About this time last year we received a request for a marketing plan proposal. The request was for one of our Ultimate Marketing Plans, and I knew the proposal would require about four hours of my time. The issue for me was finding a four-hour block of time – which I didn’t have.
Sure, I could have rescheduled certain tasks to “make” a four-hour block of time available. But in reality, rescheduling would have made my week even more complex and created more headaches. So, I decided to do the only logical thing; I scheduled four one-hour blocks.
However, as the proposal due date drew near, I still hadn’t spent a single hour on it. The issue wasn’t that I hadn’t scheduled the time; it was that I had procrastinated. I simply hadn’t started.
Have you ever noticed that the hard part isn’t doing the work? I had written dozens of proposals for our Ultimate Marketing System in the past, so writing the proposal wasn’t going to be difficult. Writing it was actually the easy part – getting started was the difficult part.
During this time I was reading The War of Art by Steven Pressfield (which I highly recommend), and it was a combination of this book and this looming proposal that led me to create the 12 Minutes That Matter.
It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write. Steven Pressfield
That was exactly my problem. Every time I was scheduled to sit down and write that proposal, something else more pressing came up. It was as if the universe was plotting against me to try to prevent me from completing the proposal.
The problem for me wasn’t scheduling. I had scheduled four one-hour blocks to write the proposal. I was very accustomed to living and operating my day straight from my calendar. The issue was plain and simple – I never got started.
The Illusion of Low Priority
At the time this request for a proposal came in, we were already busy working with dozens of other clients on their projects. The clients we were already working with at that time were under contract, so in my mind they took first priority. So, each and every little client request was a perfect excuse not to work on the proposal. After all it was only a proposal, so there was no guarantee that it would result in business.
Although that line of logic seems legitimate, it can be detrimental to your success. If you’re so consumed with only what’s happening directly in front of you, you will eventually get blindsided by something that is approaching from your peripheral vision (like this proposal was about to do to me).
The most common approach to making a daily to-do list is to sort tasks by some form of priority ranking, beginning with the highest priorities first. The flaw with this approach is that priority, and how you assign it, can be very deceptive. For me, writing the proposal wasn’t a high priority because we were already completely booked and didn’t need any new work (at that moment in time).
The Negative Impact of Prioritizing Tasks
Have you ever noticed how many start-ups (particularly those that are bootstrapped) experience dramatic rises and falls in revenues? I believe this revenue roller-coaster is the result of priority deception. Here’s what I mean: when revenues are down the entrepreneur devotes a lot of time, attention, and effort (they place their priority) on generating more business, but when revenues are up their priorities shift to “running the business” and keeping clients happy. Unfortunately, most don’t realign priorities until it is too late – and revenues have already again begun their downward spiral.
The revenue roller-coaster is only one (minor) way that the priority problem manifests itself. You know that personal project you’ve really been “meaning” to do? You know, the one that could radically reshape your future? Why don’t you spend more time working on it? The reason has everything to do with priorities.
At this point, you have other things that are of higher priority. Now for the challenging question: If this personal project could have such a profound effect on your life, then why do all the mundane daily tasks take higher priority?
Solving the Priority Problem
I believe the solution to the priority problem is a proper use of visioning. Having a proper vision for your business and life will provide you with a very vivid (and detailed) road map leading to your future. Having a written, clearly defined vision allows you to stay calm in the midst of turmoil. Having a vision enables you to keep a proper balance with your priorities. A clearly defined vision serves as a reminder of where you are heading, and it gives you the confidence you need to focus and invest in your personal projects.
If you’re going to keep a good balance with your priorities, you have to keep your long-term objectives in front of you. If you don’t, you’ll easily find ways to fill your days with the “high” priority tasks that arise each day. You can find this balance, and kill procrastination, by only working 12 minutes each hour.
The 12 Minutes That Matter
Now back to that proposal that I just couldn’t seem to sit down and write. Thanks to The War of Art I knew my problem was simple to solve. I just needed to get started. Blocking out an hour per day simply wasn’t working for me. So, I made a commitment to myself that I would only have to spend 12 minutes working on the proposal. However, for those 12 minutes I would do nothing but write the proposal. No thinking. No research. No distractions. Just writing.
I’ll admit, during those initial 12 minutes I had to use every ounce of self-control that I had to keep writing and not allow myself to be distracted. But to my amazement, those 12 minutes turned into just over 40 minutes of writing. I was in the zone and didn’t want to stop after those initial 12 minutes. It was almost as if the proposal was actually flowing out of me. After the 12 minutes, the writing process was easy.
I decided that scheduling these 12 minutes worked so well, I’d give it another try. So, I scheduled 12 more minutes for the proposal the next day. Following the same routine, I removed all distractions, set my timer for 12 minutes and started writing. On this second day those 12 minutes turned into almost an hour and a half of writing.
I continued scheduling these 12 minutes a day for the next couple of days until the proposal was complete. Although the proposal was finished, I began scheduling tasks each day in 12 minute increments – which I began referring to as the 12 Minutes That Matter.
Do your long-term project goals seem to always take the back burner to seemingly more important daily tasks? Try scheduling 12 minutes a day for that project that you can’t seem to ever get around to. During those 12 minutes, do nothing but work on your project. Don’t allow any distractions or exceptions. You’ll be amazed at how quickly those 12 minutes turn into 30 minutes or an hour. But more importantly, you’ll start making serious progress on your project.
What prevents you from working on that project that could change your life? Share your challenges in the comments below.