Recently, I travelled from Perth to Melbourne and arrived very late. I had some work to do and didn’t get to bed until the wee hours of the morning. That same morning, I had to meet with some associates. So, after a little shut-eye, I got up, got dressed, put my glasses on and off I went.
While travelling from one part of Melbourne to another, I noticed how blurry everything appeared. I rubbed my eyes but still my vision was fuzzy. I told myself it must have been because of the late night I’d had.
As I continued, I was a little alarmed at how much my eyes were straining – until I realised I had put the wrong pair of glasses on! Of course, as soon as I put my normal glasses on, the world became clear again.
Two things occurred to me at that moment: one, I’m getting old; and two, you must remember to take a step back and be mindful of what lenses you are looking through each day.
I think, as leaders, it’s easy to wake up, get dressed and “put our glasses on” and like me on that Melbourne morning, begin the day looking through the wrong lens. We focus on things that aren’t useful to us and our teams, and lose sight of what we want to achieve and the actions we need to take.
We need to have the right lenses on provide a focus, that allow us to be productive. We need that right focus so we can lead our teams, manage our people and do our work in a way that’s useful, on target and on purpose. When we do work that’s on purpose, we increase the value we deliver – to ourselves, our teams and our organisation.
So, the question we must ask ourselves as leaders and contributors is, how do we maintain our focus? How do we ensure we get the right things done? How are we ensuring we put the right pair of glasses on?
David Allen, the author of Getting Things Done, has a fantastic yet simple five-step process to help you maintain focus and productivity:
- Capture. What holds your attention? Too often, we don’t realise how many things distract us. Capture everything that’s on your mind by writing them down.
- Clarify. Once you’ve captured your distractions, review them. What matters and what doesn’t? What should be on your to-do list? What can you action now and what can you delegate, reduce or eliminate?
- Organise. Divide your to-do list into sub-lists. For example, “calls to make”, “emails to send”, “errands to run”. What day-to-day activities align with your top five goals? Make these your priority.
- Reflect. Review your lists regularly. Unhelpful distractions have a habit of creeping back in, so do a weekly or monthly review.
- Engage. Once you have organised your lists, Allen says you must “use your system to take appropriate actions with confidence.” Take away the things you merely spend your time on and focus on what you should invest your time in. Be confident knowing you are working towards your goals.
The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss is another excellent resource that will challenge your focus-management mindset. If you feel overwhelmed and overworked, this book will help you re-focus and identify the opportunities you should invest in to reach your goals.
Of course, it’s difficult to have the right lenses on if we are not feeling our best. It’s easy to be distracted from our goals when we feel stressed and unwell. So, where should you focus your time and energy to ensure you are operating at your best? Here are five things to consider:
- Invest in improving and extending your life. Eat well, exercise and get enough sleep. These are things I have been working on during the past year, and it’s been incredibly challenging and rewarding. Also, think about the spiritual realm, whatever that means to you. We’re not just physical beings – we need spiritual peace, too.
- Invest in foundation activities. Stephen Covey, the author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, is the creator of the Four Quadrants for Time Management. The quadrants are: urgent and important, not urgent and important, urgent and not important, and not urgent and not important. Covey argues that we spent most of our time on activities in the “urgent and important” and “not urgent and not important” quadrants. This means we don’t invest nearly enough time in the “not urgent and important” quadrant, which is where we build our lives.
- Invest in doing nothing. I don’t mean sit and twiddle your thumbs, I mean give yourself time to relax. This could be in the form of meditation or a game of golf. Invest in activities that give you some downtime. Mark Zuckerberg and Warren Buffett both suggest that the best thing a CEO can do for their company is to spend 80% of their time looking out their window. This restores creativity and energy, allowing leaders to think about what tomorrow could be.
- Invest in system time. Implement processes and programs that work for you. Invest in systems and applications that make life simpler so you can focus on what’s important.
- Think about investing some time in sorting out your document folders. If you are like me, they have a habit of “growing organically”. Put in place a simple coding and colour system for your emails and meetings. Use tools like the Office 365 suite or Google Docs. For projects or activities, use clever apps and software like Trello and Teamwork. Find the simple hacks that make your workday flow better.
- Invest in focus time. Once you’ve identified your top goals, it’s time to focus on what needs to be done. Planners and planning methodologies can help you find and maintain that focus – for example, the Pomodoro Technique, the FranklinCovey Planner and, my favourite, Michal Hyatt’s Full Focus Planner. The Full Focus Planner has been a powerful tool for me, as it ensures I am on purpose and delivering the best value.
Remember, focussing on something means choosing not to focus on something else. Distractions abound in our world. Maintain your focus on your priorities and goals by measuring and managing them daily.
And, if you wake up early one day in a town that’s not home, remember to choose the right lenses before you start your work. It makes the whole day a lot clearer and allows you to be more focussed on the things that matter.
As always, I would love to hear your thoughts.
Be kind, be well, be true, be you.