Raise your hand if you’ve recognized too late in the day that you haven’t been doing the stuff that really matters, only to freak out, get overwhelmed, and resolve to work longer and harder — while still doing the same kinds of things that you just beat yourself up for doing.
Don’t worry; if I weren’t typing, my hand would be up, too.
This problem arises because there are two especially challenging parts of the day for us creative people:
- Getting a great start on the day
- Letting go at the end of the day
These two challenges are intimately related. Since we often don’t know what we should be doing, we get involved in a lot of easy-to-engage-in tasks that often aren’t the things that matter the most. By the time we get our heads on straight, a lot of time has been squandered, so we end up trying to overcompensate by working longer.
Then, at exactly the point at which it’s clear that you’re no longer able to do something without messing it up, you remember all the stuff you should’ve been doing in the first place. You know that it won’t get done no matter how hard you beat yourself up about it, yet you also can’t just let it go.
Yes, my hand would still be up.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Interrupting this pattern is as simple as figuring out what we need to do, doing it, and then checking at the end of the day to make sure we did it. Remember, something’s being simple is not the same as its being easy.
Here’s the deal, though: unless you’re good at planning your day, it’s really hard to do it first thing in the morning. It’s much easier to check email and get started on the Loop, which only serves to repeat the same pattern that you’re trying to interrupt.
So, instead of trying it that way, try what I’m calling the 10/15 Split. I talk about this in Start Finishing because it’s a big key in accomplishing your goal step-by-step, day-by-day. The 10/15 Split is basically a quick check-in and check-out process. You spend 10 minutes at the start of your day checking in and 15 minutes at the end of the day checking out.
The key to getting the 10/15 Split going is actually the evening check-out rather than the morning check-in. That’s why it gets a bit more time, but it’s also because you’re asking harder questions. We’ll start by talking about the check-out.
The 15-Minute Check-Out
The check-out is the harder of the two, but for good reason: we usually have a better perspective at the end of the day than at the beginning of the day.
You know what you did and didn’t do, and you have a good idea of the next steps you need to take to keep the ball rolling. So, while your level of overwhelm might be higher, the mental cobwebs that cloud the beginning of the day aren’t there.
The 15-Minute Check-Out has three questions:
1. What did you accomplish? (Celebrate!)
Acknowledge what you did do rather than just focusing on what you didn’t do. Always, always, always celebrate what you accomplished. Life is but a series of small steps, and if you don’t celebrate the small wins, it’s harder to build up the momentum for the bigger ones. (If you’re looking for more ways to celebrate the small wins, check out Chapter 9 of Start Finishing.)
2. Is there anything that you need to do right now to be able to disengage?
This question answers that nagging feeling that you’ve forgotten to do something. Check your inbox and your To-Do list for those things that have to happen today. Ask yourself what would really happen if you didn’t do whatever you’re considering — you’d be surprised how many things can wait until the next day.
3. When do you need to do the things that you didn’t get done today?
There might be a lot of things that came up during the day that need to be done sometime soon, but they don’t have to happen today. If something needs to happen tomorrow or some specific day in the future, put it in whatever solution you have so that you’ll see it tomorrow. That way your mind can let it go and you can get some peace.
If you didn’t finish whatever you were working on today, make a note of where to start for the next time you pick it up. This is great for those creative projects that you need to maintain momentum on but might not be able to work on every day. (For more tips on managing shifting schedules, check out “Why planning too far in advance can be much worse than a waste of time” in Chapter 8 of Start Finishing.)
The 15-Minute Check-Out serves two purposes:
- it helps remind you that you did push the ball forward, and
- it makes it really easy to get started the next day.
The 10-Minute Check-In
If you start the 10/15 Split with the 15-Minute Check-Out, you’ve done most of the hard work. All you have to do next is show up and do what you told yourself you were going to do.
Here are the questions to ask yourself during the 10-Minute Check-In:
1. Has anything significant changed between now and the last check-out?
The key word here is significant. Some events do change the course of your day. For instance, your kids might get sick and you’ll need to change your plans to be able to take care of them.
2. What did you plan for today?
This is where you review the plan you made yourself the day before. Remember, you probably had a better idea of what you need to do today when you did your check-out than you do right now.
3. What is one thing you are going to start on right now?
This step is all about setting the intention to focus on this one thing for your next block, rather than shuffling through a few projects and not making any real progress on any of them. Better to complete or make some real progress on one thing than shuffle through three.
You might be tempted to answer the first question by checking email and voicemail, but before you do, ask yourself what’s in there that should change your day. Did you start scheduling something? Are you waiting for something that’s related to a project you’re working on this morning? Plan on how you’re going to process email and voicemail – at this stage, it’s best to look for a few key messages that are relevant to what you need to do right now rather than just jumping on to check email. (For more on effective ways to start your day, check out “Rethinking ‘first things first’” in Chapter 8 of Start Finishing.)
Give the 10/15 Split a Trial Run
You might be wondering why it’s a 10/15 Split and not a 10/10 or 15/15 split. It’s a 10/15 Split because I’ve learned through trial and error with myself, clients, and friends that it’s a good balance between not giving yourself enough time and requiring too much time. It’s hard to get the right level of perspective and thoroughness in less than 10/15 minutes, and much longer than that makes it just another thing to resist.
If you raised your hand at the beginning of this post and haven’t found a reliable way to build daily momentum in a peaceful way, give the 10/15 Split a trial run for five days. If it doesn’t work for you, then, worst-case scenario, you’ve “wasted” a little under two hours, but these are the types of questions that peak performers ask themselves routinely throughout the day anyway.
If you’re looking for even more ways to weave your project into your schedule, check out my book Start Finishing.