pablo-46

First understand the do-or-die importance of focus.

“If you don’t learn to focus, you will have a shallow and unrewarding life without any meaningful achievements.” Derek Sivers 

That is worth repeating.

“A shallow and unrewarding life.”

That’s bad.

You Need to Learn to Focus

So make it a priority.

Yes it’s hard.  The world is designed to distract you.  Facebook is a research laboratory focussed on human distraction.  They invest billions and are excellent at their work.  When facebook slip up, hard on their tails come Apple, apps, youtube, caffeine, bored friends, problematic neighbours and general office bullshit.

Apps are designed to be as addictive as possible.

Assume you are dealing with crack cocaine.  If you can see it, you will use it.  If you can hear it, you will use it.  Willpower is not going to get you through this.

There are many reasons why we delay work.  I think the most insidious is that I have a belief that the person I will be in future will be better than the person who I am today.  I have a consistent inner belief that I will be smarter, better, faster in the future.  The work that is hard today will somehow become easier for the better future me.  But, what if’s not?  I will only be better in future if I do the hard work of pushing through distractions today.

Who is Good at Focus?

I have spent a lot of time interviewing high performance athletes. My goal was to understand their motivations, how they train, how they prepare mentally, and how they face anxiety.  These successful athletes have an ability to focus on the one next step and, in the words of Nike, Just do it!

Josef Ajram, one of Spain’s top endurance athletes, tells himself “I will run another 15 minutes. Come on. Anyone can run another 15 minutes.”  In Josef Ajram’s words, he has completed the Marathon de Sables – 243km across the Sahara desert in 6 days – by only ever allowing himself to think about the next 15 minutes.

How to Learn Focus?

Simple, noisy timer

Use The Pomodoro* Method.

Here are my simplified instructions for following the Pomodoro method.

Ingredients:

Instructions:

  1. Pick a specific project you would like to work on.  For example “Write a blog post on focus”.
  2. Set a timer for 20 minutes
  3. Work only on this project until the timer stops.  Stop completely no matter where you are when you hear the timer.  Mid sentence is excellent (it makes it easier to re-start this work later).
  4. Repeat.

Count how many timers you can complete in a day.  I bet you will not complete one single complete timer the first day you begin this habit.  I didn’t.

Some clarifications…

*Any interruption*, you must reset the timer to 20 minutes.

If you need a drink of water, go get the water, then reset the timer.

If you need the bathroom, go, then reset the timer.

If you must check wikipedia to find out a fact, check wikipedia, then reset the timer.  (better… resist the need to check facts now, and use a future timer to work on the project “research focus and collect sources”)

If you must respond to a phone alert, respond, reset the timer.

I think you get the idea.  Only by working on 1, and only 1 project for the full 20 minutes = you get to count it as 1 timer.

* You can find the original Pomodoro Method described here: Pomodoro Method.

This week’s Rhetorical Journey video is all about the Ability to Focus

If you are viewing this via email, watch the video on the blog here: the Ability to Focus

Inspired by Derek Sivers..

This was inspired by Derek Sivers in his frequently asked questions.  I recommend a quick read.  It is lots of content in a short bullet point list.

Derek on focus: He shares 3 further tips for improving your focus…

  1. Read the book “Deep Work”.
  2. Read “Trying to pursue many different directions at once?”.
  3. Practice meditation.  Maria Popova of BrainPickings listens to this guided meditation by Tara Brach every morning…

Tara Brach Guided Meditation

Gratitude

Personally, this video about Gratitude is one of my favourite ways to Meditate for a few minutes.  If you are reading via email, check out the video on the blog here: Nature, Beauty, Gratitude.

How many Pomodoro timers can you do today?  Reply in the comments if you get 1 full timer done today!

If you liked this post, you will also like Focus and The Urgent and the Important.

