The 5 Most Effective Ways To Live In The Zone

The wise use of time is a learned skill. From the day I arrived at the U.S. Naval Academy, the demands on my time were fierce. I learned quickly that if I was going to survive and graduate I had to adapt to a demanding weekday schedule that started at 5:30 am and ended at midnight.

In the fleet, the demands increased even more. When I joined Pepsi after serving in the Navy, a whole new set of expectations and demands were placed on my time. My responsibilities included conducting contract negotiations, handling employee disputes, recruiting, facilitating training classes, and answering on average forty voice mails a day. Promotions always come with new demands, so with every step up in the company I took, my duties increased.

Well, there is no magic formula, but here are a few key principles that have helped me:

Principle 1: Practice finish-line thinking
Just as many people live paycheck to paycheck financially, they also approach life in general the same way: day to day. Successful people adopt finish-line thinking. They know what they want to accomplish, design a game plan to achieve it, and execute that plan to completion. Everything they do is geared toward reaching that goal. Before any of the other principles will help you, you need to map out how you’re going to move forward.

Principle 2: Remove the clutter from your mind
Both the desire to perform and the ability to achieve spring from sound mental health. A healthy mind is like a well-oiled machine. And the healthiest state of mind is driven by being present in the moment—or, as it is often called, being in the zone. The zone is that place of rarefied air where the mind is clear to focus only on the immediate moment. Athletes and coaches often speak of this realm where nothing interferes with their task. Everyone performs better when they can get in the zone. The determining factor is your ability to remove all the external influences and distractions from your mind and function solely through internal means.

Principle 3: Plan everything and write it all down
I have worked with many brilliant people over the years, and the ones who have distinguished themselves by finishing the job weren’t those who prided themselves on their memory and therefore refused to write things down. No, those who are successful are the ones who realize that they can’t remember everything. The adage that advises “the devil is in the details” is particularly applicable to successfully completing a project.

Principle 4: Get into a routine and stick to it
How often have you been unable to find something in your house? That used to happen to me all the time until I established the routine of putting things in the same place all the time. Likewise, I infuse as much routine into my workday as possible. For instance, rather than taking every phone call, I generally let incoming calls go into voice mail and then answer them at two intervals, once in the morning and once near the end of the day.

Principle 5: Move out of your comfort zone
You’ve likely heard that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Well, I became stronger real fast as a midshipman at the Naval Academy. In part, it was a matter of survival. But more importantly, for the first time in my life, I was pushed far beyond my comfort zone. And although it was painful at times, that plebe year at the Academy was instrumental in molding me into the person I am today. I have stretched my horizons and tried new things. Making the jump from the Navy to the corporate world also forced me to leave my comfort zone for an unknown fate. Many make the military a career because they love it, but some stay in it for the security of retirement it provides.

Reflection Questions
What does it mean to practice “finish-line thinking”? Do you practice that mental discipline or do you usually just wing it?

When have you felt that you were “in the zone”? What circumstances contributed to making that happen? What steps would help you get in the zone more often?

To what extent do you have a routine—and stick to it? How hard is it for you to stand your ground when professional pressures threaten your personal and family life?

Do you treat each event and person on your schedule as no less important than any other? How could you grow in that regard?

In what way(s) do you need to move out of your comfort zone? What step(s) will you take to do so?

Bob Ravener is an award-winning, highly accomplished senior business leader and U.S. Navy veteran, with over 25 years of corporate experience with such Fortune 200 companies as Dollar General, PepsiCo, Starbucks, and Home Depot.

Raised in an abusive, alcoholic and dysfunctional family with little money or possessions, Bob Ravener, in his just released book, Up! The Difference Between Today and Tomorrow is You, chronicles how he fought and overcame seemingly insurmountable odds in his personal and professional life. Up! The Difference Between Today and Tomorrow is You is available from

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Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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