How to focus on the singular?

As we’ve seen, it’s all about making them your goal, singular, to achieve the things that matter the most. Theme days do exactly that, enabling you to concentrate all your time and resources on one assignment. That’s something that is frequently put into practice by author Jeff Sanders of the book, The Free-Time Formula: Seeking Satisfaction, Concentration, and Productivity. He avoids the cafeteria these days and devotes days to private ventures such as creating a podcast on motivational speaking and coaching.

In fact, his entire week is built around achieving well-defined goals. He focuses on Monday podcasting, Tuesday marketing, Wednesday education, Thursday administration and Friday meetings. Health and fitness take up his Saturdays, while Sundays are with his family for quality time.

However, sometimes it’s hard to dedicate a whole day to only one assignment. The remedy? To keep your mind centered, bundle related assignments together. So say you set aside a marketing Monday, and you know you’re going to spend most of the day working on your phone. That’s a perfect chance to get a whole lot of similar jobs done. After all, writing emails and planning presentations or promotional materials are all related thematically.

But remember what I said about the brain’s multitasking inability? Well, making sure you split the day into parts is crucial so that you can get on one thing at a time. To help you do it, look for themes. For instance, in the morning, you might set aside a few hours for email promotion and then turn to social media promotion in the afternoon. The key point is that when you go through your to-do list, the more precise your packages are, the greater the productivity would be.

We were all there once: the stars align and send you your need for an afternoon off, but all you end up doing with those precious hours is binge-watching your way through a TV series like that. This is because we sometimes fail to prepare for the unexpected and don’t understand how to make the most of unintended lucky strokes.

It may sound like a crazy idea to intend to be spontaneous, but it’s actually pretty easy. Essentially, it’s just about making a list of stuff you’d like to do “just in case.” Obviously, it is better here to be pragmatic and come up with things that you can feasibly fit into the amount of free time you might end up with. So if it’s possible that you could get a 15-minute breather at work, ask yourself what a quarter of an hour you might have squeezed into. It could be a short yoga session, for instance, or a brisk walk around the block.

Think you would be able to grab your desk an hour away? How about just in case you want to pick out a book you want to read and keep it handy? You might think of getting out of the office entirely and going for a swim or a bike ride if it’s a full afternoon that could be about to open up. The most important thing is that it’s an experience you’ll really enjoy, whatever it is that you end up adding to your list.

But even though during the week you don’t get an unexpected hour of downtime, you still have the weekend to look forward to. That’s something you need to prep for, too. After all, while there is nothing inherently wrong with a low-key few days of doing nothing much at all, if you’ve done anything unforgettable, you’re bound to feel much more energized and refreshed come Monday.

And how are you doing that? Well, you should try to do something positive. The weekend is your perfect chance to start practicing your guitar chops if you’ve always wanted to pick up an instrument. The same goes for learning a language, how to repair old bikes, or how to go on a hiking tour that you have always dreamed of. There’s no getting around it: social media is sometimes nothing more than a way to waste time that is slightly amusing. Yeah, now and then it might be fun, but mostly it’s the number one reason why you don’t get important but demanding tasks completed. In other words, the downsides outweigh the advantages greatly.

If you want to boost your time management, that’s a perfect excuse for taking out technical distractions. That doesn’t mean you’ve got to absolutely renounce tech and become a neo-Luddite. What it does mean is that you should begin to look at which innovations help you accomplish your goals and which hinder your effectiveness.

Even social media can benefit you, as long as you’re mainly using it to communicate or create your network with friends and colleagues. But if you click through your Twitter feed mindlessly or look at pictures on Facebook instead of focusing on anything important, it may be time to reconsider your use of social media.

How you decide to eliminate these forms of distractions depends on how much of a challenge they are for you. Hopelessly social media addicted? Delete an account for you. If it’s less extreme than that, it should do the trick simply to turn off your computers now and then. Other solutions include the development of a computer account based on work and the disabling of sites that appear to sidetrack you.

But it’s not just technology, programs and smartphones that stop you from getting down to meaningful or substantial tasks. It’s your own meandering thoughts, often enough, that stand in your path. It is almost difficult to focus on the job at hand when the brain keeps wandering off. Even worse, losing your train of thinking will make it almost impossible to regain the bright idea that you had. What’s the solution, then?

Well, really, it’s a pretty easy thing: make sure you always have a notepad nearby and keep a record of your best thoughts until they vanish into thin air. This is a perfect way to give yourself a thrill when you come back from your daydreams. All you have to do is look down at your last post, and you can pick up the thread where you left off!

Social media isn’t the only addiction that essentially prevents us from using our time. Workaholism is, if anything, an ever greater phenomenon in contemporary society. Many managers and CEOs stick to punishing work regimes these days, but there are also instances of them making rash choices, maybe motivated by fatigue.

The evidence shows that it is neither safe nor beneficial to work too hard on your own. Take it from Sanders, a one-time workaholic who has just fallen into this very pit. Years of grueling, 100-hour workweeks ended up affecting his well-being badly. He suffered panic attacks, could not sleep, and to keep him going, he became reliant on endless cups of coffee. It wasn’t just his health that suffered, however. He also became increasingly irritable and ended up having constant fights as a productivity consultant with the businesses that had employed him. One of the reasons he ended up writing this book is that experience: there just had to be a different way of doing things, and better.

Well, there’s that. Downtime is not a frivolous pleasure, Sanders realized; it’s an important part of setting yourself up for success and happiness. How can you make sure you get enough of it, then? Ok, in your timeline, you need to start preparing breaks. Think of them as sabbaticals, periods of time during which you can refresh your batteries and yourself later.

Starting small and building from there is the secret. So take a look at your journal and see what’s in store tomorrow for you. Odds are, you could free up an hour of me-time. Now imagine the week ahead of you. Will you juggle your obligations so you have an afternoon off to relax? Next month, how about? Could you find time to spend a weekend away? Finally, take a look at the big picture; your goal here is to make room for two weeks or more of a proper annual vacation.

Do that, and you’ll be shocked by how much time you can free yourself from the daily grind to relax and get away. Free time can feel like an increasingly scarce resource, but sometimes it’s just a matter of perception.

The notion of’ free time’ is fundamentally misleading. In reality, even when we’re at work, all of our time is free; what really matters is how we use it. That’s where the art of controlling time comes in. You will start using your time as effectively as possible once you learn to optimize your productivity, avoid procrastinating and set manageable goals, get the most out of both your working day and your time away from the office.

So, aim to explain your professional and personal priorities today. You would need to know precisely what it is you want to accomplish before you undertake any kind of planning work. The secret is a scattershot technique to be avoided. After all, if you try at once to follow hundreds of different goals, you’re probably going to find yourself unable to accomplish any of them. So whittle down your aims and concentrate on only two or three of the most important targets. You could complete a big job project, spend more quality time with your family or learn a new language. Whatever they are, it would be far easier to structure your time by clarifying what you intend to accomplish.

Check out my related post: What is crowd learning?


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