We’ve all been there. You have a thousand action items running through your head, you can’t focus on the task at hand, or worse yet – you can’t even pick where to begin. Focus is key to get the most out of your work hours, but it’s easily lost without a system to maintain it.
Here are a few ways I stay on task and focused to maximize efficiency.
Learn from my ADD
I have extreme ADD, so this is a significant problem for me personally. By the time I finish typing this sentence, my mind will already be thinking about what I should write two sections later. You can only imagine what it’s been like to run 8 startups over the last 20 years.
To combat this, I’ve developed a system to streamline my focus and take advantage of a mind that constantly wanders.
Get it all out
To gain some cohesion and direction out of the chaos that is my mind, I start every morning the same way. I open up a blank Word document and type everything I can think of as quickly as possible until all of my thoughts are out. Once I can see each task and thought on a screen in front of me, I can begin to make sense of it all.
Getting ideas out of your head is the first step toward focusing on fewer things. Many items can’t be responded to immediately, they are just thoughts you want to collect and store for later. When I’m done with my mental dump of ideas, I highlight a few that I can take action on right away and put them into a little post-it note on my monitor.
Isolate one item
No matter how hard I try, my mind is still wandering throughout the day. I found that if I try to limit my “most important items” to a handful of items, I still struggle. Therefore, within that handful of items I pick just one item that I’m going to focus on, no matter how small.
Being productive isn’t about how much you can take on, it’s about how much you can get done. Therefore, I’d rather have one item that is absolutely going to get done than three items that I’m still working on.
I’ve found that if I don’t track my completed items, I lose sight of my progress altogether. Progress is the key to calibration. If I’m not adding things to my “done” list, my system is broken and I can tell I’m off course.
The “done” list is also critical to understanding whether my system works at all. If by the end of the week I only two items completed, chances are I need to refocus my time and effort. It’s so easy to get distracted throughout the week that unless I have a constant reminder that things aren’t getting done, I’m in bad shape.
Productivity is power
Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to work with lots of incredibly smart people in many different industries. What I’ve learned, however, is that very few people can distinguish being busy from being productive.
I believe that the key to increasing your abilities is to be militant about your productivity, and for me, that means having a system that constantly guides me toward real output every single day. And for someone that struggles to keep focus by the minute, this is no easy task!