I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out the best way to stay focused and remain productive. We all know that doing what you love reverse engineers productivity. If you love what you do, you’ll obviously be more compelled to do it, rather than trying to place a productivity system on top of undesirable work.
But sometimes even that’s not enough. It’s easy to get sucked into the minutiae of life and lose focus. It’s easy to spend the majority of your time feeling productive, when most of what you’re doing won’t make a difference a week, a day or an hour from now. Some examples of this productivity illusion include:
- Spending inordinate amounts of time checking and responding to email.
- Organizing your desk for 3 hours a day.
- Detailing, updating, and maintaining calendars and to-do lists more than you actually work.
- Reading books, articles and blogs to learn and find inspiration, but not actually spending any time doing anything.
The Minutiae Vacuum
One of the most effective ways I’ve found to manage my time is to think about your work in terms of impact. By splitting your time up in between A, B and C tasks, it’s easier to get a handle on what is most important and how much time you’re spending spinning your wheels. A tasks are things that have a long term impact, 6 months to a year or more. B tasks are things that are important, but don’t have as much of a long term impact. They might range between 1-6 months. Finally, C level tasks are things that need to be done on a daily or weekly basis, but don’t have much of an impact outside of that time frame. So here’s the break down:
A – 50% or more of your day.
B – 30% of the day.
C – 20% of the day.
Now that we have a framework of where our time is spent most critically, the question is, how do we remain focused on the high-level, long term impact tasks? How do we keep ourselves out of the seemingly urgent, but unimportant vacuum?
The answer I’ve found to best remain focused on the important is vision maintenance. By spending time daily reflecting and meditating on what is most important to you, you can remain centered on meaningful and crucial work.
Daily vision maintenance can come in many forms:
- Meditating on your values, goals and aspirations.
- Sitting with a fresh cup of coffee or tea thinking about how you want to plan your day.
- Spending time thinking about your intentions, what you want and what it will take to get there.
- Journaling about how you feel about your current situation, what successes you’ve made, what you can learn from and what you can do differently to improve.
- Running, walking or exercise thinking about where you want to be in your life.
My favorite thing to do is meditate on my values and goals early in the morning. From time to time I also greatly benefit from writing an journal entry on my private blogger account. This is usually when I’m feeling considerably stuck in a certain area, or I feel like my life is not congruent with my values. I also get some of my best ideas while walking, so I try to keep a pad of paper and pen handy in my pocket.
I know this type of re-aligning and re-focusing myself internally is essential to staying on track and keeping focused on what’s important. But despite knowing this, I have a tendency to get caught up in the unimportant and the urgent. I’ll often rationalize to myself that spending my time doing things that will produce immediate tangible results is more important than taking the time to re-focus and evaluate. I think this is the biggest mental block we face in making the time to do vision maintenance. We think that doing something that produces results immediately trumps doing something that doesn’t manifest anything instantaneously.
In reality, this is the furthest thing from the truth. When I take the time to meditate and review my goals, to journals and reflect I’m twice as productive than when I’m simply reacting to whatever I feel is most productive at the time.
So in closing, I’d just like to share with you a photo of the place I like to meditate. I like to walk up the to Colorado Street Bridge and just clear my mind. There is an amazing view stretching out for about 20 miles covered in trees and growing things. Sometimes I’ll come up here when I’m looking for inspiration or when I’m stuck on the evolution of a particular idea. It helps me clear my mind and re-focus on what really matters: living.
Having a place where you meditate or reflect on your goals and dreams can really help you stay focused. It’s kind of a like a dream sanctuary.
Do you have trouble staying focused on what really matters? Do you find that it’s difficult to maintain your vision, or justify spending the time doing vision and reflection type work? Let’s start a discussion, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Jonathan is the author of the blog Illuminated Mind. He writes about finding Authenticity, Clarity and Balance in all aspects of living. His articles include Living Freestyle; Life Without a Template and The Cult of Productivity. You can subscribe to his blog here.
Image by DerrickT.