Do you plan your days, or do your days run as a reaction to what pops up?  In Washington DC, one of our EO leaders at the EO Leadership Academy was Christoph Magnussen – here in this he shares a tip we learnt about how to take control of your day.

This is a lesson that was shared with the group by Warren Rustand.  Warren Rustand was a White House scholar back in the 1970s and spent 4 years as the appointments secretary to President Gerald Ford.  This meant that for 4 years, he controlled how President Ford spent his time.

How does the US President Plan his Days?

If you are reading this via email, the video is here: How does the US President plan his days? 

Do your days reflect your highest priorities?  Do you plan how you want to spend your time?

Yesterday I shared an interview with Christoph Magnussen reviewing lessons from #EOLA16.

screen-shot-2016-12-12-at-23-02-34Here’s another smidgin of wisdom from Entrepreneurs’ Organisation Leadership Academy 2016.  In this video, Rich Mulholland, an entrepreneur from South Africa shares his reflections on two key moments during the leadership academy:  A re-enactment of the Martin Luther King “I Have a Dream” speech, and a session with Warren Rustand speaking about his time as Appointments Secretary to President Gerald Ford.

Rich’s message: Take control of your time.

I love Rich’s idea about protecting your time in the short term:  If someone asks him for a meeting, he says “If you want to meet today or tomorrow, I can give you 15 minutes; if you want to meet next week, I can give you 30 minutes… if you can wait 2 weeks, I can give you an hour” – Most people say “I’ll take 15 minutes” and he can hold them to it when the clock ticks to 15 because they chose 15.

If you are seeing this by email, here is the video: Rich Mulholland: Take your Time

If you liked this post, you will also like Becoming Strategically Unavailable and Jedi Productivity #4: Obi Wan’s Guide to Saying “No”.

I have learned 3 things about getting good work done:

There is no magic app:  My lack of productivity was never down to a missing app, or not implementing Dave Allen’s GTD system correctly, or not having the right colour pens and post-it notes.  I have everything I need to be productive with a keyboard and a text editor (I write).

Willpower is weak:  I have good willpower days (few) and bad willpower days (many).  Willpower depends on a good nights sleep, an absence of urgent messes to deal with, nobody letting me down and the Irish rugby team delivering a stunning performance.  These days are rare, and the likely self-flagellation and frustration from feeling like I am an especially lazy human being are very painful.  Willpower doesn’t work over the long term.

Triggers matter:  Instead of storing my good intentions inside my head, I write them down and put them around me.  Instead of waiting for motivation, I have a list of people to call who will leave me inspired after 5 minutes of conversation.  Instead of rethinking every day why I do this, I have a 1 page description of why my work matters.  I write blog posts when I see my blog window open.  I write in my notebook when I see it with a pen next to it on my desk.

I wrote a long series of posts on Productivity back in early 2014, with a tongue-in-cheek inspiration from my favourite childhood movie.  Here’s the full list of posts.

Published Jedi Productivity Posts

  1. Jedi Productivity Presentation
  2. Jedi Productivity 11 of 11: We need you. The Jedi must Prevail over the Evil Empire and why you matter
  3. Jedi Productivity 10 of 11: ”Luke! you switched off your targeting computer!” making time for yourself
  4. Jedi Productivity 9 of 11: Yoda’s first rule: Do or do not, there is no try
  5. Jedi Productivity 8 of 11: How the Death Star commander runs his Hyper-effective Meetings
  6. Jedi Productivity 7 of 11: R2D2, C3PO and the Power of Delegation
  7. Jedi Productivity 6 of 11: “Use the phone Luke…” Master the telephone
  8. Jedi Productivity 5 of 11: Han Solo’s guide to Getting on top of the Email Inbox (a.k.a. Jabba the Hutt)
  9. Jedi Productivity 4 of 11: Obi-Wan’s guide to say “No”, (these are not the droids you are looking for…)
  10. Jedi Productivity 3 of 11: Deal with Darth Vader’s Evil “Urgent” Interruptions
  11. Jedi Productivity 2 of 11: The Emperor’s guide to Goal Setting and the 20 Mile March (LT, ST, habits)
  12. Jedi Productivity 1 of 11: Obi-Wan says “Be Systematic” if you want Productivity (and balance)

 

“Inbox zero?”

