Priorities and Setting Intentions

My last post addressed some aspects of setting priorities, or more simply, figuring out what to work on. There can be lots of moving parts and I know it’s not easy. I haven’t come up with my own systematic formula, but others have and I encourage you to explore those offerings. I often see the best results when people stay well-informed about their options, stay realistic, and then go with their instincts.

 This post is about sticking to your intentions, once you have set them.

What does it mean to set an intention? I think of it in two ways:

  1. You can set an intention to accomplish something specific:
    • “I will review a journal article today.”
    • “I will spend 30 minutes de-cluttering my office.”
    • “I will send a follow up email to that potential client.”
  2. You can also set an intention to act or think in a certain way:
    • “I intend to meet new people.”
    • “I intend to listen with an open mind.”
    • “I intend to improve my sleep habits.”

For this post, I’m focusing on accomplishing a specific task. First, an important distinction:

  • A task is something you can accomplish in one work session.
  • A project has multiple steps and/or needs multiple work sessions to be accomplished. Projects move forward, when we focus on one task at at time.

We greatly increase the likelihood of completing our intentions when we limit them to no more than 1-3 tasks per day. These are in addition to whatever we do on a routine basis, like attending a daily staff meeting, picking up the kids, seeing clients, etc. If you finish your 1-3 tasks with time to spare, it’s fine to add more. But if you start with more than 3 items, you risk distracting yourself and decreasing your likelihood of success. If it’s hard for you to ignore everything else and focus on just 1-3 things, refer back to my previous post.

Plan for success

Spend 5 minutes planning how you will accomplish your 1-3 intentions.

  1. Identify what you intend to do. Describe what “done” will look like for each task (not for the entire project). “I’m done when I have set up auto-payments for my water bill.” “I’m done when I’ve gathered all my receipts and tax forms together.” “I’m done when I have spent 30 minutes researching online.”
  2. Visualize yourself doing the work and successfully completing the tasks.
  3. Consider what might derail you, and come up with a plan for how to manage those things. “If I am interrupted by a co-worker, I will say this isn’t a good time, and ask the person to check back with me after 2 pm.” “If I am tempted to stop, I will take a 5-minute break to stretch and get a drink of water, and then I will resume.”

Once you have identified and planned for your 1-3 items intentions, write them down in their own unique space, with no other distracting pieces of information. Sticky notes, index cards, pop-up reminders, can all work. The idea is to effectively highlight or shine a spotlight just on those intentions.

Mindset is critical when sticking to intentions

Honor your intentions. Make your intentions your guiding principles for the day. Your whole day is about getting those things done. Jump at the earliest opportunity. If you find yourself wavering, institute a “no negotiations” rule. Don’t try to convince yourself that you’re better off waiting. Seize any opportunity you have, even if conditions are less than perfect (and they almost certainly will be).

Sometimes, factors beyond your control, will dictate that you have to wait until later in the day to complete some of your intentions. If so, never lose sight of the fact that you must get those things done. If you must wait, it’s okay to do other less important things in the meantime as long as they don’t jeopardize your ability to complete your intentions when the opportunity comes. 

Create a safety net

Put some external structure in place, to help you remember your intentions. Don’t trust memory alone. Ask someone else to check in with you about them. Send an email to yourself. Write them in your calendar. Leave reminders of your intentions out in plain sight. Whatever works for you is fine.

All of this may sound like a lot of work, but with practice, you can go through the steps very quickly. It really does get easier. And of course, there will be times when you don’t complete your intentions. Use those times as learning opportunities to prepare better in the future.