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Focus on less to do more

Focus on less to do more
focus

    So there you are with your Today list, your to-do list, your project lists, your house list, your calls list and even your list of lists. You know each and ever one of the 49 things you want to accomplish today. There’s only one small problem: come the end of the day you’ve accomplished zip. What went wrong?

    Your focus.

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    Now you may think you know what the word focus means – but do you? Words have very specific meanings and too often people are vague about those meanings – they try to use soft blobby things to shape their thoughts instead of well-machined, razor-sharp chisels.

    My favorite dictionary, Merriam-Webster, offers up several definitions of focus, including: “a center of activity, attraction, or attention b : a point of concentration“. Another online dictionary says focus is “the concentration of attention or energy on something.”

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    It’s very easy when you make the leap to some sort of methodology for getting organized like David Allen’s Getting Things Done to not realize all your efforts for collecting and organizing what you need to do are only the start of the story – you’ve only jumped halfway across the stream.

    The other half of the story is developing, managing, conserving and applying focus to what you do.

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    Here’s four suggestions on how to focus, and how to get better at focusing:

    • Create your to-do lists, then forget them. Not forever, not even for long. But the point of collecting and organizing your to do’s is precisely to get them out of your mind, to free yourself from their tyranny long enough to selectively complete some of them at a time and place of your choosing.
    • Three things at a time. This is the technique I use to concentrate on and complete work. Know and be concerned about the next three things you are going to do, and that’s it. While I have pending 8 current tasks from the 374 in 26 projects (thanks to a program I wrote and sell) I’m only thinking about 1) This post. 2) A guest post to put up at http://mymicroisv.com and 3) a stubborn SqlBulkCopy routine I need to whip into submission for a client this morning. That’s it – I’m ignoring everything else, especially all those wonderful Internet distractions, until I get through my list of 3. Then, but only then, will I decide the next three things that most need doing.
    • Don’t finish things, complete them. There’s a huge difference between finishing (“brought to an end”) a task and completing (“fully carried out”) a task. When you complete a task, you know you’ve done everything you should have to process that task, including defining new things you have to do because you’re done. You know you did it with just the appropriate amount of time, effort and creativity and yes, focus.
    • Know when to multitask and when not to. There are times I’m answering email, chatting on Skype, surfing the web, reading RSS items and listening to music all more or less at the same time. None of these things need more than my partial attention, a bit of focus. But when I write code or words that matter to me, or dare to actually think about something, the email, Skype, browser, RSS reader and iTunes get turned off. It’s not that multitasking is bad; it’s when we try to multitask tasks deserving our full attention and not getting it that we cheat ourselves.

    Bob Walsh sells MasterList Professional, a Windows task management application and writes, codes, podcasts and blogs about different aspects of the digital lifestyle at ToDoOrElse, MyMicroISV and Clear Blogging. His second book, Clear Blogging, is now available at Amazon and elsewhere.

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    Last Updated on October 15, 2019

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Procrastination is very literally the opposite of productivity. To produce something is to pull it forward, while to procrastinate is to push it forward — to tomorrow, to next week, or ultimately to never.

    Procrastination fills us with shame — we curse ourselves for our laziness, our inability to focus on the task at hand, our tendency to be easily led into easier and more immediate gratifications. And with good reason: for the most part, time spent procrastinating is time spent not doing things that are, in some way or other, important to us.

    There is a positive side to procrastination, but it’s important not to confuse procrastination at its best with everyday garden-variety procrastination.

    Sometimes — sometimes! — procrastination gives us the time we need to sort through a thorny issue or to generate ideas. In those rare instances, we should embrace procrastination — even as we push it away the rest of the time.

    Why we procrastinate after all

    We procrastinate for a number of reasons, some better than others. One reason we procrastinate is that, while we know what we want to do, we need time to let the ideas “ferment” before we are ready to sit down and put them into action.

    Some might call this “creative faffing”; I call it, following copywriter Ray Del Savio’s lead, “concepting”.[1]

    Whatever you choose to call it, it’s the time spent dreaming up what you want to say or do, weighing ideas in your mind, following false leads and tearing off on mental wild goose chases, and generally thinking things through.

