“It is not the going out of port, but the coming in, that determines the success of a voyage.” – Henry Ward Beecher (Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit, 1887)

You come into the office, flick on the light, and — if your inbox looks like mine — are suddenly assaulted by dozens of chores to do. Open your e-mail and an equal or greater number of tasks await you.

But getting these things done and off your desk is not what is going to make you successful. Yes, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment when your inbox (and/or e-mail box) is empty — but that feeling won’t last long. Nor will it bring you much closer to your fondest dreams. The reason is simple: Most of your daily chores are tasks that other people want you to do to advance their agendas. The secret to personal productivity is to decrease the amount of time you spend promoting other people’s careers while you increase the time you spend advancing your own. Put differently, you want to spend as much time as you can working on your most important Life Goals.

Figuring out what those are and putting them into your daily schedule is not difficult. In past messages, I’ve suggested a method that has worked very well for me and others.

What is tough is sticking to the plan. Since so much of the important stuff is “not urgent,” it’s easy to ignore. It whispers at you quietly while the maintenance stuff shouts.

So how do you get that critical but quiet stuff done?

Step No. 1: Allow sufficient time to accomplish important tasks when you plan your day. Be realistic. If it’s important, it usually cannot be done in five minutes. But if you break a task down, you may be able to advance it in discrete sections of 15 minutes or a half-hour each day.

Step No. 2: Highlight the important daily tasks on your calendar. Make yourself a promise that you will not leave the office until they are all done.

Step No. 3: Identify one of those important tasks that is going to be THE important TASK OF THE DAY. This should be something you really care about.

If you are having trouble determining your priorities, review the following:

* Message #102, “How to Accomplish All Your Most Important Goals”

* Message #103, “Rise Early and Catch the Golden Worm”

* Message #108, “How Long Will It Take You to Do What You Want?”

* Message #112, “Getting Your 1,000-Hour Program Going

* Message #117, “Measuring and Improving Your Personal Productivity”

Step No. 4: Do your most-important task of the day first — and if not first, then certainly before other people get into the office.

If you follow this simple four-step program, here’s what will happen:

* At first, you’re going to feel good about getting some of this stuff done — and that will continue till you run out of important tasks that you have been neglecting.

* For a while, you will have to struggle to come up with new important tasks to put on your daily “to-do” list — and this will remind you of how much of your time can be taken up with maintenance activities.

* After pushing through this dead period, forcing yourself to come up with forward-moving tasks to accomplish each day, they will start coming to you more easily.

* Gradually, imperceptibly at first but noticeably later on, your progress will accelerate. And in a relatively short time — probably less than six months — you’ll be moving at a much faster speed and working at a much higher level.

* Eventually, you’ll look back at where you are today in terms of achieving your ultimate goals and be surprised that you could have made so much progress so quickly.