How do you achieve great results on the Important but not urgent tasks? You create time for Deep focus. I first encountered the concept of Deep focus in the aptly named book Deep Focus: Rules for focused success in a distracted world by Cal Newport. If you haven’t read it, I’d recommend adding it to your reading list.
The idea behind deep focus is an individual will get more done in a single hour of focus-driven work on a single task than they would in ten hours of shallow focus split across different tasks. If you want to get more done, you not only need to first create time for it, you also need to make sure that time is quiet and focused time.
We all have things we’d like to do. So many in fact that I always recommend writing them down in a to-do list. A well-designed to-do list not only lets you capture all the vague tasks you’d like to do at some point, it also lets you prioritise what to work on now and what can wait.
One of the most powerful productivity illustrations is called an Eisenhower matrix. I have talked about it in previous posts but I will provide a sample under here in case you aren’t familiar with the matrix.
Since I began publishing this blog, I have had quite a few conversations about personal productivity. I have had the opportunity to listen to people talk about their productivity challenges. Occasionally, I have also heard how someone applied something they read on my blog and how it helped them in their lives. Through all this, I have kept wondering why do people struggle to be more productive.
The greatest disservice our love for quick soundbites has done is create the illusion that people who reach the top of their game did so within a very short period of time. We get to see pictures of Olympic athletes as they cross the finish line. What we don’t see is the years prior to that where they trained their body to peak performance. If an athlete has their golden moment when all the cameras go off. It’s because they had the patience to do what many will not.
“Early to bed, Early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”
As a child, you probably sulked when your mother told you to go to bed at an early hour so she’d have an easier time waking you up for school the next day. Ironically, as an adult after a tiring day, you relished nothing more than the chance to go to bed early. Beyond avoiding temper tantrums and dealing with a sleep-deprived child first thing in the morning, it turns out our mothers were on to something by making us start the day early.
The most productive people often tend to wake up early. Jack Dorsey, Cofounder of Twitter wakes up at 5:30am every morning and starts his day with a morning jog. Richard Branson, the Founder of Virgin airlines wakes up at 5:45am every morning and leaves the curtains open so he can rise with the sun. Mary Borra, the Chief Executive of GM may have taken it one step further. She arrives at the office every morning by 6am.
For the average person, telling them to follow their passion can be dangerous advice. ‘Passion’ is what gets lots of people started on multiple projects. It is the reason why many aspiring Authors write three chapters of what could possibly be a good story only to stop and start working on another story six months later.
Passion is a good place to start a task but it is not often what you need to finish it. More than passion, what most people need to finish a task is mental toughness (Fortitude, grit). This is because most things worth doing are hard. You won’t always have good days. You will encounter a difficult problem that might require weeks to solve. It is during that time that your passion often reaches its limits.
A short while back, at an event, I had a conversation with a friend who wanted to learn how to use Spreadsheet software. He could do basic things using a spreadsheet but had come to realise just how versatile the skillset could be. However, he mentioned not having enough time to learn. I asked him a few questions about how best he learnt. Did he prefer classroom settings, one-on-one learning, self-taught or online classes? Knowing this would help him figure out how to create time to improve his spreadsheet skills. Unfortunately, we couldn’t finish the conversation as we had to move on to other activities.
Where is your to-do list for the day? As I type this post, I can take a quick glance at mine on my favourite note-taking app, Evernote. On the go, it’s available on my mobile phone. It automatically syncs across my devices so I don’t have to worry about forgetting anything. I go to great lengths to make sure I have my to-do list with me wherever I am. That’s because out of all the productivity tools in my box, the to-do list has proven a life saver.
The Latin expression “Carpe Diem”, often translated into English as seize the day is first attested by the ancient Roman Poet, Horace. The idea behind the expression is that since the future is uncertain, it is best to prepare for every situation by taking action when you can instead of leaving it up to chance. In other words, do what you can now to make the future better.
“As you climb the ladder of success, be sure it is leaning against the right building.”
H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
Management Consultant, Peter Drucker once said “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently something that should not have been done at all.” Drucker’s ideas eventually lead to what is now called outsourcing ie a company should focus on only those activities that are essential to its business and that it can do well. Anything else should be contracted out to other companies. The result would be improved business for every company as each firm focused on what it could do best.