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    To the outside observer, concepting looks like… well, like nothing much at all. Maybe you’re leaning back in your chair, feet up, staring at the wall or ceiling, or laying in bed apparently dozing, or looking out over the skyline or feeding pigeons in the park or fiddling with the Japanese vinyl toys that stand watch over your desk.

    If ideas are the lifeblood of your work, you have to make time for concepting, and you have to overcome the sensation— often overpowering in our work-obsessed culture — that faffing, however creative, is not work.

    So, is procrastination bad?

    Yes it is.

    Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re “concepting” when in fact you’re just not sure what you’re supposed to be doing.

    Spending an hour staring at the wall while thinking up the perfect tagline for a marketing campaign is creative faffing; staring at the wall for an hour because you don’t know how to come up with a tagline, or don’t know the product you’re marketing well enough to come up with one, is just wasting time.

    Lack of definition is perhaps the biggest friend of your procrastination demons. When we’re not sure what to do — whether because we haven’t planned thoroughly enough, we haven’t specified the scope of what we hope to accomplish in the immediate present, or we lack important information, skills, or resources to get the job done.

    It’s easy to get distracted or to trick ourselves into spinning our wheels doing nothing. It takes our mind off the uncomfortable sensation of failing to make progress on something important.

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    The answer to this is in planning and scheduling. Rather than giving yourself an unspecified length of time to perform an unspecified task (“Let’s see, I guess I’ll work on that spreadsheet for a while”) give yourself a limited amount of time to work on a clearly defined task (“Now I’ll enter the figures from last months sales report into the spreadsheet for an hour”).

    Giving yourself a deadline, even an artificial one, helps build a sense of urgency and also offers the promise of time to “screw around” later, once more important things are done.

    For larger projects, planning plays a huge role in whether or not you’ll spend too much time procrastinating to reach the end reasonably quickly.

    A good plan not only lists the steps you have to take to reach the end, but takes into account the resources, knowledge and inputs from other people you’re going to need to perform those steps.

    Instead of futzing around doing nothing because you don’t have last month’s sales report, getting the report should be a step in the project.

    Otherwise, you’ll spend time cooling your heels, justifying your lack of action as necessary: you aren’t wasting time because you want to, but because you have to.

    How bad procrastination can be

    Our mind can often trick us into procrastinating, often to the point that we don’t realize we’re procrastinating at all.

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    After all, we have lots and lots of things to do; if we’re working on something, aren’t we being productive – even if the one big thing we need to work on doesn’t get done?

    One way this plays out is that we scan our to-do list, skipping over the big challenging projects in favor of the short, easy projects. At the end of the day, we feel very productive: we’ve crossed twelve things off our list!

    That big project we didn’t work on gets put onto the next day’s list, and when the same thing happens, it gets moved forward again. And again.

    Big tasks often present us with the problem above – we aren’t sure what to do exactly, so we look for other ways to occupy ourselves.

    In many cases too, big tasks aren’t really tasks at all; they’re aggregates of many smaller tasks. If something’s sitting on your list for a long time, each day getting skipped over in favor of more immediately doable tasks, it’s probably not very well thought out.

    You’re actively resisting it because you don’t really know what it is. Try to break it down into a set of small tasks, something more like the tasks you are doing in place of the one big task you aren’t doing.

    More consequences of procrastination can be found in this article:

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    8 Dreadful Effects of Procrastination That Can Destroy Your Life

    Procrastination, a technical failure

    Procrastination is, more often than not, a sign of a technical failure, not a moral failure.

    It’s not because we’re bad people that we procrastinate. Most times, procrastination serves as a symptom of something more fundamentally wrong with the tasks we’ve set ourselves.

    It’s important to keep an eye on our procrastinating tendencies, to ask ourselves whenever we notice ourselves pushing things forward what it is about the task we’ve set ourselves that simply isn’t working for us.

    Featured photo credit: chuttersnap via unsplash.com

    Reference

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