When you drive home from work today, force yourself to not think about anything else. Focus only on driving.
I’ll bet you can’t, at least not for very long -- and that’s a symptom of a challenge most people face on a daily basis.
In a perfect world you could be totally in the moment, regardless of the situation or pursuit: You'd be present, mindful and able to think, evaluate and decide with total focus and concentration. Being in the moment would let you consistently produce your best results.
Of course that sounds impossible. But it’s not. And it doesn’t take incredible willpower or an amazing level of self-discipline.
The key is being organized -- not anal.
When you’re organized, you can be creative and spontaneous without being distracted by random thoughts, stresses or concerns. Then you can spend your time working on things that are important not urgent and make conscious choices instead of reacting.
You can truly focus.
To paraphrase David Allen of Getting Things Done, the human brain is for having ideas, not holding them. Fortunately computers are very good at all the stuff people terrible at. (So is paper.) Systems effortlessly take care of all the tasks that reduce people's ability to focus: storing data, capturing ideas, firing off alerts.
Remember the last time you were worried about forgetting to make an important phone call. Were you distracted? Of course you were and your focus -- and productivity -- suffered as a result.
That’s why organization is key.
While I can’t tell you how to be organized because your systems need to work for you, I can tell you what areas to ensure are covered by your plan.
1. Create a single system of record.
Revised: You need a proper place for everything: to keep track of all appointments, list every task, capture tasks, maintain contacts. They can be in different places or all in the same repository.
The goal is to put things “away,” safe in the knowledge that you know exactly where they are. Then you’ll never have to think about them until you need them -- and you’ll be able to focus on whatever you’re doing.
2. Consciously decide what you will do.
Every day, reprioritize your to-do list. Reschedule meetings. Revise plans. Decide what emails you will handle immediately, then use a system that automatically reminds you when to handle less important emails and set a schedule for doing so.
Your goal should be to have almost nothing in your inbox: Every email should be dealt with either immediately or purposely scheduled for later handling.
3. Create a culture of ownership not accountability.
When your employees truly own their tasks and projects, you can take those items off your plate: Instead of feeling that you need to check up on people, they’ll come to you when they have problems or need guidance. That way, you can totally focus on your tasks and projects.
So now try this: Take a few hours and create some simple systems. Determine how you'll store contacts and get them all in one place. Do the same for appointments and for task lists. Take the time to get everything organized. Appointments and tasks don’t need to be kept together in the same place or tool, but there does need to be one source for appointments.
Then create a process that will let you maintain that level of organization. How you do that is up to you. One friend carries a note pad everywhere he goes and writes everything down. Later he transfers that information to his various electronic files. At the end of each day he’s totally current.
He finds the process of taking items off his note pad and putting them into his systems makes for a nice end-of-day review that helps him plan his next day.
The systems and the processes you choose aren’t nearly as important as the end result: mindfulness, focus and the ability to be 100 percent in the moment whether you’re at work, with your family or even driving your car.
Try it: I promise the initial effort is well worth it.