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See How Easily You Can Minimize Distractions and Maximize Efficiency

See How Easily You Can Minimize Distractions and Maximize Efficiency

If you maximize efficiency, you will provide more value to yourself and others. You will meet goals faster and more consistently. You will live a fuller life, whether that means increasing your wealth, leisure time, or time with family. Fortunately, you can max out your efficiency, or “get in the zone,” by following three simple rules: establish a conducive environment, pursue intentional focus, and eliminate inevitable distractions. These key actions direct your focus to the task at hand and minimize attention to distractions.

I teach and lecture at a major university, write scholarly articles and computer programs, and take PhD. level classes. That is just my “day job.” At night, I like to spend time with my wife and our families, read, write for my blog, and participate in outdoor activities. Just like you, I have big dreams and must work efficiently to meet my goals. But I don’t have the will power to relentlessly work long, mind-numbing days. Perhaps you don’t either. If I want to meet my goals, I must work efficiently.

I haven’t always realized this—it’s actually a new insight for me. In the past, I believed the nonsense about “putting in the hours.” The standard advice goes something like this: “Write down all that you need to do and then do it!” This is most unhelpful because I can’t do that. I am too easily distracted.

I realized that to-do lists, while they have their place, are not the key to efficient production. Instead, I simply needed to annihilate the enemy of productivity: distractions. I knew that if I eliminated distractions, then I would achieve my goals and have more time to pursue other interests.

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Since this insight, I’ve reduced that idea of annihilating distractions to three simple keys. If you do these things, then you’ll maximize efficiency.

Establish an Environment that Is Conducive to Productivity

First, you must establish an environment that is conducive to productivity by removing potential distractions. This means that your desk must have nothing except what you need, including your desk drawers and computer desktop. Any unnecessary item in your work area makes you less efficient. It can physically, mentally, and emotionally hamper your productivity. You have to move the book you don’t need to make room for a needed document. The unfinished spreadsheet on your computer desktop distracts your attention and you need a few seconds to re-establish your momentum. Your cluttered desk drawer makes it harder for you to find what you need and adds more stress to your morning.

Decluttering your workspace is simple. Simply take everything in, on, and around your desk, put it into a huge pile, and put back only the things required for your daily tasks. Throw away everything else or store it somewhere else. It’s that simple.

Application: My desk has a computer, lamp, and whatever I’m working on at that moment. That’s it. I also keep my computer desktop uncluttered. I have no permanent icons on my desktop. When I start working on a particular project, I create shortcut icons to the important files and add these to the desktop. When I am done, I delete them. My desk drawer contains only the supplies that I need on a normal work day (pen, highlighter, labeler, stapler, paper clips, alligator clips, and rubber bands). I keep a legal pad and “collection” basket on a shelf below the desk and out of sight. My waste basket sits beside my desk.

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Remove the clutter from your workspace. This frees your mind, allowing you to be more creative and productive by eliminating many potential distractions before your work even begins.

Achieving an Intentional Focus

Focus rarely appears unexpectedly. Instead, it is intentional. You can achieve focus through a willful effort, but only for a limited time. Fortunately, the “limited time” is enough.

Parkinson’s Law tells us that “work expands to fill the time available for its completion.” This law is a consequence of distractions, which continuously steal value from our lives. What could have been two hours writing a blog post and two hours playing Frisbee with my wife turns into four hours of blogging. You must intentionally counteract this tendency.

Contrary to some who recommend strict deadlines for work (i.e. I’ll stop working on this project at 3 p.m.), I recommend working on projects for as long as you like, but working intensely. This gives you needed flexibility to make intuitive judgments about your time as the work moves forward but eliminates feet-dragging. Working in short intense bursts and taking frequent breaks, known as “pulsing,” allows to work efficiently while maintaining your mental energy. You must defeat Parkinson’s law not through strict deadlines but by working intensely or not at all. Commit yourself to working intensely for a manageable period of time, taking a brief break, and then starting over.

