Organize Tomorrow Today - Critical summary review - Jason Selk

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Organize Tomorrow Today - critical summary review

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Productivity & Time Management

This microbook is a summary/original review based on the book: Organize Tomorrow Today: 8 Ways to Retrain Your Mind to Optimize Performance at Work and in Life

Available for: Read online, read in our mobile apps for iPhone/Android and send in PDF/EPUB/MOBI to Amazon Kindle.

ISBN: 0738218693

Publisher: Da Capo Lifelong Books

Critical summary review

In “Organize Tomorrow Today,” leading American performance coaches Jason Selk and Tom Bartow – with the help of freelance writer Matthew Rudy – offer eight “simple, concrete, easy-to-understand concepts” that should help you “retrain your mind to optimize performance at work and in life.” Without further ado, get ready to delve into them right away!

No. 1. Organize tomorrow today

People often mistake being busy with being productive. Nothing could be further from the truth. Productivity doesn’t mean getting everything done every single day or accomplishing the greatest number of tasks in a given time period. It means, almost conversely, prioritizing the day’s activities, accomplishing more of the ones that matter most, and letting go of the rest. 

Being busy means being without a plan. Being productive, on the other hand, means being well-prepared. “By failing to prepare,” Benjamin Franklin famously wrote once, “you are preparing to fail.” Selk and Bartow reply with a more optimistic variant of the same quote: “If you prepare successfully, you’re preparing yourself to succeed.”

Start the day before. The earlier you organize for tomorrow, the greater the fighting chance you give yourself to emerge victorious at the end of the day. In Selk and Bartow’s experience, the window between lunch time and 3 p.m. seems to be “the sweet spot for making the OTT plan.” 

An OTT plan – an acronym for “organize tomorrow today” – is a prioritizing tool, a simple to-do list that will take you no more than five minutes to jot down. It has only two requirements: it must include your three most important tasks for the following day and the one “absolute must” from those three items. Nothing more, nothing less.

No. 2. Choose wisely

The reason why, despite its simplicity, the OTT plan works is threefold. First, it’s because it takes into consideration the famous and frequently-validated “Miller’s Law,” which postulates that humans have limited mental power (or “channel capacity”). Though it may sometimes seem that our minds are capable of tackling “multiple multidimensional tasks,” studies have shown that we are, at most, capable of carrying in our “working memory” no more than three things at one time – if we want to have any chance of doing any of them well. Hence the “3 most important” part of the OTT plan.

The second part of the plan – the “1 must” – owes its inspiration to the so-called “Zeigarnik effect,” according to which the mind doesn’t like unfinished business, and recalls better an incomplete task than a completed one. That is why you should prepare an OTT plan: prioritizing your tasks for tomorrow today will engage your subconscious mind in problem-solving while you’re sleeping. Essentially, you will get a head start from the get-go.

Choosing wisely the “1 must” is even more important than wisely choosing the three most important tasks. Not only because it shows even greater respect for your mind’s channel capacity, but also because of the classic physics rule of inertia. A body at rest tends to stay at rest, but a body in motion tends to stay in motion. Just as well, focusing on one task – and even one step of that task – is not merely a start, but also a momentum-instigating event. “You need to choose, and choose wisely,” suggest Selk and Bartow. “Focusing on one thing promotes action. Learn to do less, but more often.”

No. 3. Maximize your time

Time management is what amateurs dabble in; pros are all about time maximization. The difference might seem small, but in terms of achievement, it is vast. We are all managing our time, more or less, well. But professionals maximize time, which means that they create more time to do the important things. And how do they do this? By using the following three tools:

