Think back to last year’s holiday season.

Maybe a time between Halloween and New Years when you started eating just a little bit too much at family dinners and began gaining a pound or two (or 10).

An extra slice of turkey here, an extra helping of mac and cheese there, and the dressing? Don’t even get me started.

Then one day when you went to pull on your favorite fancy pants for a party or church gathering… You found that the button wouldn’t close.

Hey, it happens to the best of us!

I like to call this phenomenon, “Fitting 10 lbs of potatoes into a 5 lbs. sack”

But it doesn’t just apply to fitting your holiday body into your summer clothes.

It’s even more prevalent when it comes to how you manage your time.

You see, most high performers (like yourself) wake up with a to-do list that is longer than Atlas Shrugged.

No matter how hard you focus, how great your morning routine is, or how many “Pomodoro” cycles you complete, you still end the day with fewer than half of your tasks completed.

You slump in your chair, curse at the steering wheel as you drive home, and walk through your front door with the sense of frustration and negative energy still weighing on you.

Slowly but surely, the stress and dissatisfaction from having such a long list of “Should have but didn’t do’s” begins to trickle into other areas of your life, causing you to take all of that anger and frustration out on the people you love the most.  

A friend of mine, ‘Nick’ from RockStar Real Estate, described this struggle on a recent podcast.

I was visiting their office in Oakville, just outside of Toronto, where he and his brother Tom were interviewing me for their show.

“Craig,” he said, as we talked about planning the day,

“I used to try and get so many things done, and it would always leave me frustrated at 5pm. Worse, I took that anger home with me, and there were a few times I blew up over nothing. That’s when I realized things had to change.”

Nick was fortunate enough to have the requisite self-awareness to make a change in his life.

But most high performing entrepreneurs and executives never make the connection.

They spend years struggling through their work days feeling “lazy” and “ineffective” (despite the fact that they accomplish 5x more than most of their peers) until they become burned out or disengaged from their work.

This profound sense of inadequacy bleeds into their home life resulting in ruined marriages, weight gain, self-medication (usually with alcohol, tobacco, or some other drug), and hair loss (yikes!).

But it doesn’t need to be this way.

In fact, with a little strategic planning, you can easily kill “to-do-list-overwhelm” and make time for your most important tasks… Without losing your luscious locks.

Here are a few ideas to help you get started.

The Importance of “Buffer Days”


Dan Sullivan, the founder of Strategic Coach and one of my mentors, is famous for having “buffer days” built into his program.

Despite being one of the most renowned and prolific coaches on the entire planet, Dan doesn’t embrace the “nonstop hustle” mentality that many entrepreneurs and so-called success coaches follow.

Instead, Dan is realistic about the number of commitments he can handle in a given week and he schedules his time accordingly.

He knows that “stuff happens”. Engagements fall through. Emergencies arise. Days rarely (if ever) go exactly as planned.

Instead of fighting this reality and trying to constantly push through the problems, Dan has set his schedules up in a way that allow him to have bad days, handle emergencies, and tend to family engagements without losing steam.

If you want to continually perform at the highest levels, then you should do the same.

For those of you working a conventional 5-day work week, I recommend that you plan 3-4 days of intensive deep work followed by a single “Buffer” day that will allow you to make time for those little tasks and priorities that slipped through the cracks.

If you’re working a 6 day work week, I recommend scheduling a buffer day following every 2 days of deep work.

Ruthlessly eliminate unnecessary tasks, delegate work outside of your “area of genius”, and prioritize your time during those four days.

Then, on your buffer days, schedule time to catch up on incomplete tasks, take care of administrative work, and tend to other issues that arise throughout the week.

I know the idea of a buffer day might not seem popular in our #hustle society. But I can tell you from personal experience, it’s an invaluable strategy that will dramatically reduce your stress, anxiety, and overwhelm.

Plan for Success… Not Overwhelm


Although my Perfect Day and Perfect Week Formulas are highly regimented and structured, they were created to help you plan for success… Not overwhelm.

Most high performers, when scheduling their days and weeks, bite off dramatically more than they can chew.

They think that by overloading themselves they are planning for success.

But in reality, they are planning for stress, overwhelm, and failure.

To help remedy this, let me tell you a little story about a man named Ivy Lee (shoutout to James Clear for introducing me to this story) 

In 1918, Charles Schwab, the President of Bethlehem Steel Corporation and one of the richest men in the world was attempting to gain a competitive advantage over his competition.

To facilitate this advantage, he arranged for a meeting with Ivy Lee, a productivity consultant who was effectively the David Allen of the early 1900’s.

During the meeting, Schwab made a simple request. “Show me a way to get more things done”.

Lee agreed, asking for 15 minutes with each of Schwab’s executives.

“How much will this cost me”, Schwab inquired.

Lee responded, “Nothing. Until it works. After 3 months you can send me a check for whatever you feel it was worth to you.”

Three months later, Lee received a check for $25,000 or the equivalent of more than $400,000 today.

