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Your Most Important Thing Is Not Enough

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The Other MIT in My Life

One of the most persistent and popular strategies in the online productivity community is the notion of tackling your most important thing (MIT) first thing in the morning.

The motivation is self-evident. Our days are increasingly filled with distraction and unexpected disruptions. If you make a point of doing one important thing before exposing yourself to that onslaught you can ensure that you make continual progress on things that matter .

I’m not sure about where the idea originated. My research suggests it was adapted over a decade ago from Julie Morgenstern’s book Never Check Email in the Morning by Lifehacker editor Gina Trapani. I first heard about MITs through Leo Babauta (a major inspiration) in the early days of Study Hacks, but continue, to this day, to hear people talk about their commitment to the strategy.

Here’s the thing: I don’t want to dismiss this advice, as I know it has helped many people transition from chaos to less chaos. But I do want to urge those who are serious about their effectiveness to look beyond this suggestion.

It’s amateur ball. The pros play a game with more serious rules…

Zero-Based Time Management

My main issue with the MIT strategy is that it implicitly concedes that most of your day is out of your control. You better get that MIT done right away, it tells you, before the wave of messages, pings, posts and drop-bys drag you into a reactive frenzy.

The more effective answer, however, is to reject the premise that your day must unfold reactively.

Someone who plans every minute of their day, and every day of their week, is going to accomplish an order of magnitude more high-value work than someone who identifies only a single daily objective.

To be fair, as many people have pointed out to me, this zero-based time management approach, in which every minute has a job, is annoying: tasks take longer than expected, urgent things drop unexpectedly onto your plate, and so on.

But in my experience, if you integrate enough buffers into your daily schedule, and are comfortable refactoring your plan as needed, you’ll find that your professional life is perhaps not quite as unpredictable as you assumed.

More importantly, you’ll also likely discover that a proactive schedule that requires multiple on-the-fly adjustments is still significantly more productive than the MIT approach of tackling one pre-planned task then relinquishing the reins to whomever happens to be filling your inboxes at the moment.

In other words, don’t settle for a workday in which only an hour or two is in your control. Fight for every last minute. Even if you don’t always win, you’ll end up better off.

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