A hyper-connected world makes us hyper-distracted. Smartphones, tablets, even watches spit out endless texts, tweets and funny kittens — making it difficult to concentrate or accomplish goals. When faced with a list of tasks, the common tendency is to save the hardest for last, putting off the more stressful items until we have no choice. This tendency leads to procrastination or incidental neglect, where critical factors don’t get the attention or quality of thinking they deserve.
How can we better prioritize things to correct for this self-defeating tendency? In my recent book, Great Decisions and Perfect Timing, I bring up an aspect of emotional intelligence known as delayed gratification, which I refer to as “Grandma’s Law.” Daniel Goleman, the author of Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, makes a compelling case for delaying gratification. He calls for greater “cognitive control” to help children manage their attention through the use of mindfulness techniques. This is Grandma’s Law in a nutshell!
The ability to control one’s impulses is a foundation of wise decision-making and effective productivity throughout life. As a parent, I tried to teach my son “Grandma’s Law,” which went like this: “Sure, you can have ice cream… after you finish your green beans.” Putting chores first was a lesson I was made to learn at a young age (I’m grateful about it now.) It took me a while to realize that the removal of overhanging deadlines made subsequent playtime more fun.
Applying Grandma’s Law in my own life, I had achieved perfect grades and scholarship awards throughout a rigorous education. Later, Grandma’s Law made a critical difference in my professional life—informing my decision-making and enabling my ability to survive, and ultimately thrive, as a bootstrap entrepreneur. As a parent, one way I invoked Grandma’s Law with my son was to get him to do his chores and homework on Saturday with Sunday as his play day, rather than the other way around (which he naturally preferred).
Grandma’s Law speaks to the logical aspect of strategic decision-making—prioritization—helping us do things in the right order. It is logical, because it doesn’t take intuition to analyze the most challenging part of a project or to-do list. Just tune into your feelings—the thing you dread having to do the most is where you start!
If you’re not sure how to focus on the most difficult tasks, ask yourself: What task fills you with the most apprehension? Which are you least confident about? These are the ones to tackle early on. After you knock them off, it’s like rolling downhill until you are done and it’s playtime!
Tip: If you’re stuck, try the “Letting Go” mantra from my book. It’s simple: Focusing on your breathing, let go of identifying with changing thoughts and feelings, while being open to and mindful of whatever arises in your mind. Close your eyes and take a full breath, thinking the word Letting as you inhale and stretching out the Go as you exhale. Repeat as often as necessary until your mind relaxes. Your head is then clear enough to make the wise move. You will get better results and have more fun afterwards!