The Cycle of Getting the Important Stuff Done

In yesterday’s post I listed what I called The Hierarchy of Getting the Important Stuff Done. Truthfully, I wasn’t prepared for the immediate and passionate response from my readers.

It seems that staying focused on priorities is one of the toughest jobs we all have.

Several readers correctly identified that while I had outlined the path for staying focused, I hadn’t addressed just how you stay on that path. So, that’s what I want to address today.

Cycle of Important Stuff

By dividing my week into specific kinds of work I get more done

There are lots of time management systems out there and I don’t profess to claim that my adopted method is anything more than the cobbling together of systems from some terribly genuine and creative people like Dan Sullivan of Strategic Coach and David Allen of GTD. I’ve had the pleasure of spending time with both and credit them with a great deal of my thinking on managing myself.

I will say that, like any good hack, I have my own take and it starts with a focus on managing energy and the whole person over managing time. I wrote specifically about energy here.

People constantly remark that they have no idea how I get so much done. While it does involve mirrors and an incredible spouse, a great deal has to do with an organic system that I’ve used for years and have only recently been able to articulate.

The basic unit of my time and energy management tool and the thing that allows me to stay on important stuff done path is the week.

I divide each week up into days with a specific type of work plan. Each type of day plan has a unique emphasis that is biased towards a certain type of work. I have Intention Days, Attention Days and Ascension Days.

Intention Days are set aside to concentrate on my big ideas, my own personal growth and in some cases renewal. I take my higher purpose into these days and allow myself the luxury of dreaming.

At the risk of getting too personal, these are days where I often spend a lot of time alone and reassess meetings and feelings and words I’ve used wisely and unwisely. These are days when I forgive myself and forgive others. This type of renewal allows me to tap that little flicker of creativity that I so often attempt to extinguish.

While I intentionally protect my thoughts and actions on these days I don’t go as far as banning all digital activity, I simply make certain that I witness my thoughts and spend time doing things I wouldn’t normally do. I go to art museums and read books about architecture and geometry.

Attention Days are set aside to spend as much time as possible making money. Now, this may sound a little too focused for some, but what I really do is spend time doing my three or four highest payoff activities. The kind of stuff that either makes me money now or lays the foundation for meeting objectives down the road.

For me that’s writing, creating products or courses, working with sponsors and customers or writing an email that entices people to sign up for a workshop.

I typically plan these days with my staff during our weekly all hands meeting and take them outside of the office to limit the temptation to stray from full attention.

These days are easy to plan as I limit them to just a few items. In some cases I may only get to creating a PowerPoint Deck and writing one article, but I know it’s the right work and I know it’s time well spent.

Ascension Days are days spent climbing the hill. It’s when I get to those meetings, interviews, WordPress plugin tweaks, accounting reviews, inbox emptying parties and pretty much everything else screaming in my ear.

Maybe one day I’ll get to the point where I never have these kinds of days, but I doubt it. Ascension Days are like physical therapy, you’ve got to do this work so you can grow and get to the high payoff work.

All of these types of days, in fact, all of this type of work, is important, but my experience tells me that if you don’t carve out and make time and space to dream and create and focus on priorities, every day will turn into a climb the hill day of stirring the noise.

My pattern for these days can change depending upon what’s going on around me, but I typically try to take one Intention and two Attention Days a week and it’s the thing that keeps me most sane.

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John Jantsch

John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and author of Duct Tape Marketing, Duct Tape Selling, The Commitment Engine and The Referral Engine and the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network.
  • Joanne

    we are all challenged with getting this done and staying focused, I appreciate your sharing what you do in the course of a week

    • ducttape

      IT takes real commitment and I’m not always as good as I’d like, but this approach really allows me to get more done with less stress.

  • Jeff Korhan

    Interesting, you’ve redefined Free Days, Focus Days, and Buffer Days nicely. I like ascension much better than buffer. :)

    • ducttape

      Thanks Jeff, nothing buffer feeling about those days for me – it’s the climb, but for some reason I don’t mind those days either when I get my me time!

  • Jay

    As I was reading your post, it occurred to me, that I am most productive, happy, balanced and in universal flow when I am working in a Time/Energy System.  Thanks for the reminder.

  • Adelle

    I really appreciate this concept.  Honestly, I know all sections are important, but it helps me not feel guilty about needing the Intention Days.  

    • ducttape

      I heard it put in terms of an athlete – imagine if they never took time to renew.

  • Anders Michael

    Thanks for sharing, John. I also read your past articles relating to time management (which I also found very helpful), and you’ve inspired me to re-evaluate and re-organize my weekdays. Which days do you normally set aside for Intention, Attention, and Ascension time?

  • Michelle Falling

    Hi John.  Curious.  Are there certain days of the week that you find are best for attention, ascension, and intention?  Either a specific day or beginning, middle or end of the week?  

    • ducttape

      Well I think me it’s all about the routine – I naturally do Intention on Sunday, but my kids are grown so it’s easier to have that kind of me time. I do attention on W and Fri and push almost all my meeting to Tuesdays, which makes them a bear, but it helps me just give in and realize I’m going to be in that mode all day.

      I think I used to feel a lot more stress before I gave into this system.

  • AJ Perisho

    Great post John!
    It really helps when you know what specific activities fall into how you’re investing your time.
    Thanks for sharing your insight :-)

  • Annie Mueller

    This is really interesting. Makes me think of Peter Drucker and his admonitions to the future knowledge workers (which is what we are) that they would have to manage themselves – whether they were entrepreneurs or employees, made no difference. And knowledge workers do so much internal/mental work that having the time to refuel/recharge/renew/whatever you call it is really essential. But most of us hang on to vestiges of a time when most labor was physical, and find it hard to acknowledge the absolute need for focused time for inspiration. I’m a mom with 4 young kids, a house, a husband, and a freelance writing business. It’s SO easy to 1) feel guilty or 2) just let the time go away but I see a huge difference in my productivity when I schedule in time to refuel. Great post, and I appreciate how clearly you laid out the different days and purposes.

    • ducttape

      Hey Annie, you’ll always win points with me quoting Drucker – can you believe he was saying this stuff 50 years ago?

      I think you’re right that factory mentality still pervades, but this newer mindset is finally taking hold, even in big company departments.

      The fact that you witness how this serves you in leverage enough to make sure you carve out time and space for it!

  • Kyle

    Great stuff John!

  • Cynthia Kyriazis

    As a personal productivity coach and strategist I say…AMEN. When talking about these types of focus days as you have outlined, some clients look at me like I’m a bit, well, crazy. But if you’re motivated to build a business, it requires an approach with segmented activity. And identifying entire days–rather than hours—is so much more peaceful and so much more, well, productive! Thanks, John for sharing this

    • ducttape

      You bet Cynthia – I know in my own life that it takes hours sometimes for me to decompress enough to have a single creative thought – in fact, most creative stuff comes to me when I’m not trying to think about being creative.

  • Stephanie G.

    Great post and plan for managing your time. What are your thoughts on being able to achieve this in a corporate environment? I know I couldn’t plan my week where I only replied to emails/attended meetings 1-2 days a week. How can you achieve this when you’re just a cog in the factory? (Seth Godin Linchpin reference) Thanks!

    • ducttape

      I’m not sure I have a great answer – show this post to your boss and their boss and start talking about this kind of productivity with others on your team.

      You’re right not everyone does strategic work, but if you’re ever to get out of cogdom you need to structure time to improve yourself and you may just need to find ways to fit that in.

  • RonPayne

    Great post!  Thanks for sharing how you spend your time.  I really like the Intention Days concept.  I’m going to add a Intention Day to my schedule.