When it comes to personal productivity, we don’t necessarily approach things with a clear mind. That’s because our mind is full of so much that we have to do that we can’t possibly be at our best. We rush in, like a driver behind the wheel who is only looking to get to where they need to go as fast as they can. But rushing in is rarely the best course of action. When you do that, you’re careless with your actions. That means you may miss some things, you may overdo other things, and you may miss out on opportunities that you rush right past.
Yet being ahead of yourself is something worth exploring.
Being ahead of yourself isn’t the same as rushing in. When you’re ahead of yourself, you’re far more aware. You’re the driver that is looking further down the road to see who else is on it and what they are doing that can impact your own activity. You’re the driver that makes clearer choices about when to change lanes, when to slow down, and when to speed up. You’re the driver who is efficient and effective, and you’re not forsaking one for the other.
Being ahead of yourself simply means you’re prepared. You’ve done your “front end work” such as setting up a system of task management that works for you. You’ve thought things through so that you’re not trying to check off all the boxes, just the right ones. Your approach is mindful because you’ve put yourself in a position of having a clear mind. You’re ahead of where you’re going to be when the time comes to make decisions about what to do, which means you’ll make better decisions about what to do.
One of the best things you can do to get ahead of yourself is to do things that put you in control of your day – and do that on a regular basis. An example of something that would keep your day out of your control is to check your email first thing in the morning (and too often throughout the day). When you put email first, you are putting the requests – or demands – of others before your own. That can set you up for a day of disappointment – or even resentment, which will lead to a less productive day.1
That practice doesn’t mean you are treating email with any less value – it just means you are treating yourself with more value than what shows up in your inbox. To get ahead of yourself with email, check it at day’s end and figure out what needs doing off the top of the next day (if anything), and go from there. Then you’re wrapping up your day with the knowledge that any email that came in before quitting time is ready for you to deal with further the next workday.
There are other ways you can be ahead of yourself consistently other than treating email differently, and each set of circumstances is going to be different for each person. Regardless of what other elements of your life you choose to get ahead of yourself with, just make sure you take steps to get there on several fronts. By being ahead of yourself, you’re not only going to find you’re improving your own productivity – you’re going to find that you’re going to be putting yourself first a lot more often.
1 I have a Ready Retreat dedicated to email management, along with a digital workbook on the topic that you might want to check out.