So what did Lee share that was valuable enough for Mr. Schwab to send him a check of almost half a million dollars?

The answer is so simple it might surprise you…

During his 15 minutes with each executive, Lee shared one simple strategy.

He instructed each executive to write down ONLY the six most important things they needed to accomplish the following day and prioritize those six items in order of true importance.

He told each executive to work through each task until completion and move reschedule any incomplete tasks for the following day.

… And that was it.

This tactic works because it forces you to ruthlessly eliminate that which is not important and focus only on your highest impact tasks.

Most entrepreneurs schedule more into a normal day than they could realistically accomplish in 2-3.

By limiting yourself to only 6 tasks each day (I recommend trimming it down even further) you will identify what is truly important and give yourself the ability to focus only on tasks that move the needle forward.

I recommend that you implement this strategy into your nightly planning sessions to ensure that you are prioritizing tasks effectively and avoiding to do list overload.

Embrace Cyclical Stress and Rest


Despite what “gurus” on the ‘gram’ have told you… You are physically and psychologically incapable of being in playoff mode every day of your life.

Think about the best athletes in the world.

Do you think that they train to failure every single day of the year? Of course not!

They periodize their training alternating between periods of acute stress and restorative rest to ensure that they can operate at peak capacity when game day comes.

If you want to achieve sustainable high performance and lasting success, you must treat yourself like an athlete.

Yes, you are going to push yourself HARD (likely harder than the ‘average’ person could reasonably handle) but you’re also going to back off, chill out, and give your mind and body time to rest and recover.

Just look at the game of basketball.

They have TV timeouts, half time, team time outs, and intermissions between quarters. They’re not playing street ball at 110% for 2 hours straight.

And you can’t work that way either.

You need to schedule breaks during your deep work slots to give yourself time to recover and rest.

You need to take at least one digital detox day a week where you don’t touch your work, emails, or any other tasks.

You need to schedule yearly vacations of 7-days or longer that allow you to truly unplug and recharge your batteries.

Remember that your capacity for deep work and focused time is limited.

You’re not superhuman. In the same way that you have to rest between sets in the gym so that you have the strength to hit your desired rep count, you need to rest between “sets” during your workday.

I recommend that you start your day with a 2-hour chunk of deep work followed by a 20 minute break. Throughout the rest of your day work on a 50 minute on, 18-minute off schedule to ensure that you have adequate time to recover and between strenuous mental activities.

I know this might not be sexy or aligned with what other entrepreneurs recommend… But I promise, it works.

Rest Like the Best (Beyond Watching TV and Mindless Social Media)


While it is important that you rest between blocks of work and schedule downtime into your weeks, quarters, and years, what’s equally important is how you rest.

You can’t turn off your laptop and then spend 5 hours binge watching The Real Housewives, and expect to find yourself magically restored and ready to conquer the next day.

You need to rest intelligently and ensure that you are engaging in activities that restore your focus, creativity, and energy levels.

I recommend that you start by taking at least one 15-20 minute walking break each day.

Studies have shown that even a short 6-minute walk after every hour of focused work increased subject’s subjective energy levels as well as their creative output and overall productivity by 10’s of percentage points.

That’ a HUGE ROI for such a small investment of your time and energy.

In addition to short walking breaks, you can also punctuate your blocks of deep work with:

  • Meditation or mindfulness breathing exercises
  • Reading a good nonfiction book
  • Journalling
  • Reading a blog article or listening to a podcast snippet
  • Yoga or Qigong (if you work from home or have an office gym)
  • Eating a high fat/low carb snack (a handful of almonds or celery and peanut butter work great)
  • Taking a binaural nap a la Aubrey Marcus (I recommend listening to this track while you nap)

The bottom line is that you need to use your breaks to engage in activities that restore your mental bandwidth and leave you feeling rested and ready to conquer the rest of your day.

You can’t mindlessly watch TV, YouTube, or play video games and expect yourself to perform at high levels.

Instead, you must selectively and intentionally select activities that restore your focus and eliminate mental fatigue.

Conclusion


There you have it!

A simple strategy to help you plan for success without losing your mind or selling your soul to the gods of overwhelm and “tomuchtodoitis.”

Add buffer days to your schedule. Limit yourself to the 6 most important tasks each day. Cycle rest and recovery. Take intelligent breaks throughout the day.

If you do these four things, I can promise you that your days and weeks will never be the same.

You’ll accomplish more while reducing your stress and anxiety allowing you to live your Perfect Life.

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Craig Ballantyne

Craig Ballantyne is the author of The Perfect Day Formula: How to Own the Day and Control Your Life. Craig has been a contributor to Men's Health magazine for over 17 years. Today he teaches his gift to high-performing entrepreneurs how to squeeze more out of their days, increase their income, and make more quality time for their families in his Perfect Life Workshop and Work-Life Mastery programs. Craig used his own advice to overcome crippling anxiety attacks in 2006, and he'll teach you his 5 Pillars of Success so you can increase your income, decrease your work time, and live the life of your dreams. Learn more about Craig at craigballantyne.com

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