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Application: I use the Pomodora technique, working 25 minutes, taking a five minute break, and then repeating. During my short break, I might get a drink of water, check my e-mail or Twitter feed, or step outside. I only have five minutes, so I don’t worry about these activities getting out of hand. These breaks are refreshing and allow me to start another 25 minute session with a renewed focus. I use the Tomate Timer for Ubuntu to manage my sessions; CherryTomato timer is available for Windows and Mac. But it doesn’t matter what software you use, just find a system that works for you.

While working, make sure that you maximize your focus by working in intense, short sessions with deliberate breaks. This leads to tremendous efficiency, gives you more time to pursue other interests, and adds value to your life and others’.

Develop a System for Dealing with Inevitable Distractions

Despite your efforts to build a distraction-free workspace and work in short, focused sessions, distractions appear that you must deal with. You think of an idea for another project or someone interrupts with a bit of important information. You must collect this information for later, but in a way that does not disrupt your current efficiency. I find the collection system proposed by David Allen helpful for this.

When an important distraction appears, you must get that information off your mind quickly, but ensure you deal with it later. I quickly jot down these distractions and toss them into the collection basket that sits on a shelf under my desk. I go through my collection basket a couple of time each day, reliably, efficiently, and deliberately addressing these potentially disruptive distractions.

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Application: While writing this blog post, a couple of other good ideas came to mind. I simply jotted those ideas down and tossed them into my collection basket under my desk. Since then, I’ve added them as post ideas in my Nevernote software. Because I put the ideas into a system that I trusted, I freed my mind to continue working on the current task without trying to remember it for later or taking care of it now.

Distractions are inevitable. You must build a system that allows you to quickly continue your current work session, but ensures the information is stored and used later. A simple collection basket allows you to do this.

You Can Maximize Efficiency and Offer More Value to Yourself and Others.

You can and should work more efficiently. You deserve more than dragging your feet for eight hours every day. Fortunately, efficient work doesn’t require super-human willpower. It simply requires setting yourself up for success. You must take three steps to maximize your efficiency. No step is difficult, but all require deliberate action. First, you must remove potential distractions from your workspace. You need to deal with these distractions before they slow you down. Second, you must work in intense bursts. If you don’t, your work expands to fill the available space, infringing on time for family, leisure, and entrepreneurial side projects. Finally, you must plan for dealing with the unavoidable distractions that might disrupt your otherwise productive sessions. Quickly jotting down the information and tossing it into a collection basket allows you to get back on track while trusting that you’ll take the necessary actions later. Take these steps, maximize your efficiency, and create relentless value.

What do you think? Have I missed any important keys? How have you implemented these ideas? How else do you maximize efficiency?

Featured photo credit:  chess via Shutterstock

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Last Updated on April 6, 2020

13 Work Life Balance Tips for a Happy and Productive Life

13 Work Life Balance Tips for a Happy and Productive Life

Achieving work-life balance can be really tough. More and more people are reporting that managing their personal and professional lives has become more difficult.

Longer working hours, more pressure to get things done quickly, more pressure to succeed and less personal time. Added together this combination of things creates more stress and plenty of daily struggles.

But working longer and harder doesn’t mean achieving more, especially if you have no time to spend with the people that matter most.

“I believe that being successful means having a balance of success stories across the many areas of your life. You can’t truly be considered successful in your business life if your home life is in shambles” — Zig Ziglar

The quality of who you are as a person, the relationships you have, the time you spend in work, deciding on what matters most is completely within your control.

Here are 13 work life balance tips you can implement right now to start living a more stress free life:

1. Take More Rejuvenation Days

When was the last time you took some time out from work to completely rejuvenate?

One of the best ways to create an environment for future high productivity and creativity is to take yourself outside of the day to day and remove yourself completely from work-related activities.

By taking time out for yourself, you will gain clarity on what’s most important, both now and in the future, and you will come back refreshed, energized and motivated. By taking more rejuvenation days, you are investing in yourself which naturally means you are creating more balance.

