So, when I woke up each morning, I’d set a very simple intention for the day to serve as a something of a spiritual Big Rock. I’d tell myself one day that I would be as grateful for as many things as I could even if bad things happened, and on another day, I’d tell myself I’d focus on my physical health and show up for a workout no matter what. Sometimes, my intention would be as simple as being as present in the moment as possible that day. These little things help to break down the burdens of life bit by bit, which is sometimes the only way to get yourself going when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Usually, even if my focus was almost solely on my intention, everything else that needed to happen for the day would fall into place around it, because I’d feel centered and that would keep me on task. On days when it didn’t, I didn’t stress as much, because I knew that at the very least, I’d kept a promise to myself and put some positive aspect of my health at the forefront. As most of us know from experience, when you’ve hit a rough patch, keeping those promises can be an anchor as the world around you shifts. As my habit carried on, I found myself getting more and more accomplished, and dreading obligations less and less.

As life mellowed out and got back to its normal (and less stressful) speed, I kept on setting intentions, both for tasks on my to-do list and for less tangible spiritual goals. Sometimes, my intention will simply be to tidy up my apartment at some point that day. Other times, it will be to make an important call I’ve been putting off, or to tackle something bigger like a major project I’ve been meaning to map out. I write it on a small piece of paper and carry on with my day. It seems too simple to be true, and it really is a reiteration of all the cliches we’ve ever heard about productivity (“Prioritize!” “Keep yourself accountable!”) but it makes all the difference. I still have overflowing to-do lists like anyone else, but I know that if I can accomplish that one intention I’ve set for the day, everything else will get done in its own time. Most importantly, when I collapse into bed at night, I’m far less likely to have that sinking feeling I get when I’m worried I forgot to do something important or feel like I didn’t accomplish enough. Life is short (and impossibly busy), and what makes the most productive people so good at what they do isn’t necessarily the ability to get a superhuman amount of stuff done — it’s the ability to recognize what little time they have, and use that reality to pick their battles and work with their own thought patterns to be as efficient as they can. That’s what setting an intention does, for both your heart and your mind.

Tomorrow morning, when you wake up feeling overwhelmed as always, take a deep breath. Spend a few minutes in silence (I promise, that’s not time you would’ve spent getting things done anyway), thinking about the one thing you want most from the day, and write it on the first page of a notebook. It’s just one task, which you surely can handle. Ahh. Don’t you feel calmer already? You just woke up and you’re already on top of your game.

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