In a year from now, will you be looking back disappointed that 2018 quickly vanished alongside the big resolutions and goals you set for it? Without fail, every year we are so surprised when we start telling each other "this one just flew by, can't believe it's nearly Christmas".

So how will this one be different so that we look back knowing we achieved the things we dreamed about and actually got things done?

First, recognise that all big goals need to be broken down into smaller ones. Our days are generally spent ticking off lists of things we should be trying to achieve, but we often get side tracked.

For many people lists happens only in their heads, while for others they are constantly written down. Every productivity expert would agree that creating them has psychological influence on making them happen.


Even better, the act of writing them creates a direct connection to the brain in a way that typing doesn't - boosting recall and clarifying your thoughts. When designing and maintaining my hit lists for the year ahead I'll be trying to improve on the following three techniques:

Focus on the essential

Probably the most important decision that will determine how our aspirations for the year shake out is what makes it to our daily lists in the first place. Consciously or not, these lists and short term goals are what guide how we behave in the moment.

They are so powerful and useful, whether it's for what to pick up at the supermarket for dinner, what books we want to read or what tasks we need to do at work today. But if they're full of the wrong things - or too many of them - that power works against us.

Each task should earn its place on your list - make determined choices of what to focus on rather than a reaction or an automatic acceptance of something that just happened. The more things on a list, and the longer it gets - the more overwhelming it can seem and the higher chance nothing gets done well.

Replying to every email is not essential. Find a way to get in touch with that one person who is going to make a big impact on your next project might be.

In focusing on the 20% of things in a week that are going to make 80% of the difference, I've found that a lot of the rest is just noise and somehow works itself out or disappears with time. What that requires is often saying "no" or taking things off my list to avoid it becoming an inventory of busywork. Making a decision to leave something undone - to not do it any more, to drop a project or responsibility can be just as powerful as completing it.

The magic of three

However long your list of things to achieve is, cut it back to the three most important to focus on. Aristotle first identified in his book Rhetoric that using threes goes a long way to persuading people - it's easier to persuade and focus yourself on what you've committed to if you can easily remember and share it.

Relentlessly channel the energies of the day or the week on the three outcomes you've identified and any activities that work towards them - schedule, protect and commit time to them, and let the rest of the stuff get done around them.

Start with the most challenging or important

We all get that sinking feeling when the week has flown by and the one thing we knew we needed to do is still staring at us on the list. Sometimes, we procrastinate important but not urgent things - because we don't like them, they're annoying, hard, or will take sustained concentration and a lot of creative effort. Inertia comes because our natural instinct is to start to hit the day with things we love doing or can do easily.

Instead, start your days and stack the beginning of your weeks with the hardest or most important task you know you need to get done, and those that take the most mental energy. It's challenging - but when you get to lunchtime on Monday and you know you've done the most vital thing for the week, everything else that afternoon and until Friday seems like a bonus. It's a liberating feeling well worth the sacrifice.

There's never enough time in the day or the year to do all the things we want to do. How we spend our days is how we spend our lives - mastering the art of wisely using our time is so important. Hopefully these three ideas go someway to making sure your reflection back in a year from now is a fulfilling one as you tick off all the small tasks that lead to the bigger outcomes that will shape your year ahead.

Top tips

• Create lists and update them regularly - writing them down with pen and paper boosts recall and clarifies your intentions

• Be very selective what you let on your list because every item you add is a claim on your time

• Be brave enough to take things off the list - choosing not to do something any more is a valid choice

• Set goals in sets of threes - for the day, week or month - it's easy to remember, is shareable, seems achievable and can keep you motivated

• Start your week and days with the hardest or most important thing you need to get done - it sets you up for complete freedom once you've knocked it off.

• Derek Handley is a futurist and entrepreneur who is passionate about shaping a better New Zealand