I start each day of work the same way. I sit down and write a document entitled "Outcomes". Here's the format:
Section 1: Big Picture "Lifetime Outcomes":
Describe the person you want to be. Don't limit you're thinking in any way. Be bold, ambitious, and blind to limitations. This step helps you start each day by honing in on your big-picture vision for your life. Leave self-doubt and negativity to other people, that's not for you.
Section 2: Today's Outcomes
Rather than creating a to-do list, describe your achievements for the day as if you've already completed them. Don't be afraid to hype up your achievements, really pump yourself up and brag a little. Don't worry, no one else is going to see this document, DO NOT be timid. It's important that you get emotionally fired up as you write these. You MUST stretch your idea of what's possible, and be dramatic. You are fighting the terrible disease of routine and mediocrity and you're tuning your mind to operate with as little self-imposed limitation as possible.
"I've designed an immaculate and masterfully crafted sign up experience for Client X that puts them in a position to dominate their market.
Users feel the intense level of care that was poured into making sure they have an enjoyable signup experience, and they feel a strong sense of trust and confidence in the product that stays with them for a long time.
Client X feels thrilled that they've hired me to design this experience and are blown away by the quality of the deliverables. They're immediately in awe of the beautiful visual design, and upon further inspection, realize that the beauty is more than surface-level, as every interaction has been thought through with a level of care and expertise that only a true professional could deliver.
I feel incredibly proud of the quality of these mockups. They combine both form and function in a beautiful way, something I've trained for my whole life. I'm excited that I've stretched my skill set on these mockups and I've taken some risks and tried something new in the interest of learning and expanding my arsenal of design techniques. I feel full of energy knowing that I've nailed this user experience and have built something that will be a cornerstone of my portfolio for years to come. "
There are a few critical components of this:
It's emotion-based: I'm not writing about completing tasks for the sake of completing tasks. I'm writing about the emotions that are born from my creative activities. As a freelance designer, my creative activities affect 3 main parties, and it's important that I address the emotions of each party:
- What emotions do my users feel as a result of what I've done today?
- What emotions does my client feel as a result of what I've done today?
- What emotions do I feel as result of what I've done today?
I can't stress enough how important it is to get emotionally invested during this exercise. Use dramatic language that gets you fired up. This is the fuel that will drive you to do awesome things today. It'll keep you zeroed in on your desired outcome with absolute focus and determination.
I repeat this exercise for each creative endeavor I've decided to pursue today. I've transformed a to-do list into a drug. A potent bundle of emotion waiting for me at the end of the day. This is the emotional state that I'm giving myself and others through my work.
Once I've written my emotion-based outcomes for each item on my "to-do list", I go back and I make bold any words or phrases that have emotional spark for me. I want to ingrain this in my mind.
To give an example, the paragraph about client emotions, will look like this:
"Client X feels thrilled that they've hired me to design this experience and are blown away by the quality of the deliverables. They're immediately in awe of the beautiful visual design, and upon further inspection, realize that the beauty is more than surface-level, as every interaction has been thought through with a level of care and expertise that only a true professional could deliver."
Now it's time to get tactical. For each bucket of work, I go in and write a brief summary of 1-3 action items that will cause these emotion-based outcomes, making sure to maintain the dramatic language.
Rather than "Design sign up screen", I write:
"Sign up screen is incredibly inviting and playful, to the point that users smile and take a screenshot because they love it so much."
I do this for each bucket of work, and now I have a list of emotionally charged action items for the day that get me fired up.
Next, I put each of these action items in my calendar (and yes, I keep the funny dramatic language in the calendar event title). I set realistic but ambitious timelines for each task. It's important to realize that you will take however much time you give yourself to complete a given task. So be aggressive, but give yourself enough time to do quality work. I only schedule in 1 hour chunks. No task should take more than 1 hour. Any task that takes longer than an hour needs to be broken into subtasks.
Now my day is defined. I have a clear path toward creating these emotional states for myself and others.
At this point, it's time to get to work. From here, I use the pomodoro method of working in 25 minute chunks. I take my first action item for the day and define a subtask within it that I can complete in 25 minutes or less. I set a timer, and I race against the clock to complete that subtasks in under 25 minutes.
You'll be amazed at how effective this 25 minute timer is against time wasters like social media and compulsive/mindless/reactive email-checking. You simply do not have time! It's a beautiful example of how self-imposed constraints can empower you.
Work hard, execute, and have some fucking fun.
At this point it's time to get in the zone and execute. Keep your momentum and have fun. Keep your thought patterns loose and playful, listen to good music, and move in your chair. If your emotional state isn't positive, then you're doing it wrong.
At the end of the day you will have accomplished a lot. It's important to not just pack up and go watch TV. Return to the emotion-based outcomes that you wrote this morning. For each bucket of work, add a new section called "Result". Describe what you achieved and talk yourself up. Be honest about what you achieved, but also be generous with yourself.
Go back and admire the things you made today. Look at them and appreciate them like pieces of art. If you can't sit and appreciate them, nobody will. Make sure you do this. Pride in your work is a strict requirement.
Do this every day.
It might sound like a lot of work, but honestly it takes longer to describe the process than to actually do it. For me, starting a day of work without doing this exercise sounds downright insane. How the hell am I supposed to get where I'm going if I haven't picked a destination? Always err on the side of clarity.
This upfront investment of 30 minutes at the beginning of your day will pay off in spades. You'll save hours in time lost to distraction, vague requirements, and tail-chasing. Each day you'll accomplish more than you would have otherwise. Sometimes it'll be 20% more, sometimes it'll be 2,000% more. These days will compound, and when you look back after a month or two of doing this exercise everyday, you'll be amazed at what you've accomplished.