One of the more memorable lines from the Steve Jobs biography is “I’m as proud of what we don’t do as I am of what we do.” I don’t think this is as apparent to those of you that don’t design software for a living so allow me to offer my perspective and how the dreaded “squirrel” affects pretty much all white collar workers. We all get distracted. But only some of us are capable of filtering and managing them.
Today, I will teach you this superpower.
Harvard Business Review recently showcased a study that indicates it takes 25% longer for a multitasker to get the job done. This is perfectly logical – when you dedicate all your attention and focus on the problem or task you can solve it faster than if you’re interrupted by other things. In the workplace this comes down to phone calls, text messages, instant messages, chat, Facebook posts, Twitter posts, LinkedIn posts.. everything except this blog.
To be clear, those are distractions you cannot manage. Unless you want to paint a huge banner that says “I am an asshole” and send your incoming voicemail/email/etc a note saying something along the lines of “My time is more important than yours. To minimize distractions I only check voicemail and email twice a day. I’ll get back to you later, trust me, it’s not an emergency.” While this is not an effective way of dealing with people, it is an effective way of getting rid of those pesky customers and their distractions.. I wouldn’t recommend it.
Managing distractions is the same as managing your agenda. I’ve written tons of posts about my Louis Vuitton notebook and how crucial it is to my day-to-day management.
I plan things years in advance. I manage them one year at a time. I get them done one day at a time, one task at a time. Every day I have things that I absolutely have to do or the company will explode (think corporate life/death events like payroll, taxes).
I also make a list of things I’d like to do.
This is key.
It’s easy to get lost in the corporate optimism, entrepreneurial smoke and all the brilliant ideas. It’s even easier to dream big! But you have to come to terms with the fact that you only have 24 hours in a day. That you have finite time, finite resources, finite cash, finite opportunity and possibility to get things done. So you manage.
Mind mapping is a great tool to use if you’re not great at drawing and connecting the dots. Just start with something that needs to be done.
Now break it down – what are the absolute top goals and what are the peripheral “nice to have” things.
Now break down the absolute top goals.
You get the idea. It looks like a Christmas tree after a while and while you’d really like to do everything you focus on the stuff you can do and do it well.
What is unrealistic?
The reason I write things down is because it gives a certain level of finality to an idea.
I star the page once I flip it over if I need to go over it.
Then when I have the time and am sitting in my office recliner shopping for cars on eBay (and it so happens to be a Tuesday afternoon).. I grab my notebook and go through the things I haven’t done.
Maybe it’s just me – but having it written down gets it off my mind. I don’t spend the rest of the day thinking about it.
It’s also a good way to categorize your poisons. I constantly do stuff that I shouldn’t do. It’s so bad that I’ve had to give up certain things at work like a person getting over cocaine – forum discussions. I used to waste monumental amounts of time arguing with unemployed people about the future of the Internet. It did nothing for my business or their unemployment, it just killed time and bandwidth. I couldn’t control it so I deleted the email address and asked my staff and friends not to forward me stuff. While I’m sure I missed out on some stuff, I was able to focus on the work and what was important.
Think about all the crap you do at work that you know you shouldn’t – Post all day on Facebook. Debate politics and religion. Sell drugs. Plan vacations. Check your retirement portfolio. Shop for a 1967 Ford Mustang. If you aren’t actively acknowledging that these issues are impacting your performance, you won’t be able to deal with them.
So manage your tasks. But manage your distractions too. Pretty soon you won’t be distracted by squirrels. They will be distracted by you and you’ll go to dinner with them.
Freestyle Friday is a fan suggested topic, if there is something you’d like to read my take on please email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.