There are a million different apps, programs, books, journals – all designed to help you be your most productive self. It’s easy to buy a new alarm clock, plot out your month in a new planner, and feel like you’ve set yourself up for success. And, to a certain extent, you have. But we can’t just plan for our best, most productive selves in order to succeed. We need to plan for our least productive selves as well. We need to de-mine our lives.
Sweep for mines – all of those little things that distract you from achieving your goals and keep you from focusing on your priorities. If we want big results, we need to dedicate ourselves to our priorities, instead of getting caught up in the time-wasters and pointless minutia. Don’t simply hope – and plan – for the best. It’s time to sit down and be honest about your strengths and your weaknesses, so you can plot ahead for the things that can derail you.
Technology is Your Enemy and Your Friend
Technology can seem like an incredible distraction. In fact, in can seem like an addiction. Our phones are often the first thing we reach for in the morning, and rarely do we go a moment throughout the day without some kind of tech in reach. For many, it’s the first thing we reach for in the morning and the thing that lulls us to sleep at night.
It’s not all bad though. We need technology and do incredible tings with it. In order to stay productive we have to learn to use it in a way that it empowers us to do more.
Batch Your Messages
It is easy to feel like we need to respond to every email, text, or slack message we receive the moment we’re notified of it. In fact, some reports suggest we spend as much as 28 percent of our day checking email. That’s a quarter of your day—and it doesn’t even account for the other text-based communication that’s become a part of our daily lives.
Interrupting ourselves when we’re on a roll in order to respond to every message harms our productivity. It takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back on track once we’ve switched tasks or given into a distraction. That’s time we aren’t able to put toward being productive.
Like we say about in The One Thing, everything doesn’t matter equally. That principle holds true here. Most of the emails and messages we receive on a daily basis aren’t as important as we treat them.
Take a page out of the book of productive people like Tim Ferriss and start batching your messages. Essentially, message batching means committing ourselves to checking our text-based communication only two or three times a day, at specific times.
If you’d like to put an auto-responder in place, that’s fine. But the truth is, you often don’t even need one. Like we’ve talked about in the past, people don’t necessarily expect for us to respond immediately to text-based communications. The idea is unrealistic. Get to the message when the time is appropriate.
The same idea can be applied to our other messages, too. In the day and age where so many of us have smart phones and smart watches, it can be incredibly easy to get distracted by every Google Hangout or text message we receive. Instead of responding to each text as it comes in, and set aside time later to go through all of your messages.
If you’re concerned about missing a call that is emergency related, take a page out of one of our writer’s book. While they do put their phone on ‘do not disturb’ mode every day, they’ve gone into their settings and designated certain friends and family members as ‘emergency’ contacts. (If you’d like to learn more, check out this link) That way, they don’t miss any calls from the school, doctor’s office, or other emergencies.
Use Apps to Your Advantage
There are over seven million apps out there, all competing for our attention. And the truth is, these programs (and resulting notifications) can often end up being as distracting as they are helpful. Thankfully, there are also apps out there that can help us defeat these million little distractions.
Apps like SelfControl, Freedom, LeechBlock and StayFocused keep us from accessing certain programs or websites during certain times of the day. They all offer different parameters and customizations that keep you locked in. And the best part is that many of them can be used on both our laptops and smart phones. However, they aren’t a permanent solution by any means.
Think of apps like these as baby bumpers at a bowling alley: we put them up to help us achieve our goal until we’re skilled enough to get rid of them. Try working with them to build a habit of focus, and gradually reduce their use for maximum effect.
Create a Supportive Ecosystem
We’ve discussed this before, but making sure you have an environment that supports your work is key. Otherwise, it will be nearly impossible to get your best work done. If we want to make sure we aren’t going to trip on any mines, we need to do as much as we can to create a productive environment.
Build a Bunker
Building a bunker is a great way to make sure we’re setting ourselves up for success. While shutting down notifications on our phones or laptops is a great first step, it is important to put other barriers into place that will help block out distractions.
If you work from a noisy home or in the middle of a bustling office that can mean making sure your space is neat, tidy, well lit, and quiet. Create barriers around your desk if you need can in order to keep peripheral movement from drawing your attention. Grab yourself some noise cancelling headphones and play some music. You can even put up ‘do not disturb’ signs to discourage people from interrupting you as you get your work done.
It’s also important to make sure you have all of the food or supplies you might need in order to get your work done. If you know you’re going to need to staple a bunch of papers or organize a bunch of files, make sure you have all of the tools you need within arm’s reach. The same goes for food and refreshments. No one wants to have to get and run to the corner store to grab lunch or a snack when they’re on a roll. Instead, make sure you have snacks and drinks nearby. That way, it is just a quick trip to the fridge to get what you need before you get back to work.
Start Time Blocking
A time block is a great way to help make sure you get your best work done without any interruptions. Time blocks are large chunks of time that we block off on our schedule to get our most important work done. For instance, every morning one of our writers time blocks two hours just for writing and research.
In The ONE Thing, we encourage people to time block the following:
- Your vacation time: It’s important to go ahead and block off time for vacation, even if you don’t know what kind of trip you’ll go on yet. For one thing, it prevents you from pushing off that trip you’ve been promising our wife to take – you’ve already got time set aside and you can take it. Also, it gives us honest expectations as to what we need to get done when. If you have a presentation to pull together at the end of July, but you’re going to be gone the first three weeks of the month, you know already that you need to spend most of June focusing on that project.
- Your one thing: Next you’ll want to make sure you’re setting aside time for your ONE thing. Don’t let your daily calendar get filled up with a million pointless meetings. Instead, it is important to set aside dedicated time for you to focus on the things you must get done in order to reach your goals. Maybe that means time for making cold calls, maybe that means helping your daughter with her homework project. Whatever the case, you need to block out that time for yourself every single day.
