by Liesel Houghton

[4 minute read]

If you’re anything like me you have started this year a little more tired than normal, and while I’m excited that 2020 is behind me and a new year has arrived, I find myself in a world that is still uncertain, making it very difficult to dream big and get excited for all that a new year can bring. After 4 weeks off over Christmas, I’ve come back to a long list of projects and tasks and a brain that hasn’t quite kicked into gear.

As kids head back to school, we walk into offices we haven’t seen in months or pull up the chair in our new home desk. Here are some tips I’ve fallen back on to help kick start my year well, and bring focus and productivity back into my weekly rhythms.

  1. Inbox Zero

As you open an overwhelming inbox don’t just skim over it or give yourself 5 minutes here and there. When you return from a break set aside a couple of hours and get that sucker to zero. Reaching the zero can help clear the mind, get you up to speed and energised for the tasks ahead. I also do this for all other areas that have information and tasks coming at me, like Slack, Teams or your project management system. See how to get to zero here.

  1. Big Rocks First

At the start of each year I give myself a couple of days to get back into the swing of things then a carve out a half day (sometimes more) and head to my favourite café to do some big picture planning. I love to do this in pen and paper. I find a small paper calendar that just has the monthly view (Kmart is my go-to here) and bring out my coloured washi tape and pens. This makes the process enjoyable and gives me a great big picture view of my year and provides a tangible plan that I will go back to regularly in my weekly reviews. My big work events, planned leave, key family events all get put in first – the big rocks. This helps me to see where the busy points of the year are going to be, where I might need to plan some holidays and where I have some space to work on some larger projects.

  1. Set up your tasks and systems

Once I have those big rocks sorted, I have a great framework to start scheduling smaller tasks. This is a perfect time to brain dump and get all those things out of my head and into a task management system. Also I take the time to think about areas that have repeating tasks. I run events that have the same basic tasks every time so I have created a template that I can just copy and schedule for the new event. If you don’t have this in place, think about some areas where a template would be helpful. At the start of each year I review my templates, make sure they are current and start copying and pasting. I will often spend a whole day scheduling tasks and setting up the first 6 months of my year, all with my big rocks in mind to ensure it fits well. This can be so helpful as you work with others. Just this week I sat down with my boss who handed me some big projects for the first few months. We were able to adjust the expectations of a couple of these on the spot knowing that some fell into very busy seasons.

  1. Weekly Review

Book in those weekly reviews and make sure they are at a time and place you will enjoy. Look at how to get started with a weekly review here.

  1. Set a Daily Top 3

After all of this I knew I had a great foundation for productivity, but at times I was still finding myself struggling to get motivated so each day I set myself a daily top 3. I review my day and pick 3 tasks or projects that I must complete that day – the rest become a bonus. Often I find that by getting stuck into those 3 tasks I find enough rhythm to complete a lot more, and on days where I’m really struggling, if I’ve done my top 3 I know I’ve made progress. I always try and make at least one of my top tasks a tough one as this helps keep me moving through the bigger things as the week moves on. Other days I go for the easy wins and try to get as many small tasks off my list before digging into my top 3. Today’s top 3 included writing a blog so I got out of my office, ordered a coffee and started to put words on a page. Before I began, I had no idea what direction I was going in, but the focus of achieving my top 3 got me started and suddenly ideas were flowing and now here we are. Sometimes the hardest part is just starting.

I pray these few tips will help get you started well this year as you face uncertainty and possibility for 2021.


Liesel Houghton

Program Manager

Liesel has been at Arrow since 2013 and is passionate about creating experiences and environments that exceed peoples expectations and provide space for transformation. She loves a good travel hack and is always up for an adventure especially if it includes a theme park. Liesel is an Arrow Leader after completing the Arrow Emerging Leaders Program in North America in their 45th cohort in 2017/2018.