“It’s not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is, what are we busy about?” – Henry David Thoreau
Interruptions and distractions have a way of working their way into one’s life. Often, at our ‘worst possible time.’ We must allow ourselves to be flexible with unforeseen occurrences. More frequent the interruptions, the greater likelihood you end up with a burden of unfinished projects.
Be prudent about what you allow, when, and why. Build in flextime. Know when something else deserves attention, because things will happen, but too many distractions are counter- productive. As much as possible, give your full attention to completing one task before beginning another. Accept that mistakes happen. Don’t dwell on them. Learn from them.
Technology. Everyone’s expected to be “connected” – accommodating constant instant access. Studies reveal it’s addictive and wastes a lot of productive time. Collaboration is necessary, but technology is a tool to serve us, not hinder us. Don’t become slaves to it. Allocate specific, limited times to check email, social media, and phone calls. Sounds crazy, I know. But it increases time to focus, without interruptions, on tasks of higher priority, yielding greater results. Some productivity experts suggest completing, at minimum, 1-2 priority tasks each morning and after lunch before checking email or wandering around the Internet. Sometimes, it’s even healthy to “disconnect.”
Working to avoid work. Anticipating the pain. Dragging it out. Taking no action, you remain stagnant. It’s a waste of time to wait for “the right time.” If you want “tomorrow” to be different, take action today, even if they are small actions and even if it’s difficult. Focus on the actions, and the results will take care of themselves.
The Ziegarnik Effect. Studies show people remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks better than completed tasks. Once you begin a task, you have greater focus and desire to complete it. If you don’t begin, it continues to niggle and distract your mind and drain your energy. Just start, even briefly, giving yourself permission to stop if you want. Almost always, you’ll complete the task. Incompletions bounce around in our minds until they are completed. Put your mental energy to better use.
How good is “good enough”? Details are important, but it’s easy to get bogged down with details, tweaking and re-tweaking infinitely. Spend time on what matters, what makes a difference to the success you want to accomplish. For the perfectionists amongst us, if you’re doing work for someone else, remember: each person has their own idea of “perfect.” What is perfect to you may not be what another considers perfect. Do your best and know when good enough is good enough.
Take a Break. Under stress or pressure, your body tenses unconsciously. Your mind prefers variety. You can only do so much effectively, as energy levels, focus, and motivation vary throughout the day. Work in limited, efficient bursts of time. Mental fatigue usually sets in at approximately one hour; less for some, a bit more for others. Optimal brain focus is said to be 20-30 minutes. Then your mind starts to wander. Learn your limits. If you take short breaks before you are completely mentally fatigued, your brain will reengage and refocus more quickly. Give yourself breathing space, before your efforts become counterproductive.
The 80/20 Rule states 20% of effort contributes 80% results, and means that, in life and work, most things are not dis- tributed equally. Some efforts generate more results than others. A few things matter a lot because they produce most of the benefit. Many tasks don’t affect the outcome. The value of most projects or goals is the result of just a few critical tasks. How can you maximize your effort, time, and money for greater benefit? How can you “work smarter, not harder”? Review your systems. Organize your workflow. It’s not just about doing things quickly; it’s about doing the right things, efficiently and at the right time, for maximum benefit.
Set boundaries. Most people want to be seen as helpful, but when you donate your time to help others, you are doing exactly that…giving away your time to benefit someone else. It’s essential to say No sometimes. This doesn’t mean being disagreeable, cutting off relationships, or being rude. It doesn’t mean explaining why you can’t help at that moment when a request makes you uncomfortable. Just politely state that you are previously committed, behind schedule, too busy, not now, or simply no. Refer them to someone else if appropriate. Failure to set healthy, appropriate boundaries, including the ability to say no when necessary, can be a major drain on your time and energy. Likewise it’s important to know when to say ‘Yes.’ Sometimes it takes courage to do something different, accept challenges, take risks, change perspectives. Continue to seek out new experiences, variety, and explore.
Make a Life List. Rather than wait for your ‘Bucket List’ focus on things that enhance life in the present, now, today. This can help you stay on track in reaching larger life goals while enhancing your happiness right now. Keep it real. If you find yourself listing things that don’t enhance your life, forget about ‘em. Don’t put it off until retirement or “someday.” Make the most of right now, stay open to opportunity, and enjoy!
Life offers constant opportunities and choices. At the same time, it’s im- possible to do everything. People are sometimes afraid of failure, responsibility, or success. Accomplishing things that matter always requires effort. When you make conscious, pru- dent choices about your life, you will be motivated and productive. And remember: Life is not static. It has many seasons, when ideas, needs, priorities, and abilities change. You can always change your mind.