How do you accomplish what is important? It takes discipline and scheduling to accomplish tasks that are important but not urgent. These tasks are recognized as important, yet many people cannot accomplish important tasks such as becoming fluent in a language, learning to play a musical instrument, or writing a personal or business plan because they choose urgent tasks instead.

Here is an example. It may be important to you to stay physically fit. If you are fit now, it is because you have maintained an exercise program over time. Each exercise time was not urgent, but completing each exercise period over time was important. That meant you scheduled each exercise time and did the exercising at the appointed time. You also recognize that if you do not continue exercising, you will not continue to be physically fit. If you allow the “something that came up” to keep you from the scheduled exercise period, you will lose your physical fitness.

The steps: (1) identify what is important, (2) determine what actions are necessary to accomplish the important task, (3) schedule the time for the steps to accomplish the task, and (4) practice discipline to maintain the schedule.

First, what is important? Can you put it in writing? If you can, you have a strategy. A strategy is a narrative of what is important to you. If you do not have a strategy, then create one. But since we have only thirty minutes, let’s not overthink it.

Take no more than five minutes and a blank sheet of paper and list what is important to you. After five minutes, categorize what you have written. For example, you may have written the following list of what is important: “supporting my family, maintaining my health, contributing to the community, and leaving something behind for those who follow me.” These can be categorized into: “family, health, community, and legacy.”

Now take five minutes, look at your calendar, and review the last four weeks. On a separate sheet of paper, categorize the activities and list the average hours per week you engage in the activities. For example, in an average week of 168 hours, you might spend 49 hours sleeping. You might spend 21 hours eating. You might spend 14 hours on personal hygiene and care. You might spend 40 hours working. You might spend 4 hours exercising. You might spend 4 hours running errands. This leaves 36 hours. For most of us what we do with those 36 hours is based on a sense of urgency rather than a decision about what was important. Nonetheless, categorize the activities you did for that time. Notice if any of these categories match the important categories you listed before.

Start with a clean sheet and in five minutes answer the question: “What do I desire?” You should be selfish – list what you want most out of life in terms of what makes you happy or satisfied.

You now have three sheets of paper and we are fifteen minutes in. One sheet lists the first important items that came to mind, one lists what you have chosen to do with your time, and one lists your desires. Is there a coherence? Do the personal values you have as to what is important match how you spend your time? Is that really what you want? A strategy helps us put these things together by documenting your careful consideration of what is important and desired to enable better day-to-day decisions about how to spend your time. In the next five minutes again write down what you think is important but also list the tasks that are required to accomplish what is important. This is a way of articulating your values and is a written strategy.

During the ten minutes you have left, compute the time you have available in the average week and schedule the times you will devote to tasks that are important. The tasks should have reasonable milestones and timelines. The scheduled times should be times you can be focused and productive. You will probably not have enough time for all the things you listed as important. You must prioritize your important tasks (thus amending your strategy). Even if you only have time to complete the tasks for one important project, that is much better than not planning, responding only to urgent items, and failing to accomplish anything important.

In a half an hour you have now accomplished something most people never do. You have a strategy and a plan. Now you have the perspective and a reasonable method to accomplish the scheduled important tasks. The discipline of execution – actually maintaining the schedule and completing the tasks is not easy, but it is impossible without the strategy and the plan.

Keep repeating this exercise and revise your strategy and plan as needed. Hey, it only takes half an hour!

Celebrate reaching your milestones and goals. Enjoy the success and satisfaction that comes from accomplishing important tasks and projects.