Your Highlight: Not that Kind of Marker

planner open to show multiple events and post it notesby Erica Venton

Thursday - it’s Thursday already! This week has gone so fast and I still feel like there’s so much more to do. It has been so busy. The last few weeks the pace has continued to race along, and if I’m being honest, wasn’t it just March? 

Recently a friend asked me for recommendations on productivity techniques and resources. Pulling links to some my favorites I came across a video featuring, “The Highlight” and it sparked the reminder of a conversation with John Zeratsky, co-author of the book “Make Time”, whose strongest recommendation was to choose a highlight for each day.

What’s Important

Zeratsky recommends that people ask themselves to consider the highlight of their day, “What’s the one thing that I need to make time for, that I want to make time for, the one thing that is most deserving of my energy and my focus?” You see, once you start thinking of time in that way a lot of other good things come out of it. You are able to consider what you are saying yes to and, just as importantly, what you say no to. With your highlight in mind you can consider how you can structure your day and what technology can help or hinder your success in that day. “When you have that awareness of what is important to you, why you are at work, why you are doing things that you are doing it opens opportunities for other good things to happen.”

Highlight is that key to the checkbox on the day - and it doesn’t have to be work related. Perhaps your highlight is to go for a walk before it gets dark to check out a local nature preserve. In order to do that you schedule the rest of your day to accomplish what is needed to make that time available. You could choose a work item - something important or that requires extra attention and focus, even something that may have been delayed by other priorities. Choose that as your highlight. Then schedule time in your day to focus on that thing. You’ll be able to manage the other work around this priority item and make solid decisions about what is urgent and what can be handled tomorrow morning instead. 

Highlight Marker

Highlight works like a milestone marker in a day. If you look back over a year you’ll likely have a few key memories, but you won’t remember every day or minute. Likely, the highlight is a birthday, or a special conversation with your partner, or that time you put on rollerblades for the first time in years and it wasn’t as easy as you remembered, but it was definitely worth the laugh. Highlights are a bit like that - they’re sparks in what may have been an otherwise hurried and chaotic day. They help you to get to the end of the day and reflect back and feel accomplished. 

What’s better is that focusing on a highlight a day means that over a week or a month, highlights stack up. Now you won’t always get through your highlight each day - because life happens. Start again the next day and refocus, consider breaking your highlight into smaller bits over a couple of days. My recommendation - write each accomplished highlight on a sheet of paper where you can see it grow. On the days when you get swept into busyness and you reach the end thinking the day got you more than you got the day, you can look over at your list of highlights and be proud of yourself. Get some sleep and start fresh tomorrow.

Write this Down

Check out Zeratsky’s book, blog and a quick video for a whole mountain of ideas for scheduling, setting priorities, making your technology work for you, the importance of down time, and even a recommendation for the best time to drink coffee - hint, it’s not 7 a.m.

Check out these books as well:

  • Happiness Advantage, by Shawn Achor is full of research studies and examples behind a positive mindset.
  • Compound Effect, by Darren Hardy focuses on productivity and planning skills.
  • Slight Edge, by Jeff Olson discusses the impact of focus, repetition, and pushing to do just a tiny bit more which can cause exponential increases over the long-term.
  • Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg is solid background information and studies to explain how habits work, why our minds rely on habits and what we can do to reset the habit loop. This book was most helpful that I read before the pandemic because it explained the mental load of decisions and changing habits. That's why we were all so exhausted. We were forced to change so many of our regular habits at the same time - how we commute, where we work, how we work, how we handle our kids, how we use our free time, changing our stress relief methods (gym, dining out, relaxing with friends, movies, shopping) - everything changed. So our brains were working way overtime to recreate new habit loops. About the only habit we didn't change is the shower loop.  
  • 5 Habits Course, from Stephen Covey talks about how to manage email and calendars to be more effective with the tools in your day. 

Learn more on efficiency and mindset in this longer articlepodcast and video presentation.