At the start of each day, I’ve been writing down three to five goals that I want to accomplish that day. I’m using Day One since it’s with me everywhere,[1] but you could just as easily use a sticky note.

A few times a day, I look at the list and ask, “Am I working toward at least one of the items?”

I’m quite sure this isn’t a novel concept, but I’ve been having great results with it lately. It’s not a replacement for OmniFocus or any other project-planning system either. The goals on the list usually originate from my OmniFocus perspectives at the start of the day, and they aren’t of the “next action” nature. They’re simply destinations I want to reach by the end of the day.

I’ve been surprised at how much more focused I feel using this simple approach than working out of OmniFocus perspectives. Here’s what I think is happening:

  1. Working out of perspectives can, at times, feel like smushing ants with my thumb. There’s always another task waiting to appear. A shrinking list is more visually satisfying.

  2. My daily list spans all of my perspectives and contexts. “Run three miles” isn’t likely to appear in the same OmniFocus perspective as “Make screencast on mortgage-backed security interest rate risk”. A simple goal list shows what I care about doing, not where I need to be.

  3. A short goal list is realistic with respect to time. There’s only so much time in the day, and if I can knock out even two or three quality goals a day, that’s a good day.

  4. It encourages honesty with myself. I’m much more likely to put things on my daily goal list that truly matter. It’s hard to physically write down things that I don’t care about.

  5. It makes every day count. Building a daily goal list helps me squeeze more out of days when deadlines are distant. It’s as if I’m making the day itself a de facto deadline for getting the goals done.

Perhaps best of all, it can be reviewed at the end of the day retrospectively. My biggest complaint with most GTD systems is that they are heavily biased toward prospective reviewing. Little emphasis is placed on where you’ve been and what you did. Sometimes, to me, GTD feels like a car with no rearview mirrors.

I think if you try tracking simple goals for even a few days, you will begin to notice previously hidden patterns in your behavior. If you routinely reach the end of the day without doing the things you wanted to do at the beginning of the day, the way you work isn’t working.

It may not even be your fault. It could be your work environment. But whatever the cause, getting sidetracked from goals is an awful kind of stress for people who care about getting the right things done. It’s a problem well worth fixing.

  1. I use the Mac, iPhone, and iPad versions, which all sync via iCloud. Day One is a beautiful app, and it supports Markdown, which is pretty much all I think in these days.  ↩