Time management and focus are crucial to productivity. To maximize our productivity, we must apply ourselves to the task at hand with keen focus. So, let’s take a look at a few tactics to help you focus and get more done in less time.
First, we must establish the basics. We’ll cover how to get more done in less time. Then we’ll touch on tips to help you focus when you get down to work.
1) Eliminate ruthlessly.
In all truth, we often do a lot more than we need to do to achieve the results that we desire. In other words, we sometimes perform tasks that do little to help us reach our goal. We must find these unnecessary tasks and ruthlessly eliminate them.
You know as well as I do what those tasks are—like sending out hundreds of handwritten notes when a simple email blast will do. Strip your to-do list down to the bare essentials and then work from there. That is the foundation of effective time management.
2) Apply the 80/20 principle to your other tasks.
You may have heard of the 80/20 principle: 80% of our results come from 20% of our efforts. Now, you must apply this principle to your to-do list. You must uncover the minority of tasks on your to-do list that will produce the majority of your results. Then you must focus the majority of your time and effort on these tasks.
3) Get rid of $10/hour tasks.
From now on, before starting any task, ask yourself: “can I afford to outsource this cheaply?”
If you can afford to have your lawn mown by someone else, doing it yourself is an utter waste of time unless you enjoy doing it (don’t lie to cover up being a cheapskate). If you can afford a driver, it makes no sense to spend several unproductive hours every week driving yourself through traffic when a driver would let you put that time to more productive use—like answering emails in the car or safely making a few phone calls. If you can afford a maid, cooking and cleaning should only be things you do for pleasure, if at all.
Also, get a personal assistant if you can, even if it’s a virtual assistant. A highly capable assistant can take an unbelievable amount of workload off your chest, allowing you to focus on doing the 20% that truly move the needle.
The three tactics above are crucial to any time management strategy. You can say they are the 20% that produce 80% of the results. Without them, most other tactics are just hacks that produce infinitesimal and ephemeral results, if at all. But with them, you supercharge the results of the next few tactics and exponentially ramp up your productivity as a result.
4) Find out when you do your best work and aim to maximize that time.
Everyone has that time of the day when they do their best work. Mark Twain used to write first thing in the morning. Obama, on the other hand, is a night owl. It’s the same for you too. You must find out when you do your best work and try to schedule your 20% activities for that time. This way, you’re working with—rather than fighting—your nature to produce your best work.
5) Establish clear boundaries to protect your time.
Set a time during which you will allow no distractions, meetings, calls, or anything of the sort. By now, you should have established when you do your best work and ideally, your no-distractions time should coincide with your best-work time.
Then make it clear to your assistant, colleagues, clients, and friends that you will always and inevitably be unavailable for calls, messages, or meetings at those times. This way, you keep distractions from these sources to a bare minimum.
6) Put your mobile phone on silent mode and keep it far away from you.
By putting your phone on silent mode (silent mode, not vibrate), you allow notifications and calls to still come in without distracting you. You can then respond to calls and messages at a more convenient time in the future when you choose, not when the phone demands.
By keeping the phone away from sight—at least far enough that you have to get up to reach it, you make it that much more difficult to get distracted by it.
7) Create an environment that encourages you to focus.
If you have an office, close the door. If you don’t have an office, put on some noise-canceling headphones. Politely but firmly make it clear to colleagues that you are not to be disturbed anytime your office door is closed, or as long as your headphones are on.
Try to create some white noise by playing some elevator music, some ambient noise from websites like Coffivity, or simply turning on a fan. It is easiser to focus in such an environment than in a completely silent one.
Finally, if you can, crank up the air-conditioning. For some reason, working in a freezing room forces you to concentrate.