Deepen Your Focus: Five Time Management Skills That Work
Much of the world’s workforce drowns itself daily in futile tasks. The top ones include neurotically checking and responding to emails and engaging with social media feeds. These actions can cause stressand lead to a loss in deep focus – the underlying theme of world-class time management.
Many talk about optimizing time, but most fail to execute a personalized strategy. To do so, you must first recognize the day-to-day threats that dramatically cut your productivity and create stress. Then, create daily rituals and routines that direct your attention towards productivity – whether you’re in the office or at home.
WRITTEN BY: Ron Lieback
Three principles must be understood before you can begin optimizing your time:
• Time management is not just about productivity, but intentional productivity.
• Time management is built upon daily rituals that turn into habits.
• Time management isn’t only about working hours, but also non-working hours.
Always begin with 80/20 thinking, a concept that is life-changing in both business and personal life. You want to achieve 80% of your positive results in 20% of your time. Prioritize tasks to focus on the ones that deliver the largest returns. Embed the following into your daily ritual and, in turn, create new routines. You’ll see productivity go up and stress go down.
1. Create distraction-free zones.
The top enemies of modern focus are email and social media. Social media is simple to control: keep notifications off and schedule a few periods a day to check social media on your leisure time. But stick to the time allocated for it; social media is technical quicksand, and it’s tough to get out. When deep focus is needed for a project, it’s wise to kill social media for long periods of time.
Email is a different beast, and harder to control – especially for those who work for managers who demand immediate answers. We all know much of these demands are futile, and the problem with immediate responses is that they are typically not thought through.
Depending on your work, everyone will have different schedules for when they must check email. I begin my mornings with at least two hours of zero email checking, unless I’m waiting on a signed proposal or something that feeds into my absolute top portions of 80/20 thinking. If I’m in a writing-intense day, such as third-party guest blogs or creating content strategies, I won’t check email until noon.
Typically, I check email three times a day: mid-morning, after lunch and before fleeing my office. A tip I learned from Chet Holmes, author of The Ultimate Sales Machine, is that if you open an email, you must respond. This is why you should also train those you communicate with to be super specific in their subject lines; you want to know if an email is worth your time at that moment.
David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, preaches a two-minute rule. If you can get something done, such as answering an email, in less than two minutes, do it. It’ll free up loads of anxiety later because not closing an open loop can drive our subconscious nuts.
Many of us forget to do the simplest thing that is a distraction-free zone must: Turn off all notifications on all devices. That goes for email, social media feeds and text messages.
2. Customize weekly and morning prep rituals.
Numerous time management masters such as Tony Robbins and Tim Ferriss speak about their morning rituals. I took some hints from them and customized my own. I take an hour every Monday morning, before checking emails or anything else, and prioritize the top tasks I need to do each weekday to reach that weekly tactic that supports my monthly goals.
Then each subsequent morning I take my first half-hour (again, before any emails are checked) and schedule my days (more on that below). I also have monthly prep rituals where I’ll take an hour or so ahead of the first of the month and make sure my monthly goals are aligned with my yearly vision, and realign if necessary.
3. Block daily time.
My first task every morning, unless I’m completing a creative project that needs ultimate fresh focus, is blocking time throughout my day. I prioritize important tasks first when I have the most energy and focus.
I try to tackle a maximum of three priority items daily, and I find that after 90 minutes my mind starts to lose focus. I typically chunk my time in 90-minute segments per project, although when intensely writing, I can sometimes go three hours without losing focus. Do what works for you. Try physically writing in a traditional planner — this little act does wonders for directed focus.
In the book Execution, authors Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan discuss “emotional fortitude,” something that allows leaders to be honest with themselves and have the courage to deal with conflict. Part of this is having the courage to express intentions (“I don’t immediately reply to emails”) and learning to say no to futile projects or in-the-moment tasks.
As a head of content within corporate settings and agencies, I dealt with this daily. Many people expect a quick tagline or email subject line within a minute, but most of what’s created in that second is garbage. These in-the-moment asks add stress and kill focus.
5. Schedule mandatory downtime.
Prioritize the most enjoyable tasks that will get your mind totally off work. My Wednesday nights are reserved exclusively for my favorite activities, from motorcycle riding to drinking wine and reading fiction. I also keep the phone away, as I’ve learned to do every Sunday. Downtime is vital to not burning out and keeping the mind and body fresh and energetic.
These five tactics are simple but effective. The overall goal is to deepen focus, which allows you to do more in less time. This all leads to less stress and more success, something many can use in both our personal and business lives.Founder/CEO of ContentMender, an SEO-Driven Content Marketing agency.