- Your planning time: Planning ahead is a key part of making sure you’re staying on track to get to your goals. It makes sure that you have set time aside to sit down, reflect and plan ahead.
Time blocking helps us make sure we aren’t flying by the seat of our pants week to week. Instead of simply squeezing our goals into whatever free spaces are available, it helps us re-take control of our time. It allows us to build the habit of being purposeful about our time and how we’re spending it.
Get People to Buy-In
Making sure we have people who understand our goals and respect our boundaries is a key part of making sure we don’t fall prey to distractions. While it is easy to imagine if we simply put our minds to our task and focus on our own business, everything will fall into place. But the truth is, if we don’t get the buy-in of those around us, ignoring distractions will be exponentially more difficult – because people are distracting.
If you’ve set up a time block for yourself, make sure you let the people around you know. That way, when someone needs something from you, they’ll know that this time is set aside specifically for you and to come back at a more convenient time.
Put up signs to let others know when you’re focusing on your ONE thing. Create a family calendar with your partner that allows them to see what you’ll be working on and when. Share your goals with your boss during your weekly 411.
Whatever the case, it is important to remember that no man is an island. We always need the assistance of other’s to get things done.
Commit to Cutting Back
You’re sitting down at your desk on Monday morning, looking over your calendar for the day, checking emails, and planning out your week. You get an email from a coworker – can you meet at 2:00 on Wednesday? You check your calendar and, sure enough, there’s a spot open after your morning time block. You say yes, and fill up that spot.
In fact, any time you see a free space and someone sends you a request, you end up saying ‘yes’. After all, the spot is open. So, why not? It could end up leading to a new opportunity. Or does it?
Most of our calendars don’t help us focus. Instead of assisting us, they become the equivalent of a to-do list. A dumping ground for all of our time commitments. And we don’t do a good job of protecting the empty space that opens up from time to time. Instead of utilizing them to push our priority forward, we instead fill them with priorities that aren’t our own.
It can be easy to over commit, and as a result, underachieve. Like we talk about in the Four Thieves of Productivity sometimes we have to say “no” in order to move forward.
While helping others is important, it is also important to make sure we’re doing what needs to get done. Before we say ‘yes’ to a request, take a look at the Eisenhower matrix.
The Eisenhower matrix is designed to help you figure out what work deserves your immediate and undivided attention. In essence, it helps us sort through and find our priority. Quadrant one and two are where our most important and time sensitive things are housed. While quadrant three and four are reserved for the less important, less immediate tasks that take up our time. If you get a request about the huge project your team is presenting at the end of the week – that is both urgent and important, and should be put in quadrant one.
The next time you get a request to do something, think about the Eisenhower matrix. What is its level of importance? When does it need to get done? Does saying ‘yes’ to the request make everything else easier or unnecessary? Do you have time to do this other thing, while still dedicating time to your ONE thing? If the answer is no, then you need to say no.
Take Time to RESET
In many ways, our lives are like gardens. We start out with good intentions, planting tons of seeds, excited to see what we can grow. But, like a garden, sometimes our lives require a little bit of weeding and pruning in order to help the things we’re cultivating live to their full potential.
That’s where a RESET comes in. RESET is a tool we use here at The ONE Thing in order to reassess where we are, what goals are worth holding onto, and whether or not we’re living with an eye to priority. To RESET, you just do the following:
- Reflect – Think over your past actions. You can’t know where you’re going without understanding where you’ve bee
- Evaluate – Think of evaluating like course correcting. If things are off track, we need to look back to where we miscalculated, and rework our trajectory in order to get where we want to go.
- Simplify – Pare things back. If the reason we got off course is because we said ‘yes’ to a million side projects, maybe it is time to leverage those projects/tasks out. Focus on ONE thing at a time. Over complicating our ONE Thing with conflicting goals is an easy way handicap ourselves.
- Establish a Plan – Create a plan that will help you achieve better results and not waste time. This means learning to figure out what you need to do in order to complete your most important tasks, instead of wasting time on activities that aren’t a priority.
- Time Block – Now that you’ve re-evaluated and created a game plan, it is time to start time blocking. Set aside hours each day during your most productive hours where you can focus on your top priorities.
Here at The ONE Thing, we try to go through a RESET at least once a year. But you’re welcome to stop and RESET whenever you feel like you’re starting to lose sight of your goals. That way, you can make a preemptive strike, and get ahead of any pesky traps that will derail you from your ONE Thing.
Forgive Yourself for Failing
There are a number of other ways we can make sure we’re prepared for the myriad of distractions ahead of us. But sometimes, no matter how well we prepare or how dedicated we are to protecting our time blocks, we end up failing.
Not every day is a productive day. Some years we don’t hit our goals. Sometimes, we get off track or lose sight of the things that matter most. And that’s okay – as long as we fail forward. It’s important to remember that we’re only human, and that failure is just a stepping stone on the path to success.
Instead of fearing those moments when we stumble, it is important to embrace them as a learning tool. Have a growth mindset when it comes to our fear of failure. When we fear failure, we end up stymied, unable to take the next leap because we view our failure in negative terms. But if you never take the first step, you’ll never go anywhere.
Failure is inevitable, but instead of letting it act as a road block you should let it serve as a teacher. Take a moment to reflect on what happened. What didn’t work? What did?
They say that Edison made over 1,000 versions of the light bulb until he found one that worked. Each one of those bulbs wasn’t just a model in failure, it was a model in success. There were aspects that he got right. And the things he got wrong weren’t bad – they showed him what roads weren’t worth venturing down.
Learn to use failure as a tool for your success. Don’t fear it – grow from it! In fact, some of the greatest minds, from Walt Disney to Steve Jobs, failed at what they were doing. But they learned, and you can too.