We’ve all heard the recent warnings from billboards, television commercials and our loved ones. “Don’t text and drive!” When many of us were teenagers the warning was, “Don’t drink and drive!” and while that warning, of course, is still very much true, the newest danger on the roads is the distracted driver who is more focused on his funny retort in a text message than he is on the sudden brake lights of the car in front of him. These occurrences can, and do, have severe consequences that endanger pedestrians and fellow drivers alike, and it is becoming more and more common to hear of crashes, injuries and even deaths happening as the unfortunate result of focusing on the wrong thing at the wrong time.
Our brains are not designed to handle the multi-tasking necessary to consciously focus on two things at once. Yes, we can walk and talk at the same time, but one of those functions happens unconsciously. We can think about what we are saying, but the unconscious mind takes over the walking part. Multi-tasking in human behavior is really a misnomer in our language. We really just switch back and forth between focuses. We cannot focus completely on more than one thing at a time. We can have a lot of things happening at the same time, but our intentional focus has to actively switch individually to each of the pans we have in the proverbial fire. If we have too many, we may just get burned.
So here is a simple strategy to manage all of our pans that we have cooking every day in our increasingly busier lives:
Determine what things you want to do today. Write them down.
Determine what things you should do today. Write them down.
Determine what things you must do today. Write them down.
From that list determine which are the three most important things to do today. They can be from different lists or the same. Circle them.
From that list determine which one is the absolute most important thing to do right now (Usually the most difficult thing).
Cross everything else off and throw the paper away. (Don’t worry, you can write them out again tomorrow).
Start there and nowhere else. Do that one thing fully until it is completed to the best of your ability.
Using Dr. Stephen Covey’s Time Matrix (Four Quadrants of Time Management) is the perfect tool to decide which tasks are important and which are urgent. Start with that tool to prioritize the things that will give you the greatest return on your investment of time.
Then use the seven steps above to start with the ONE THING that must be completed today. Do not switch back and forth. The time lost in the switching will be a complete drain on your momentum and focus. Keep in mind and be honest with yourself. The ONE THING is typically the thing that you dread doing or will take the most energy. That’s okay, just grin and bear it. Your energy will return as soon as that task is off your list, and in fact you may just find that you will actually have more energy than you did before. Those big dreaded things drain your focus, energy, positivity, and commitment faster than having ten small insignificant things on your list. As I mentioned, the best way to decide which thing to start with is to decide which thing will give you the best return from your time investment. Remember, time is an investment. We have very little and we want the most from it.
A good tip to determine where to devote this valuable commodity is to look for tasks that involve people. If it does, it is most likely very important. If it doesn’t, it is most likely less important. Start there. Start with people. You will feel better, they will feel better, and your priority list will be less daunting the next day.
It takes the right focus to keep accidents from happening with the people we care about and work with each day.
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