How do I know that I’m focussing on the right stuff? This is a challenge that all of us face – in our personal as well as our professional lives. Indeed, in our increasingly connected world that continues to blur the boundaries between work and home, and in which there are an overwhelming number of digital and physical interrupts/distractions, this question becomes really important to be able to answer with clarity. But most of us are so busy being busy that we can’t separate the important from distractions, or the important from the important to me.
We only have 24 hours in the day and we can’t change that (hence why I feel Time Management is a bit of unachievable concept). But we can make conscious selections on what we choose to focus our energy and attention upon. There are several popular approaches that people employ – my personal approach is a variation of David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology – but most important is that you have some approach that helps you decide how your are going to prioritise between all the different potential tasks competing for your attention. Unless you have some plan for how you intend to spend your time, somebody else will impose their plan upon you.
But within nearly every formalised or semi-formalised approach to managing your priorities is the concept of taking regular time out to reflect and review. It’s ironic that when we are busy this tends to be the first thing that we sacrifice, when in actual fact it is probably the one thing that could help us gain some perspective and order over that busyness. In my own productivity approach I’ve been experimenting with 4 different slants on reflection and review. Each has it’s own flavour, but all are grounded in this basic concept of taking time out to look back and look forward:
I’ve written about the importance of setting annual goals before, so you may want to go back and read that. There’s also some terrific content around this from Michael Hyatt over at his excellent blog.There’s something about the turn of the year that naturally lends itself to establishing a clear set of goals for yourself for the coming year. My personal preference is to do this (and the rest of these approaches) from both a personal and professional perspective – my personal view is that I will only be happy if I’m achieving progress on both fronts, and neither will happen without some focus. But I know for many people the idea of committing to annual goals for their personal lives feels a little over structured. But writing your goals is not enough if they just remain untouched for the subsequent 12 months. So look at them regularly, bookmark them on your computer, pin them on your wall – whatever helps remind you what you think your purpose and focus should be.
This second approach I learned from a Greg Mckeown podcast. Greg is the author of the book Essentialism – the disciplined pursuit of less (highly recommended). It’s what he calls his rule of 3: Every three months take 3 hours and come up with 3 essential objectives for the next 3 months. When I worked in a corporate role the concept of an offsite meeting to get everyone away from the desk and seed them with some fresh thinking was common place – but the idea of translating that to the individual was new to me. In actual fact I’ve just conducted my very first personal offsite today (I went and sat on Southsea beach for a few hours with my iPad). I found the act of going somewhere away from my normal workplace and taking the time to reflect incredibly rewarding. As a result I built myself a simple mind map:
- Review of the last 3 months
- Numbers: Customers/Prospects/Revenue
- Perspective: How do I feel about the nature of the work done
- What’s been going on in our lives (successes, challenges)
- How do I feel?
- What Habits/Behaviours am I committed to improve upon?
- What’s on the Horizon for the next 3 months?
- What are my 3 ESSENTIAL projects for the next 3 months
- What the Next actions in each of those projects?
- When/where is the next offsite
The weekly review is one of the cornerstones of the GTD methodology. It’s where I categorise new tasks that have come in during the week, ensure that my various lists are maintained (including striking off tasks that I am no longer committed to). Personally I like to do this for a couple of hours on a Friday so that it leaves my head clear for the weekend. If you’re not familiar, there’s a good write up on this LifeHacker article along with a sample checklist.
What’s Important Now (W.I.N.)
This final perspective on the topic of reflection was brought to my attention by Greg McKeown again in a recent podcast, but is actually attributed to Lou Holtz – celebrated American Football coach at Notre Dame (I’m a Brit – so have to confess I hadn’t heard of him!). Holtz used to instruct his team to ask themselves 25 times a day “What’s Important Now?” This approach applies pretty well to the workplace – you might even want to leave Post-It notes around the office with “WIN” on it as a reminder. I’m finding it a useful trigger to prompt me to keep asking myself whether what I’m currently engaged in is making a positive contribution towards my goals – if it isn’t it’s simply a distraction. So simple, but pretty helpful in my experience.
What do you do to help ensure that you apply your focus and attention to the things that you intend?