getting used to it and seeing how things are and finding some other things that were in there and seeing the comments from the community, which has been great… If anyone is not part of that, you really need to be part of that. That’s where a lot of the ideas came into play, but when you put all of those ideas together, it has been working really, really well for me.

Blake: Awesome. Nick gave me a preview. I didn’t see what you had posted in the group, but apparently, you had shared a unique take on how you’re doing the Daily Big 3, how that plays out during your week. Describe the scenery. Describe your techniques managing your most important tasks day to day and week to week.

Mike: Yeah. The day-to-day is always the same three. I got this from the Notes section, as well, and this sort of hearkened back to that. I was using the Notes to track things, and all of those things were being tracked during the week, and somebody made the suggestion, “Why don’t you get a 5×8 Post-it note and put it on the Notes page?” I went, “Huh,” because then I could take those things I really needed to remember, yet flip that up to have any kind of notes for the day, and then transfer it from the next page to the next page, just for a reminder and things like that. Absolutely.

Blake: Can you tell me more about that? What are you tracking on that Post-it?

Mike: If we’re looking at… Like, if somebody uses a CRM, they might have cases. It’s a particular term within particular CRMs that says… I have to create a dashboard for a couple of my clients, but I actually don’t create the dashboard. Somebody else does, so I have to just track that project. I mean, if I’m doing things, those are my tasks, but if I have to keep track of who’s doing what and how I need to communicate with account managers or different people who interface with the customers on a daily basis, that’s where I leave those lists there.

So, that was very helpful, and doing that kind of thing. Then if I go meet with people, I can just flip that over and still use the Notes page from that day. Then when someone started talking about how to use your Big 3 and I started seeing other Post-it notes that are available commercially, I went, “Well, I could just use this with another Post-it note.” You put a Post-it note on top. The Big 3 comes through with the circles and the lines and things like that.

So, I just use that and fill it in and then transfer it from one day to the next, because in my work, those Big 3 activities are pretty much the same things, but they happen at different points during the day. So, when I plan the week, I can say, “Okay. This block is going to be for contacting customers and doing my 10 calls a day.” Then I can refer to “1” and just take my block time (I block out the day in 90-minute increments), and I’ll just put a “1” in there, and that’s what I know to do that Big 3 for that “1” because that’s the block when that’s going to get done.

Then the weekends are different. My Saturday is totally different than my Sunday. I can do my Big 3 tasks for Saturday, my Big 3 tasks for Sunday, and get those all out of the way. It’s usually household stuff or projects. The big one for Sunday is rest, because if you don’t do that, you’ll burn out.

But, yeah, it has been so helpful just to transfer those things from one day to the next rather than spending a half an hour writing stuff. I know it always solidifies what you need to get done, but when it’s a day-to-day thing and it’s the same thing you really need to focus on… I’m not going to write “10 phone calls” down. That’s on a different list. That’s a list I track on a computer and then have to check off those kinds of things.

Blake: So, just to clarify, there are two Post-it notes of different sizes.

Mike: Correct.

Blake: One is on your Notes page. One is kind of hovering over the Big 3 each day. Do you take that Post-it note over the Big 3…? Do you move it out of your planner and put it on a desktop, or something like that, ever or does it live in the planner?

Mike: No, it’s in the planner, because it’s for the day. Then when I start the day, I put it on the next day. So, they actually live there. Sometimes I’ll rewrite the big one, because I’ll go through and scratch off those things that are completed.

Verbs: Mike, I have a question for you. So, with your Daily Big 3 being the same every day, I’m assuming most of what you use the planner for is specifically work related. With the other things you have going on… You mentioned there’s music in there. There are some other side projects. How do you account for any of those things that have to be completed within your system there?

Mike: Those are the weekends. I mentioned the nonprofit we do. We have teachers we pay. So, “Pay teacher bills” is that first Saturday, so that’s a Big 3 for the first Saturday. We’re having an event in November. Hopefully, everything stays the way it needs to move forward and how we’re going to plan with distancing and sanitizing and all that kind of thing. We have to get “save the date” announcements out, so those get put in for Saturday, because work is just really work.