  1. Attack the open space. Emails, Facebook, TV, online news, shopping sites and Google searches should not be part of your day-to-day plan. You should only do them in your “open space” time. In other words, when one or two minutes appear in your day – between, say, two important tasks – disengage from everything and send a message or check the NBA scores. The more successful you become, the smaller your “open space” unit of time will be. That’s a good thing. After all, nobody said it was easy to succeed.
  2. Prioritize the priorities. No matter what kind of activity you are doing, always begin with the most important thing you can do. This applies to the open spaces as well. Simply put, begin with the most critical documents, and return emails to your most important clients first. Sometimes, of course, prioritizing won’t be enough, because overwhelming tasks tend to instigate procrastination in most people. Address the problem by “chopping” these activities down into more manageable steps, and focusing on the first one.
  3. Trim the fat. Avoid “schedule bloat” by predetermining how long you will commit to a certain activity ahead of time. Then, plan accordingly. Treat your stopwatch as if it was a real-world game clock. When the time expires, don’t just add minutes to it. Instead, move on to the next thing on the schedule.

No. 4. Win your fight-thrus

Habits, write Selk and Bartow, “aren’t so much formed, as they are in a constant state of formation.” In other words, “they are either getting stronger or getting weaker, based on how much attention and reinforcement they’re getting each day.” To develop the right habits – and get rid of the wrong ones – you must first recognize and understand the three phases of habit formation.

  1. The honeymoon phase. These are the first few days after you’ve decided to adapt a new habit. You know this phase well. An event produces “plenty of fuel to kick off the habit drive” and motivates you to change - to the point of overcommitment. Everything seems easy at this point, but after a few days, an obstacle starts testing your resolve. That is when the second phase starts, the “fight-thru.”
  2. The “fight-thru” is the moment when it becomes tempting to give a negative answer to the question, “Is it really going to matter if I miss a day?” To make it through the third phase, you need to be able to win fight-thrus like these. The most essential step of winning a “fight-thru” is being able to recognize when you’ve entered one. Then, you should ask yourself two “perspective” questions: “How will I feel if I win this fight-thru?” and, “How will I feel if I lose this fight-thru?” To make giving up even less alluring, take 30 seconds to visualize where you’d be in five years if you consistently won your fight-thrus. Finally, to make the fight-thrus a rarer occurrence – ritualize: the less you leave your change to chance, the better your chances for success.
  3. Second nature. In the third phase, you’ve already acquired the habit you wanted and it has become your second nature. But even then, you should be wary of potential disruptions (such as long vacations) or “the discouragement monster” which appears when the new habit doesn’t immediately produce the benefits you expected. Even when the habit is beneficial, don’t rest on your laurels. In fact, do the exact opposite: if you are becoming seduced by your success, start doing up to 10% more on your “1 must.”

No. 5. Evaluate correctly

Whether we like it or not, evolution has taught us to dwell on the things that aren’t going well. This is called “problem-centric thinking” and is totally natural. Unfortunately, it also leads to a vicious circle of self-doubt and disappointment, since by focusing on our failures, we make failures even more likely in the future. That’s why performance doesn’t merely depend on your efforts, but on honest self-evaluation as well.

Honesty doesn’t only mean giving credit where credit is due and recognizing the “done-wells” as often as the “failures”; it also means paying more attention to the process and your commitment to it than on the final results. John Wooden, arguably the most revered basketball coach of all time, didn’t care about the eventual score of the game as much as he did whether his players were doing their jobs. That’s how he won 10 NCAA national championships in 12 years.

“When you define success by your effort,” write Selk and Bartow, “anything is truly achievable. And when you consistently work toward your goals – and honestly evaluate that effort – you deserve the success that comes.”

Though “the genesis of improvement,” self-evaluation can be counterproductive if done incorrectly. The greatest mistake people make when evaluating themselves is doing it with a perfectionist mentality. The problem with this mentality is that it doesn’t allow appreciation of good work. What does is a daily mini-evaluation, a status report, a success log, a journal filled with realistic goals. Start one yourself to start evaluating your efforts honestly.

No. 6. Learn how to talk to yourself

According to Selk and Bartow, “beating yourself up verbally often does more damage than physically harming yourself.” The other side of the coin is that, since a large part of your self-image is determined by yourself, you have the power to direct it through your self-talk.

