Are you looking to increase your productivity and reduce your stress? Try this trick.

I like simple and easy to integrate advice. So this tip really lands for me.

I’ve heard a lot of people say this, but when James Clear, author of the mega-bestseller “Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones” mentioned it, he landed up a new way.

Clear offers tons of incredibly helpful information and strategies for creating habits, systems, and environments to facilitate higher levels of growth and success. So when he calls something the “one productivity tip you’ll ever need,” it’s worth dropping everything and listening.

This advice: Do the most important thing first.

Boom. So simple. So painfully hard.

Each week, the main item on my Monday agenda is to write a draft for this column. My editing schedule follows with different phases throughout the week.

But writing is not easy. My thoughts must be clear. I have to keep distractions away. It’s not something I can delete from my to-do list in 20 minutes, it takes time, patience, discipline and focus.

So I often break my own schedule. I start the week with a bunch of random little tasks that I can do without turning on my brain completely. It feels good – productivity is like a drug, and I get a little high checking things off my list. But then, I inevitably fall behind. I don’t get enough on Monday. I enter on Tuesday feeling a little warm. Maybe I get into it, maybe a child gets sick or the air conditioning breaks down. The stress always seems to get worse, and I end up carrying extra tension in my brain and body all week because the big thing – the important thing – is still there.

I’m sure you know that feeling.

If this is tormenting you too, allow me to share what I think is the best way to implement course correction. Yes, do the most important first. But do one other thing before that.

I know, it sounds like I’m already breaking the rule, but putting it all on the line, I realized that it’s pretty hard to rush into your cold “most important thing.” It is useful to have a warm-up.

To do this, exercise. Go for a run, walk, do some push-ups, take a yoga class…it doesn’t matter. Just get your blood flowing.

In my experience, exercise is never a waste of time. This looks like a good start for the rest of my process. It gives energy, clarity and a base level of self-esteem. It’s a great intro to turning off all distractions, getting down and doing the thing, even if it’s hard.

I repeat: turn off all distractions and do the right thing.

Ultimately, everyone’s precise productivity formula is different, but I think it’s worth considering and trying. Let’s spare ourselves extra stress wherever we can.

Marci Izard Sharif is an author, yoga teacher, meditation facilitator and mother. In Feeling Matters, she writes about self-love, sharing self-care tools, stories, and resources for getting to know yourself and being kind to yourself.

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