I plan my days to be four nine-hour days and one four-hour day. Clean up things for Friday afternoon, because if I’m going to play on a Friday night, I’m getting stuff ready to go set up a gig for Friday night. Any kind of travel that’s there gets blocked out on a day for traveling or five hours for traveling, or that kind of thing, on the scheduling.

I try to put as little additional work during the week for those side projects and things as possible. If there’s something little, I can put that in the additional tasks and put that on the task list, but if there’s a whole bunch of stuff that needs to get done, I can’t devote that kind of time. I need to do that on a weekend somewhere.

Blake: That’s awesome. I think even more than the sticky note technique is the clarity and decisiveness of “Here’s the most important work, the highest contribution that I bring that really moves the needle in my work, and I’ve got to stay consistent in those to see those consistent returns.” You talk about making those 10 calls. It’s so easy to put that off, because it doesn’t live or die, usually, if that happens today, yet the consistency of doing that builds a strong business. So, bravo. We coach people up in that type of stuff, so, Mike, bravo to you for figuring it out.

Mike: A phrase that came out a long time ago was “Plan your work and work your plan,” but then there’s also the thing that all plans just die when in first contact with the enemy, you know, that kind of thing. “I got this all planned out for the day. Great.” And you have something that happens in the morning that totally blows it apart. But I have to do those Big 3 things every day.

So, whether it’s the calls… I put on my little cheat sheet here that those calls for the day are somewhere during the day that I know I’m going to get somebody, but another one is just an organizing thing. If you see in the background, there are boxes, there are papers, there’s all that kind of stuff. That has to be addressed, but it’s only going to be addressed after hours.


So, from 4:00 to 5:30 is when I do those kinds of things. Then from 7:00 to 8:30 is when I organize my calendar, my leads, my whatever. People go, “Well, that’s not real work.” It’s like, “No, this is work. It needs to be scheduled. It needs to be put in there.” Make time for what’s important. You know, 7:00 to 8:30… I’ll take my first appointment at 8:30.

If somebody needs 8:00, okay, great. A breakfast meeting? Okay. That’s going to do the 7:00 to 8:30 block, and then I’ll move whatever is there to someplace else in the day. To be able to shift those things around and not need to keep rewriting everything and make reference points to it… That has been so helpful in keeping the mind straight.

Blake: Wonderful. Well, thank you so much, Mike, for joining us and sharing your win using the system and the creativity you brought to it. Hopefully you listening can be inspired to make the planner your own and dial in that Daily Big 3 for consistent results. Thanks, Mike.

Mike: Thank you. I appreciate it.

Verbs: All right. The good news is you don’t have to get swept away this holiday season. You can stay grounded and come out on top when you cling to three anchors of the Full Focus System: your Weekly Preview, your Daily Big 3, and your rituals. Courtney, Blake, any final thoughts before we take it on out of here? Or any final thoughts for our Focus on This listeners?

Blake: My final thought is just an encouragement that no matter how busy things get, remember that you deserve to make time for clarity. Meaning, when we’re busy, the temptation to not pause and get the clarity we need… That’s really what it is. Our rituals help create clarity and momentum. Our Daily Big 3 provides our clarity for our day. Our Weekly Preview gives us insight and clarity into our week.

It’s so tempting to not take that time, but think of it like an exponential time, you know, to not neglect… Recognize that “If I can fill my tank with fuel, so to speak, I can make this journey, and if I neglect that, then I may run out of gas on the side of the road.” As tempting as it’ll be, I encourage you. You can do it, and don’t be afraid to pause and make that time to create the clarity you need to have an amazing end to your year.

Verbs: Thank you for joining us on Focus on This. This is the most productive podcast on the Internet, so share it with your friends. Don’t forget to join the Full Focus Planner Community on Facebook. We’ll be here next week with another great episode. Until then…

All: Stay focused!