Claire Diaz-Ortiz readily admits that the words “productivity” and “time management” often make “people’s eyes sort of glaze over, because they sound so boring.” But, the former Twitter exec holds that the concepts themselves are still incredibly important.
Her new book, Design Your Day, lays out specific ways to set ambitious, but realistic goals—and then reach them. We talked to Diaz-Ortiz about the book.
Why do you think it matters in the grand scheme of things to design your day and your life?
Without designing our life, we will end up in a completely different place than we imagined. Unfortunately, that’s the reality for most of us. You know, if you just keep doing what you’re doing today, you’ll end up in somewhere in five years—and that’s not necessarily a bad place, but it’s not necessarily the best place for you or for your family or the best place for you to thrive in your career. So coming up with a concept for what you want and then being intentional about making decisions to put that practice in place is probably one of the smartest things we can all do in terms of increasing our happiness and our fulfillment in all kinds of areas in our lives.
How do you set realistic goals for yourself?
Some people swear by making sure you never have more than four or five goals in the course of a year. I don’t do it that way. I do them on an annual basis in key categories of my life. One category might be faith, one might be family, another might be finances, another might be career and another may be health. Within each category, I have individual specific goals I want to hit.
For me, the category system works better because it allows me to have lots of small goals that aren’t necessarily difficult to achieve but rather things I need to do to stay on track. If you have a health category, it’s easy to say “I want to try yoga” or “I want to drink eight glasses of water a day”—for those to be small things that are really to just keep you on track.
How do you make working toward those goals a sustainable thing and not just a resolution you give up in March or February?
The key thing is to not be overly optimistic about what you can achieve. Coming up with goals isn’t necessarily all about starting new things. It really needs to be goals that keep you on a consistent line so you’re headed where you want to go, and then starting maybe a few new projects at the same time.
The easiest thing you can do is get excited with a cup of coffee and a fancy pen and come up with 150 things you want to do in your life and try to slam them all into one goals list. That’s really not the point.
It’s also really important to realize that a lot of things you come up with are really dreams, and dreams are awesome and wonderful to have, but not all your dreams need to be goals this year.
In the book, you introduce a method you call the “Do Less” method. Can you talk about what that is?
It’s basically an acronym that encompasses six steps that are key when you’re trying to figure out how to do less in order to get more done and be more fulfilled with your work and your personal life.
The first is Deciding—making a decision about what matters for you. That’s absolutely the most important thing you can do. Most of us sort of spend our lives on a hamster wheel doing the next thing on the to-do list. But we all know the to-do lists never get shorter, so it’s really about deciding what matters.
The next step is Organizing your life around really what matters. There are four things you do to make that organization process work well: The “L” of that is Limit: learning how to say no and how to say yes when it’s the right time.
The E is for Editing. So editing down the time it takes to do something. I’ve found it is immensely important and useful to edit down the time you have to do a particular task, whether it’s something very small—you know, “write a difficult email today”—or something really large like “write a book.” It’s really amazing what you can achieve when you’re doing so in a focused period of time.
And then the next two steps in the do less acronym are S’s. The first “S” is Streamline—streamlining the way you work. Things like getting a good morning routine down, understanding when meetings are effective and when meetings aren’t effective.
And the final S is Stop—essentially to unplug from that side of you that’s doing all that work and instead plug into that part of you that wants to recharge and revitalize with your family, with your friends, with a good book. Study after study shows that when you work beyond a certain number of hours a week, your productivity is just plummeting. It’s not actually doing you any good.
Is there ever a point where you decide that it’s not a worthwhile goal for that year and you give up on it? How do you know?
Absolutely. My friend Bob Goff used to do this thing called “quit Thursdays,” where he would quit one thing every Thursday. The concept of it is just that we all take on things that maybe aren’t the best things. We are fallible people, and we don’t always know the best things for us to do. The important thing is to know when it’s time to pare down.
You might come up with 10 goals you want to achieve in 2016, and by March, you realize that two of them just have nothing to do with who you really want to be. Or maybe you’re leaving your current job, and all of the sudden three or four of the goals no longer are relevant at all. That’s not something to feel bad about. It means you’re actually getting more direction than you had a few months ago.
If you had one piece of advice for people who are just starting out in their careers, what would it be?
One thing you can do is to really try out goal setting. An easy way to try out goal setting is to create a word of your year—basically one word that kind of serves as a guide post for the types of decisions and the types of things you want to do in the year ahead.
It should take some time to come up with the right word. Think about it for half an hour today and then ponder it in your mind for the next couple of weeks until you have the right word in mind, and then see how that word can help guide you in the year or the season ahead.
Again, any of us at any stage in our lives suffer from the same problem of just sort of living lives without thinking about what we’re actually living. So this is one small step to be help you be more intentional and help you work harder to essentially design your day so you can design your life.