If you can take this day to yourself every month or two you will start seeing immediate results on all levels of your business and life.

Now get your calendar out and mark down your rejuvenation days!

2. Let Go of Fear

Many people, be they entrepreneurs, business owners, leaders or managers worry that if they’re not working, or seen to be working every day, they may miss out on something important. The business may fail or they may not get that promotion or something. There’s always something. There is a sense that something bad could happen if not enough time was invested or “I could always be working on something else”.

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But, what if you believed you were good enough, you were achieving and doing something meaningful, and that you mattered?

Once you have that belief and confidence, you can let go of the fear that there is ‘always more’. You will feel more joyful, productive, abundant and know that what you accomplished was good enough.

This guide will help you get over your most irrational fears: How to Overcome Your Irrational Fears (That Stop You from Succeeding)

3. Prioritize Your Day

If you took a step back and looked at what’s on your to-do list, how many things are critical? How many things MUST be done that day?

It all starts with a clear understanding of what your bigger and better future looks like. Are you planning a year ahead? Three years? Ten years? What are you working to achieve?

Once you understand that, you can work back and create plans and goals that help you achieve your bigger objectives.

You may build 90 day outcome goals, the things you really want to achieve in the next quarter and then lay out the process for getting there. From this plan you will understand your priorities and where your focused time should be.

Don’t have 10 things on your list to complete that day. Focus on achieving just 3 or 5 important things every day. Achieve them and your motivation will go through the roof. Have too many and don’t complete them and your energy levels will drop.

Lifehack’s CEO Leon has his unique way on how to prioritize: How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

4. Express Gratitude for What You Have

Sometimes we are so busy working through and dealing with the day to day and having our mind in the future that we forget about the here and now, this present moment. I believe it’s essential to include proactive gratitude as part of everyday life, to actually look at everything in our lives and appreciate what we have.

Many of us think of gratitude as reacting. Something happens or someone does something and you feel grateful. You say thank you, maybe send an email.

But a far more proactive strategy for creating and living an abundant life is to actively find things you appreciate. This affects your own personal state of mind but also impacts others. You could send a handwritten card to the people you love or someone that means a lot to you.

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Try giving thanks for three things at the end of every day and see how this shifts your mood and mind-set.

5. Learn to Say No

It’s important to decide what you want to do, who you want to build relationships with and where you want to spend your time. We have so many requests made of us and so many opportunities to do different things that we end up saying yes to things that we really don’t want to do but feel we should do.

Have the self-respect, confidence and courage to live life on your own terms and say yes only to the things that really matter. For everything else, start saying no.

When you are clear on who matters most and what matters most, you gain clarity on what and who is essential and who isn’t.

Your time is scarce. When you start saying no to most things, you will become more focused and be completely present in everything you’ve said yes to.

Leo Babauta has this guide on how to say no: The Gentle Art of Saying No

6. Have More Fun

If you looked back at the last week, how much time did you spend just having fun? If it wasn’t much, then it’s time to change things up.

Think about what gets you excited, think about the people you love spending time with. Jump into new things and new relationships. Take some risks, try something new, learn a new skill and start laying the groundwork for a big project you’ve always been putting off.

If you need to get out of your comfort zone to have more fun, just do it. However, you want to change your life, having more fun keeps you energized and motivated.

7. Start to Journal

One of the biggest things that has helped me in my own personal growth and goal achievement is using my journal every day.

This is the place to house my dreams. It is home to my creative thoughts and my thinking tools. It’s a place to escape to. It’s also a place to write down thoughts and notes on where I am right now — my thinking, my mind-set and my belief system.

The habit of writing in my journal felt like a small step but has been transformative. It has become a routine that has affected other parts of my life.

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So, start keeping a journal. Commit to writing every day, even if it’s just for five minutes and see where your imagination takes you.

