The biggest problem you can have is a complete lack of focus.
A sure way to achieve nothing.
One good thing about writing this blog is that I can’t keep lying to myself for long. Incongruity between what I write and my real life clearly stands out, so that I can’t ignore it. I wrote about how important it is to set priorities and focus on them (Quote of the Month, December 2010). Yet, I haven’t been following my own advice.
I know that my number one priority at this time is stress reduction. In the past few months my stress level has gone considerably up, but it really is a problem that has been accumulating for years. Part of the problem is my OCD, which I have written about, too.
So, I know what the problem is and how to tackle it, but I haven’t been doing that consistently. On the contrary – I have engaged in activities that I know are in the way of my priority and actually increase stress level. Like watching news on TV or reading newspapers.
As I am someone who has serious problems with stress I should ask myself: what is my priority – to be informed about events in the world, some of them thousands of miles away, that may or may not affect me someday in the future or dealing with stress that is killing me right here and right now?
If something really terrible was about to happen in my environment I am sure I would have picked it up in everyday conversations with people – I don’t need to follow news for that. And all the nonsense that is happening in politics – I think am better without it. Almost every week there is some new scandal and allegations of corruption in the media. We have police and other authorities to deal with that.
The nature of mass media is that they focus mainly on negative events, drama and scandals. Partly because that is what attracts people’s attention the most, but also because one of the missions of the media is to raise awareness of the problems in society, so that solutions can then be searched and found.
I do firmly believe that democracy and changes in society depend on people being well informed. So, I am not against TV and newspapers in general. I always looked down to people who don’t seem to care about what is happening in the world or even in their own community. So, while it is certainly not a good idea to be in front of TV every single hour of your free time, some interest in what is happening in the world around you is a positive thing.
However, drastic circumstances require drastic measures! If I don’t change my daily routine and reduce stress I am headed to burnout. Therefore I have decided to cut off all TV, newspapers and magazines for as long as I don’t learn how to manage my stress level effectively. In addition I will not read or watch news on the internet. In fact I will use internet only for the purpose of managing this blog, reading about personal development, communicating with people (e-mail, etc.) and searching for practical information that I may need.
If I can’t even stick to these simple rules I may as well close this blog.
Do first things first, and second things not at all.
– Peter Drucker
The ability to set priorities, focus on them and not deviate may be the most important skill for success in life. The quote from Peter Drucker was written in the context of talking about business efficiency, but can be applied to any field. With limited time and energy that are available there are only so many things that can be done – no matter how many time management skills you learn. And because not all things get you the same return on investment it is important that you only do those things that are the best investment of your time, energy and also money.
Therefore it is important that you know what your real goals are, so that you can stop doing things that are in the way of your true priorities. And even among things that are important you don’t need to do everything yourself. Do only those things that you can do well and delegate the rest to others who can do it more efficiently – even if you have to pay them.
Of course people have a wide variety of goals: career goals, relationships goals, health goals, etc. And as much as it is important that you can focus on a single goal, it is also necessary to have a balance between work and relaxation. Otherwise you may get overworked and actually lose the ability to work efficiently. So you also need enough time for renewal and relaxation.
The solution is to set yourself large blocks of uninterrupted time during which you can focus on your priority tasks – one task at a time – so that you can gain momentum and complete the task better and faster. Multitasking and picking up old unfinished tasks over and over again can vastly increase the total time that is needed. But if you manage your work time efficiently you will have enough free time to relax as well.
How do you do all of this? How do you set blocks of uninterrupted time in the age of mobile phones, e-mail, instant messengers and other distractions? First of all, you decide to only do tasks that are on your list of priorities, your to-do list for that day. Refuse to do irrelevant tasks and refuse interruptions to divert your course of action. If possible turn all e-mail alerts off, sign off from instant messaging programs and turn your phone on silent mode. If you do not need internet for your current work, unplug the cable and work offline. Unless there is some real emergency, do not allow interruptions to change you plans. Put the new tasks on tomorrow’s list instead. That is, if they need to be done at all!
You ARE changing whether you like it or not. Nothing ever stays the same. It can be fast change or gradual change. It can be for the better or for the worse. So, the real question is: How do you change yourself for the better? A question for a million dollars.
First, you have to know what do you want. What do you want to change and what is the result that you want. If you don’t know where you are going, chances are you will never get there. You have to be specific and focused. If your target is too vague, you will not get there. You can’t be or do EVERYTHING at the same time. You can’t become a master at every skill, go to every place you want, meet all the people that are interesting to you, earn all the money that you want and save the world while doing it. It is impossible because time and energy you have are finite.
But the good news is that you can be or do almost ANYTHING, if you know what it is and you stay focused on your specific goal. For as long as it needs. As Lao Tzu said: “A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.” If you stay focused and keep going in the same direction, each and every step is taking you closer to your goal. If you are not focused, you just wander around. (Of course I am talking metaphorically here. It may be that just physically wandering around the globe is what you really want in your life, and I think that is ok).
Another thing that you need to do besides choosing your goal is to learn how to enjoy the journey as it unfolds itself before your eyes. Your journey will inevitably be full of roadblocks and other difficulties and if you don’t love the journey itself you may decide that it is too hard and quit. Know that your goal is only valuable because there is a journey to be taken to get there. And it is also important that you really care about your goal. If you really care about it, you will have less difficulty persisting where others may quit.