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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 April 8, 2019

    22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

    22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

    Unless you’re infinitely rich or prepared to rack up major debt, you need to budget your income. Setting limits on how much you are willing to spend helps control expenses. But what about your time? Do you budget your time or spend it carelessly?

    Deadlines are the chronological equivalent of a budget. By setting aside a portion of time to complete a task, goal or project in advance you avoid over-spending. Deadlines can be helpful but they can also be a source of frustration if set improperly. Here are some tips for making deadlines work:

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    1. Use Parkinson’s Law – Parkinson’s Law states that tasks expand to fill the time given to them. By setting a strict deadline in advance you can cut off this expansion and focus on what is most important.
    2. Timebox – Set small deadlines of 60-90 minutes to work on a specific task. After the time is up you finish. This cuts procrastinating and forces you to use your time wisely.
    3. 80/20 – The Pareto Principle suggests that 80% of the value is contained in 20% of the input. Apply this rule to projects to focus on that critical 20% first and fill out the other 80% if you still have time.
    4. Project VS Deadline – The more flexible your project, the stricter your deadline. If a task has relatively little flexibility in completion a softer deadline will keep you sane. If the task can grow easily, keep a tight deadline to prevent waste.
    5. Break it Down – Any deadline over one day should be broken down into smaller units. Long deadlines fail to motivate if they aren’t applied to manageable units.
    6. Hofstadter’s Law – Basically this law states that it always takes longer than you think. A rule I’ve heard in software development is to double the time you think you need. Then add six months. Be patient and give yourself ample time for complex projects.
    7. Backwards Planning – Set the deadline first and then decide how you will achieve it. This approach is great when choices are abundant and projects could go on indefinitely.
    8. Prototype – If you are attempting something new, test out smaller versions of a project to help you decide on a final deadline. Write a 10 page e-book before your 300 page novel or try to increase your income by 10% before aiming to double it.
    9. Find the Weak Link – Figure out what could ruin your plans and accomplish it first. Knowing the unknown can help you format your deadlines.
    10. No Robot Deadlines – Robots can work without sleep, relaxation or distractions. You aren’t a robot. Don’t schedule your deadline with the expectation you can work sixteen hour days to complete it. Deathmarches aren’t healthy.
    11. Get Feedback – Get a realistic picture from people working with you. Giving impossible deadlines to contractors or employees will only build resentment.
    12. Continuous Planning – If you use a backwards planning model, you need to constantly be updating plans to fit your deadline. This means making cuts, additions or refinements so the project will fit into the expected timeframe.
    13. Mark Excess Baggage – Identify areas of a task or project that will be ignored if time grows short. What e-mails will you have to delete if it takes too long to empty your inbox? What features will your product lack if you need a rapid finish?
    14. Review – For deadlines over a month long take a weekly review to track your progress. This will help you identify methods you can use to speed up work and help you plan more efficiently for the future.
    15. Find Shortcuts – Almost any task or project has shortcuts you can use to save time. Is there a premade library you can use instead of building your own functions? An autoresponder to answer similar e-mails? An expert you can call to help solve a problem?
    16. Churn then Polish – Set a strict deadline for basic completion and then set a more comfortable deadline to enhance and polish afterwards. Often churning out the basics of a task quickly will require no more polishing afterwards than doing it slowly.
    17. Reminders – Post reminders of your deadlines everywhere. Creating a sense of urgency with your deadlines is necessary to keep them from getting pushed aside by distractions.
    18. Forward Planning – Not mutually exclusive with backwards planning, this involves planning the details of a project out before setting a deadline. Great for achieving clarity about what you are trying to accomplish before making arbitrary time limits.
    19. Set a Timer – Get one that beeps. Somehow the countdown of a timer appears more realistic for a ninety minute timebox than just glancing at your clock.
    20. Write them Down – Any deadline over a few hours needs to be written down. Otherwise it is an inclination not a goal. Having written deadlines makes them more tangible than internal decisions alone.
    21. Cheap/Fast/Good – Ben Casnocha in My Start Up Life mentions that you can have only have two of the three. Pick two of the cheap/fast/good dimensions before starting a project to help you prioritize.
    22. Be Patient – Using a deadline may seem to be the complete opposite of patience. But being patient with inflexible tasks is necessary to focus on their completion. The paradox is that the more patient you are, the more you can focus. The more you can focus the quicker the results will come!

    Featured photo credit: Estée Janssens via unsplash.com

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