I haven’t seen anything near zero for a decade.

I think email is a hugely useful tool, and also a massive black hole that can suck up my time and energy.  I haven’t tried to manage email for the last few years on the view that almost nothing of great value ever arrives or is achieved purely through email.  Anything important for me is achieved by getting face to face with the key person.

I have found a simple email idea that is working for me.  It is not complex – which was often the failure of the “Getting Things Done” type systems for me.  I think if I already had the systematic disciplines that you need to follow the process, then I wouldn’t need the getting things done system anyway.  I am not organised.  I never have been.  It takes enormous effort on my part to keep things tidy.

Ari Miesel shared this one simple idea for email management that I have been using successfully now for 2 weeks.

The Optional Folder

I have 1 new folder – called the “Optional” folder. I have some rules that automatically move new email to this folder if they contain anything similar to the word “unsubscribe”.

Here are the actual rules that my Apple Mail program uses to move email into the optional folder:

Basically anything that has the word “unsubscribe” anywhere in the email is probably a newsletter, an offer or something that is not urgent.  In my own case I have various versions of unsubscribe in spanish and english and have been tweaking these rules so that today the only emails that remain in my inbox are ones that are sent to me from a specific individual. It allows me to focus on the emails that do really need my attention.

I often do a scan through the optional folder, but with an open, curious mind that is not stressed by the thought that an email might be important and require my full attention.

Thanks to Ari!

https://instagram.com/p/3_w8G8wSBr/ Ari Miesel describes the plan here on his blog.  Ari is on a mission to be efficient with our time.  Check out Ari’s TEDx talk for more.  I met Ari when I was at the Growth Summit Europe for my annual dose of inspiration, wise ideas and reflection at IESE Business School a couple of weeks ago.

Do you have any email tips that are 1) extremely simple and b) help you focus on the important emails?  I would love your thoughts in the comments.

First, you may ask, what is “Strategic Unavailability” anyway?

What is Strategic Unavailability?

If you say “yes” to every request for your time, money or attention you will have none for the areas that are your own personal priority.  If you want to achieve success, you must retain most of your resources and dedicate them to one to three areas of your choosing.  Thus, you must learn to say “No”.

Saying “No” is hard.  It also has several negative consequences in polite society.

Far better than the use of the word “No” is the use of a series of tactics that come under the general concept “Strategic Unavailability”.

At the very simplest, the idea is to avoid being there when someone might make a request that will take away your time, money or attention.  The key is to retain “plausible deniability” during your use of the tactic.  Some tactics require greater acting capacity than others.  Beginners would be best avoiding these high acting requirement tactics.

The aim is to keep time for the important 1, 2 or 3 priorities that you have decided for yourself in your profession.  It is a total waste if you use the freed-up time to watch CSI Las Vegas or re-runs of Downton Abbey.

Some simple ideas for achieving “strategic unavailability”

