We all know it’s true, that we can get more of an impact if we focus our energies on fewer tasks. An example I’ve quoted often on the power of focus is the analogy of trying to light a fire using a magnifying glass on a hot day. We’ve all tried it out as kids. However, picture yourself, taking a whole pile of newspapers outside in the sun on the World’s Hottest day, you may have the most powerful magnifying glass in the world, but you’ll still not be able to start a fire for hours or days, until you FOCUS that magnifying glass. Once you do focus the rays of the sun on to a single spot on that pile of newspapers. You don’t just have a fire, you have an INFERNO. Focus…focus…FOCUS!
We all have such limited time, limited energy and limited resources in the world. And yes the opportunities are galore that are screaming for a highly precious commodity of ours, our Attention, so don’t sell it cheap.
A book that I’ve completed recently that has helped me hone my focus is The Power of Less by Leo Babuta.
Leo is one heck of a case study. A few years ago, he was a government employee, heavily in debt, overweight and a heavy-smoker. Over the past several years, Leo has:
- Quit Smoking
- Got himself into peak physical condition
- Run Several marathons to prove it
- Got our of Debt
- Quit his job to follow his passion of full-time blogging.
- Maintain two excellent blogs
- Got one of his blogs to be ranked the number one Personality-Development/Self-Help blog
- Completed three books.
How he achieved all the above? It’s by focussing on one activity at a time. Leo, spends the rest of the book listing out a few principles and practical steps that one can follow to reduce the clutter in one’s life and focus on the essentials. The steps that have worked most for me are:
Identify your MITs (Most Important Tasks) early in the day and complete them first.
We get so caught up on answering our emails first thing in the morning, that one easily loses track on other tasks that provide higher returns for the time spent. Hence beginning of the day (or the end of the previous day) once one write down your MITs, make sure you complete those first thing in the morning. The tasks that you listed would not take you more than a an hour or two at the max. Most of the time, the tasks highlighted get done in less than 30 minutes. But it’s our procrastinating and demonising of the tasks in our minds that make it seem that it would take forever to complete. As Brian Tracy says, Eat that Frog. ie Get your most unpleasant task done first thing in the morning. And since you have to eat that frog anyway, it doesn’t pay much to If you have to eat a live frog at all, it doesn’t pay to sit and look at it for very long.
Focus on never more than Three Projects at a time.
What’s a project? The project here is not used in the conventional sense of for eg. Installing and delivering a software to a client, or in our case Delivering a Residential Layout of 300 homes. Nope, the word Project here is used in the GTD sense, that is, any action that has more than one step to complete. So simple things like Hiring an Employee, Completing a Report or Getting one’s child enrolled to school, are all Projects. Because they all have multiples steps to complete. Why Leo has said Three and not One, it’s because generally inevitably you might be waiting for someone for some information on any one of the Project. When that happens you have two other projects to focus upon.
Have a Daily Morning Routine
This is a great tip that I’ve been putting in practice for several years now. Have a Routine in the morning that gets you looking forward to the day. A routine that you consciously follow. Not one that you subconsciously stumble through day after day till your life is over. For eg. Leo’s routine is to be up at 5:00 Am, brews for himself a cup of delicious coffee, then spends atleast an hour writing his next blog post. My routine for the last several years has been:
5:30 – 6:00 Pray namaaz
6:00 – 7:00 Catch an hour’s sleep
7:00 – 8:20 Breakfast, Leave for Quran class or for Gym for a workout and shower.
8:20 – 9:20 Spend an hour writing either a blog post or my Journal. Reach office by 9:30
From 9:30 to 10:30 -
Once at office I look at my calendar and ask, “How much time do I have today that’s totally at my Discretion? or How much time do I have where there are no pre-scheduled meetings?”
Empty my Tickler items for the day into my inbox
Empty notes from my pocket notepad to my inbox
Empty biz cards to inbox
Look out for urgent Day Specific Tasks in Calendar to be attended to.
Clear outlook tasks @Ainbox
Clear email inbox/physical inbox 15 mins to 30 mins
Attend appointments as planned
My morning routine has worked well for me. Before it’s 10:30, I’ve completed my exercise for the day, my writing and have cleared all the new inputs (via email or paper) into my life. Depending on your goals, set an Early Morning Routine that has you start the day running. Also consider setting up a Daily Evening Routine too, to ensure that you have maximum energy next morning.
Do Less than you Can do. Even if you can do more.
This has been a brilliant tip that Leo has provided. Highly effective when it comes to establishing a new habit. Say you need to establish a habit of flossing your teeth. So Leo says, “Do less than you can do, even if you can do more.” That means for the whole first week, all you should do is to take out a piece of floss cut it and leave it on the bathroom sink. That’s it. Don’t floss you teeth, even if you can floss your teeth. The key here is to set regularity. Since all that you’ll be doing is to taking out a piece of floss and not actually flossing your teeth, the resistance to do this activity will be minimal. Similarly if you want make a habit of exercising regularly say jogging for 30 minutes, just do 15 minutes. Even if you can jog more, don’t. Keep doing this, till it really becomes part of you. I’ve been implementing this rule and been doing less even if I can do more and it really works. There is very little resistance to do the activity the next day and hence a habit is quite easily formed.
Take care friends, do read the book. There are tons of other principles and tips to help you achieve your long term goals. The above are the few that have stuck with me.
Warm wishes. Keep smiling :-)