Here’re some tips to kickstart journaling: Writing Journal for a Better and More Productive Self (The How-To Guide)

8. Create One Hour a Day to Think and Relax

It’s amazing what we actually have time for, especially when we decide to really make time. I hear the phrase “I don’t have time” constantly. How about you change that mind-set and start dedicating one hour a day to yourself?

One hour to work on yourself. One hour for reading. One hour to learn a new skill.

The truth is we can all find time if it’s important to us. This one hour a day could help us become more creative and increase your energy and focus. Plus, you’ll increase your capabilities.

9. Do One Thing You Love to Do Every Day

As we get sucked into the whirlwind of the everyday, it’s all we can do just to get by. We often forget to do or enjoy the things that actually bring us the biggest amount of joy.

One of the best ways to bring more balance back into your life is to recommit to do the things that give you the most pleasure. If you don’t have anything, I suggest you find something you’re passionate about. This could be reading, walking, meditating, learning an instrument or a language, or becoming a better cook or gardener.

It doesn’t matter what it is as long as you get joy from the experience. Try carving out time every day to do this one thing. Do it for 30 days and it will become a habit. Plus, it will help you reconnect with what you really care about.

10. Create More Family Time

This is an area that means a lot to me and was one of the reasons I set up my coaching business in the first place.

I have two young children and I wanted to see more of them and to spend more time with my family. I get to take them to school sometimes and am often home for ‘family dinner’ and bedtime stories. Having the freedom to do this is essential in how I run my business and how I help other entrepreneurs run their business.

If you can create a bit of space to spend more time with the people that matter you will see a massive difference. Here’s a guide on How to Maximize Family Time with plenty of ways you can try immediately.

11. Set Clear Goals

Successful people are always guided by a vision of their future. To keep them on course and motivated setting clear goals, both long-term and short-term, allows them to achieve their biggest dreams.

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Setting specific and measurable goals gives you the best chance to transform how you work and live. They help you move forward and build momentum every single day. As Dan Sullivan says,

“Your future is your property. If you don’t take ownership of it, others will be happy to do it for you.”

Learn how to set clear goals with this step-by-step guide: How to Use SMART Goal to Become Highly Successful in Life

12. Focus on Results, Not Time Spent

Rather than thinking about working harder, focus your time and energy on achieving bigger results. By simplifying your areas of focus, you free up more time to live a more joyful and balanced life.

It’s really easy to fall into the trap of doing countless activities that drain your energy and take you away from building momentum in moving your business forward. You are being pulled in multiple directions and don’t have enough time and often take on too many projects. This can often leave you drained, worried and uncommunicative at the end of the day.

Remember, getting more things done means nothing when nothing great is done.

By focusing on a smaller number of projects and delivering maximum impact, you have a bigger sense of achievement, confidence and motivation. Plus, you may have more time to stop work early and spend time with the people that matter.

13. Commit to a Bigger Future

You have the power and control to decide what bigger and better future you want for yourself right now, in this present moment. How far into the future you want to ‘vision’ is up to you. It could be 3 years, 5 years, 10 years or 25 years. This future is yours to create but, it only comes from investing time now to think about where you are and where you want to go.

Try this: Look into your ‘future you’ and be clear where you want to go, who you want to be and how you want to live your life. Then, bring yourself back to the present day and create an action plan on how you’re going to create and ‘walk to’ this bigger future.

You will feel a higher sense of energy, engagement, motivation, creativity and productivity because you have a clear vision and clarity on exactly where you want to go and the steps you need to take to get there.

This article can help you do that: The Best Way to Create a Vision For the Life You Want

The Bottom Line

Some of these strategies and tips will allow you to think differently and work differently immediately, whilst others will take a little longer to implement but will be key to your long-term success.

Creating a balance between how you think, how you work and how you spend your time is essential to your long-term health and mental wellbeing. The desire to create that change only comes from within. Hopefully these strategies and tips will set you on the right path!

More Work Life Balance Tips

Featured photo credit: Stocksnap via stocksnap.io

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