  1. Go to the toilet when you know someone is approaching your desk
  2. Work from coffee shops, other people’s offices or meeting rooms during dangerous periods
  3. Return phone calls when you can see that the person is away from their desk (go to voicemail)
  4. Return phone calls after work hours
  5. Delay email responses until tomorrow morning (you can write them today, but don’t let them leave your outbox until tomorrow morning)
  6. Receive an important phone call just as a meeting is reaching the moment where actions will be assigned to people (either phone a friend style, or develop your acting abilities)
  7. Use an old iPhone that regularly runs out of battery (this is a highly plausible tactic, mine is down to about 2 hours of battery)
  8. Always ensure that you are involved in at least 3 projects, and demonstrate massive productivity in the first week of exposure to any new manager or colleague.
  9. “Forget” to switch off the direct to voicemail setting on your phone
  10. Tell your colleagues/team that you have an open-door for them – but that you request that they batch their problems into groups of 10…  they can’t interrupt you unless they have accumulated 10 specific issues that they cannot address without your input (usually #1 gets resolved before they get to #5…)
  11. Regularly ask “what could you do to move this forward that does not require anybody’s approval?”
  12. Work with headphones in (whether you are listening to music or not, this also works on airplanes when your neighbour aims to talk for 14 hours)
  13. Keep a charity box on your desk and ask for donations whenever anybody approaches (if you have kids, then ask visitors to your desk to sponsor your kid in a race or something).  Bonus edition is to have stickers so that when one person donates, you give them a sticker and then they let others know to avoid your desk unless you wish to donate.
  14. Cultivate a freakish interest in Star Wars, or World Wrestling Foundation, or ancient Greek philosophy, or NLP, or furniture upholstery and engage all visitors in a deep discussion about the merits of your hobby.  Freaky hobbies with a plausible connection to your work are ideal.
  15. When asked if you are available to meet, say “yes, I am free this Friday at 6:00am” – puts off all but the most keen time thieves.  You will very rarely have to do it.
  16. Bring a regional speciality food to work – I recommend any Icelanders to use “rotting shark meat in vinegar” – and request that anyone who comes to your desk try it.
  17. Have a large audio recorder device and make a big show of switching it on when anyone comes to interrupt you – tell them that you are on a personal efficiency drive and are making a detailed study of all your interactions and all requests
  18. Cultivate a mysterious illness with unclear symptoms
  19. Remove all other chairs from your office (this made a massive improvement on my meeting time when I was running an airline); another variant is really uncomfortable chairs (especially very low seats)
  20. Eat a rich curry or garlic dish for lunch in your office
  21. Keep saying “that would make a great tweet!” and write down some banal saying from the other person

Advanced Strategic Unavailability

I need your help.  What else works for you?

PS You better be very good at establishing a great reputation before you engage seriously in these tactics.  If you are not viewed as a strong performer, if you are not delivering measurable results and if you are not gaining good exposure to senior influencers – fix that first (check out The PIE Model).  These tactics only work if you are perceived as an “A” player

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Aristotle

Show me your daily habits and I can describe your future.

Discover the habits of successful people as opposed to the habits of unsuccessful people in the infographic created by SuccessStory.com.

Habits of Successful People vs Unsuccessful People
HabitsofUnsuccessfulPeopleVsSuccessfulPeople_54506f39ea205_w1500

How’s your daily habit checklist?

I know plenty of financial advisors who would love to spend a few hours reviewing my investments, cash position, investment goals and helping me make a realistic plan.

I know how much I spent on food, travel, housing, school in the last month, year and if I did the sums I could calculate a rough lifetime spend.

Money.

You can always earn more money.

Organisations spend small fortunes developing capital expenditure budgets and operational budgets and auditing the cash of the business.

My time, in contrast, goes un-managed. Most organisations have no systematic procedure to eliminate time wasters. They place clear objectives for the use of every dollar, but no barriers on the expenditure of another hour.

My first girlfriend used to tell me that time is like money but with one major difference – at the end of every day, everything you have left unspent is taken away from you. Imagine if you started every day with €240 and you knew that at midnight, any left unspent will be taken away.

Imagine Managing Time Like Companies Budget Capital

Imagine if every month, instead of receiving a bank statement, I received a time-statement: a detailed breakdown of where my hours have been put, how many were invested and how many just dripped through the cracks.

Would it change how I spend my time? Would it reduce facebook and increase playing with my daughter? Would it reduce email and increase face-to-face meetings? How would the measurement change me?

