Simply put, we all need simple practical solutions to help them get the most out of every day.
It’s so easy to lose your focus these days. We are constantly flitting between emails, texts, social media, “real” people interruptions, and more, remembering what you were doing can be almost as hard as getting it done. It’s not early dementia – there’s just TOO much. Get better at saying NO! When No means NO!
We are living in the Age of Distraction and it demands new ways of working and strategies for success. One that is all about playing defense: fending off superfluous/ non beneficial meetings, prioritizing what emails you respond to ruthlessly, and fighting the urge to constantly indulge in social media.
When you decide what you should be saying NO to, saying yes to the right things becomes infinitely easier. Here’s my shortlist of things I say NO to, and how it helps me stay focused:
1. Say NO to letting other people run your schedule. The antidote to this problem is simple and a is a powerful activity that I used when I had a PA who did it for me, we called it “diary chunking”, but I have read it called “focus blocking.” It’s the act of proactively blocking out chunks of time, ideally in 90-180 minutes, on your calendar for focusing on the work that really matters. Blocking out the time in advance is key, because it’s essentially like playing defense on your shared calendar. If you already have a 3-hour chunk of time set aside two mornings a week, someone isn’t going to book a meeting there that breaks up your day and leaves you with no time to get into the creative flow. Also if it is already allocated, you’ll (hopefully) think twice before booking over it.
2. Say NO to allowing email to eat up all of your time. The two most important concepts for managing your mail are: One, set aside 30 minutes 2-3 times a day to check it, and ignore it the rest of the time. Truthfully, everything can wait. And it can always wait at least a few hours. Two, recognize which emails are important and have a valid demand on your attention, and which do not–and prioritize your responses accordingly. All emails are not created equal, and you’ll never get anything done if you treat them as if they were.
3. Say NO to constantly checking the social media – Twitter/Facebook/etc. The way that an app like Twitter delivers little bits of information that surprise and delight at random intervals is enticing and feeds a craving. Its addictive, and when I recently did a simple and non scientific straw poll – the feedback was amazing. Between 2 – 3 hours a day on social media! Seriously?? So its noy just the 5 – 10 minutes randomly during the day – think about the elapsed distraction. That’s why social media (or texting or even email) holds such a powerful temptation. What’s more, our ability to resist temptation declines over the course of the day. That means you’d be well-advised to do your “hard work” in the morning, while your ability to resist distraction is still high. When you’re running lower on willpower in the afternoon, set aside two or three “reward blocks” of 10-15 minutes to let yourself indulge in social media without guilt. Then turn Facebook/Twitter/etc off or minimize it (seriously!), and get back to work. Turn the timer on.
4. Say NO to getting rundown. It’s worth remembering that staring at a screen 16 inches in front of your face for 8-10 hours a day is completely unnatural. Which means you need a strategy for re-energizing yourself throughout the day to avoid physical and mental fatigue. To combat this, I do two things: I alternate tasks that demand creative thinking (e.g., editing an article or brainstorming ideas for a new project) with tasks that are relatively mindless (e.g., responding to routine emails, building out spreadsheets). I’ll come back to this as I believe there is a direct link from this to productivity.
5. Say NO to distractions: Keep the big picture at the forefront. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to focus on the “big picture” whilst maintaining the “small details.”
Build an annual strategic roadmap for key activities, and then set quarterly goals. This ensures we keep focused towards the end goal, and can see the steps to getting there.
Anyway, think about it. Its worth saying No when No means NO.