Enhancing your self-image starts with your awareness of how you talk to yourself. The objective is “no more negative self-talk.” The exercise to help you achieve this is the five-step Mental Workout. Though it should take about two minutes of your day, if done regularly, it will strengthen your mind for many years to come. These are the five steps:

  1. Center your breath. Breathe in for six seconds, hold for two, breathe out for seven.
  2. Identity statement. Say a preconceived, personally-tailored positive mantra that reflects your desire for success.
  3. Personal highlight reel. In the space of one minute, visualize three “done-wells” from the past day and three things you want to achieve in the upcoming 24 hours. Dedicate thirty seconds to each.
  4. Identity statement. Repeat your identity statement from Step 2.
  5. Center your breath. Take another centering breath exercise just as in Step 1.

No. 7. Learn how to talk with others

In the business world, great communicators experience much greater success than poor communicators – regardless of their individual talents. That’s why, to consistently win at the highest level, you must be able to communicate effectively, in a confident, efficient manner.

Once again, this requires proper preparation and performance, which comes down to three easy steps:

  1. Write it. Know your material beforehand by writing a script. Don’t talk out of your mind: the more you say, the less believable you will become. “The best presenters are literally ruthless in organizing what they will say,” write Selk and Bartow. “They identify only the most important information that needs to be communicated, and they get rid of everything else.”
  2. Slow it. Pace and pauses are indicators of confidence, so don’t deliver your speech too fast. Also, don’t be afraid of repetition. Instead, use it to your benefit: highlight and restate main points, skipping over everything non-essential.
  3. Triangle it. The “success triangle of communication” entails spending three separate three-minute practice sessions per day in the three days leading up to your event, mentally rehearsing your speech. Of course, you can spend more time and expand the practices into more days, but never less.

No. 8. Become abnormal

If you want to live a good life, strive to be normal and try to reach that coveted equilibrium in your day-to-day activities. However, if you want to be great, you need to go a step beyond “normal” and make every effort to be abnormal. All great people are abnormal.

There are several viruses that can slow your progress in your quest for abnormality. Here are the three most common ones:

  1. The trap of the viable excuse. You know what they say, if you want something badly, you will find a way to achieve it; if you don’t – you will find an excuse. Abnormal people don’t look for excuses. Instead, they take full ownership of their actions. That is why they are masters of their fate.
  2. Focusing on what you can’t control. Frustration is usually the result of not accepting that you have no control over some things. So, anytime you’re overwhelmed by something, create a chart of things you can and cannot control to prevent it from distracting you from your personal goals.
  3. Giving in to problem-centric thought. Resilient people do not focus on problems. They don’t even focus on solutions, but on “solution paths.” And that makes all the difference. Because, as Selk and Bartow conclude, “when we focus on small, incremental improvements instead of perfection, the human spirit takes over, and all things become much more possible.” Even the impossible ones.

Final notes

“Organize Tomorrow Today” starts excellently – with some original research-backed ideas – but then, after the halftime break, slips into a few platitudes and soundbites. 

Nonetheless, it is a great productivity guide – even if only for the first, trademarked habit! Stick to it and it might change your life.

12min tip

Spend just three to five minutes today choosing your three most important tasks for tomorrow, along with the one “must” (or main priority) out of these three. Schedule their completion as early as possible. This is the simplest secret of success.

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Who wrote the book?

Dr. Jason Salk is one of the leading performance coaches in the United States. As director of mental training for the St. Louis Cardinals, he helped the team win two World Series championships. He has also coached numerous NFL, NBA, an... (Read more)

Matthew Ruddy is an American freelance writer. A senior writer at Golf Digest, he has won multiple awards for his investigative and travel stories... (Read more)

Tom Bartow was a successful college basketball coach before he left his career to become one of the top financial advisors at Edward Jones. A protégé of revered basketball coach John Wooden, he developed an advan... (Read more)

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