I have been writing this month for the Lifehack blog.  They have published 4 of my blog posts so far.  It’s challenging and helpful to get pushed to improve my ability to explain my ideas, work with editors and pitch story ideas 😉

6 Item Checklist for Running Impressive Meetings

Screen Shot 2014-10-26 at 11.48.47Our first board meeting was chaos. There was a paper agenda, but I failed to keep people focussed on the agreed discussions. Each board member would throw their own opinion in for every small point. We spent almost 4 hours sucked into petty administrative details. It was tiring. Over the next 2 years, I learnt how to run meetings that get volunteers engaged, proud, active and delivering big results. What works for volunteers also works for corporates, universities and professional associations.

Read the 6 Item Checklist for Running Impressive Meetings

Richard Hamming’s 14 Lessons for Success (as a Scientist)

Screen Shot 2014-10-26 at 11.48.36Before we dive into Richard’s wisdom, let me give my 20,000 mile high summary: If you want to live a life that matters, it is necessary to do something outstanding, otherwise it will all be taken away from you. This talk is not a talk about living a happy life, nor a helpful life. Richard himself says: “I am really trying to get you to think about doing significant things…”

Read Richard Hamming’s 14 Lessons for Success (as a Scientist)

3 Reasons why Work Life Balance is a Stupid Ideal

Screen Shot 2014-10-26 at 11.48.11Balance is an ideal. It doesn’t exist. When we are walking, we aren’t in balance. We fall to the left, we fall to the right.  When we are running, we aren’t in balance.  We fall to the left, we fall to the right.  When we are cycling, we aren’t in balance… I think I’ve labored the point.

All natural forward progress by humans comes from imbalance.

Read 3 Reasons why Work Life Balance is a Stupid Ideal

Procrastination, Schmastination: 3 Power Tools to Get Things Done

Screen Shot 2014-10-26 at 11.47.57My entire life can be divided into 3 phases.
Blissful Avoidance; Lucky, and Avoiding Responsibility; and Realisation
I know what an unproductive day looks like. I can recognise the features of a zero day. What’s the opposite? What is a productive day? What’s in a ‘Get Things Done’ day?

Read Procrastination, Schmastination: 3 Power Tools to Get Things Done

Stop Doing Stuff that Doesn’t Serve

168 hours in a week.  24 hours in a day.  I haven’t done the math to work out how many in a year or a lifetime, but however large the number, it is still finite.  It is limited.  We get so much, and no more.  This leaves you with a choice.  My friend Verne Harnish is fond of saying “we can do anything we want, but not everything”.  He is in great company:

  • “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.” Warren Buffett
  • “What you don’t do determines what you can do.” Tim Ferriss, author of the best-seller ‘The 4-Hour Workweek’
  • “Prioritization is as much about what we choose not to do as what we do.” Jonathan Becher, Chief Marketing Officer at SAP

Creating Your Not-To-Do List

My own notebook right now
My own notebook right now

You already have a to-do list (Come on, you are reading this blog…  you must have a list somewhere in front of you?)  It may not be enough.  In my workshops I ask people to create a do more and do less page.  Big sheet of paper, top of the left side write: “Do More” and top of the right side write: “Do Less”.  What tends to go on “do less”?  TV, facebook, attending meetings with no agenda.  What tends to go on “do more”?  Lots of great stuff.  It is a powerful exercise.

Tim Ferriss argues that there are 9 habits we must eliminate to free up time for more important activities:

  1. Do not answer phone calls from people you don’t know
  2. Do not e-mail first thing in the morning or last thing at night
  3. Do not agree to meetings or calls with no clear agenda or end time
  4. Do not let people ramble: “Small talk takes up big time.”
  5. Do not check email constantly
  6. Do not over-communicate with low profit, high maintenance customers
  7. Do not work more to fix being too busy
  8. Do not carry a cellphone or Crackberry 24/7
  9. Do not expect work to fill a void that non-work relationships and activities should

Check out the original list by Tim here.

What’s on your “Do Less” list?  Any clear “Do More” ideas?