We’re all busy; busier now than ever – or at least that’s the perception. Certainly we take in and process far more information on a daily basis than 15, 10 or even 5 years ago. But are we more productive? Do we get more done? Are we more fulfilled as a result? I’m not so sure.
Seems to me that technology is outstripping most people’s ability to manage it, particularly the ability to focus attention on what matters most, rather than what’s suddenly appeared in our smartphone demanding our attention. Attention flickers between this email and that tweet, someone’s updated profile and a cat video. At the end of the day most of us are still flitting between one app or another, attempting to clear a backlog of email.
Try this: at the end of today, just take a moment to reflect on these questions (write your answers down if you like):
- On a scale of 1-10, where 10 is ‘definitely’ to what extent did I achieve what I set out to today?
- What’s gone well?
- What didn’t go so well?
- What have I learned?
- What will I focus on tomorrow?
Smarter people reflect on the day; what’s gone well (and not so well), what’s been learned and what the focus needs to be for tomorrow. More and more, I’m finding that’s because they’ve taken care on where to focus their attention. We don’t have an infinite amount of attention: it’s not possible to buy an upgrade and plug in more capacity. But we can make better use of it, and one of the first things I think we need to do is accept we won’t always get everything done.
For some of us, the very idea of going to bed having not completed something invokes a kind of horror. But ask people who get an extraordinary amount done, and they often describe two things: being OK with not ticking every single little box, and getting others involved. How they do that is by focusing on what’s really important, and being very disciplined about that. If something happens along that demands their attention but doesn’t fit with priorities, they delegate, or defer it to another time, or deal with it very quickly if it’s critical.
Try this: spend 10-15 minutes each day identifying your priorities. You can do this at the end of the previous day or at the very beginning of the day.
- What are the priorities for today?
- What are the top three things I need to focus on today?
- How much time will they take? (Then put the time in your calendar)
- What else needs to happen – and who can help with that?
Finally, develop the habit of checking in with yourself through the day and asking, “Is this the best use of my time right now?”
Dawn is the author of ‘How to be Zoomly at work’, available on Amazon.