Essential

What are those essential things that, if you did them every day, would make a positive difference in your life (personal/professional) in the long-term? By essential, I mean things that are important and non-urgent (in the parlance of the Eisenhower Method, used by former US President Dwight D. Eisenhower and later made popular by Stephen Covey in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Dwight D. Eisenhower said:

What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.

What do we mean when we say things like, “I don’t have enough time,” or “I wish I had more time for something,” etc.? What are the essential things that you would like to do?

For me, some of those essential things include:

  • journaling
  • making
  • learning
  • exercising
  • meditating
  • walking
  • reflecting

These are the things that I deem essential (to me) that if I continued doing every day would make a positive difference in my life in the long-term.

80% of my waking time is spent in doing the essential things. And only 20% (often less) of my time goes toward doing things that are considered important and urgent.

These activities are scheduled to appear every day in my calendar at fixed times. Most of these are scheduled in the morning, while others in the evening. For instance, I read fiction as part of my evening routine every night. It’s part of my goal to read one fiction book in a week.

By doing as many of these things as early in the day as possible, I make sure that they get done first no matter what happens in a given day. By doing these things that I deem essential, I prevent, to a large extent, the things that are important and urgent from occurring. The latter still takes precedence over the former, but those things are few and far between.

As Aristotle said:

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

Figure out what those essential things are for you, schedule them in your calendar, then do them every day at the same time without fail.

These are areas that include things that you might consider essential:

  • physical (sleep, exercise, nutrition)
  • emotional/social (relationships)
  • mental (creative work)
  • spiritual (meditation, reading)

Try to get them done as early as possible in the day so you have plenty of time for other things. By making time for these important things first, you’re doing the things that are important to you before anything else, which should be rewarding and fulfilling in itself (if it’s essential enough to you), even if you don’t end up doing anything else after that. Either way, you made some progress on things that were important to you, and ultimately that’s what matters in the long run more than anything else. Making progress every day on things that matter to you – that’s what it’s all about.

Why do these things every day? To establish a habit. Why put them on your calendar? To ensure they get done. Because if it’s essential in the long-term, it’s worth doing every day, and it’s worth doing without thinking about it. It’s like brushing your teeth.

Like Stephen Covey said:

The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.

As with everything else, consistency is the hard part. You’re less likely to succeed if you start out by trying to do too many things at the same time. I suggest you start out doing one thing that you think will make the most impact in your life in the long run, do it for a few days or even weeks, and slowly build momentum. When you find that it’s become a habit, that’s when you add the next most impactful thing to your “stack”, and so on and so forth.

Because these changes that you’re making are meant to be a permanent part of your lifestyle, it doesn’t matter how long they’ll take to become habits as long as you keep doing them every day.

When you say that you don’t have enough time for doing something, what you’re really saying is that you don’t have enough time for doing things that are essential to you. And that comes from not knowing what those things are because you haven’t taken the time to identify those things.

To summarize, figure out what’s essential to you, schedule it, then do it every day without thinking. That’s how you make progress every day on things that matter to you in the long run.

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