How often do you start your day by getting all the little things ‘out of the way’ first – clearing email, cleaning your desk, catching up on niggly out-of-date to do’s that are stressing you out since they still haven’t been done?

All done in an attempt to get the smaller, mundane (or urgent) things off your plate so you can settle down into your day and finally get to the important stuff.

It’s a strategy most of us use on a regular basis – but for most of us, it’s flawed. And usually painfully so.

While this approach often feels like the best thing to do, how often do you actually get to the most important items? Chances are, it’s rare and often at a cost. 

The time cost of sacrificing our evenings with family or friends because you need to work a bit later as more little things came up during the day and you didn’t finish what you wanted to.

The attention cost of being distracted with other people’s demands or urgent problems which never allow you to be fully engaged and focused when you finally get the space to do the really valuable things.

The energy cost of being tired, drained or completely exhausted by the time you get to what matters most, causing you to put it off to another day.

And all these costs add up to a dramatic reduction in your productivity and performance.

So what is the alternative?

It’s a standard approach of the top performers, a key strategy of the world’s most productive leaders…and a simple enough idea that everyone can do.

For a rapid boost in your personal performance do the “first things first”.

Popularised in many books, including Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy and [amazon ASIN=”1451610262″]Be Excellent at Anything by Tony Swartz[/amazon] and Jean Gomes, the ‘first’ is the task, project, or issue that has the highest value and impact for you. This could be related to your professional or personal life.

How you define highest value and impact will be unique to you and will vary from week to week but there will always be one, two or three items that deserve the greatest care since they will give you (and your team or family) the biggest return.

At work, it’s often the things that require the most thinking time and full engagement for you to properly work through it.

Commonly, it’s the items that will give you the greatest long-term rewards and success, and doesn’t have short-term urgencies.

Usually, these will be the items you consistently neglect….since you “never have time to do what’s important”.

Hmmm…sound familiar?

Doing it “first” means to proactively and decisively commit to the first 30, 60 or 90 minutes of your day to focusing on nothing but the most important things.

Write a few pages of your book. Develop a long-term strategy for growing your business this year. Spend time on the looming performance appraisal of your key team members. Make that appointment or call an out-of-touch friend. Exercise.

Don’t turn your computer on if you don’t have to and certainly don’t open your email.

Complete focus.

How productive would that be?

How invigorating would that be?

How rewarding and fulfilling would that be?

If this is a scary thought for you, start small. Try it out just one day this week. Tell others you’re only available after a certain time.

I’m sure you’ll quickly notice the benefits you get and will be encouraged to do this more often and for longer periods.

Are you willing to give it a try? Are you willing to add more value, create more enjoyment and experience a boost in your performance?

Let us know how this worked for you and share other ideas to boost your performance.