Monday, October 10, 2016

Keeping Focus

The last few weeks have been full of a good bit of activity for me. I've started planning a site redesign which will make the pages here more responsive, especially on mobile and tablets (though that might be a 2017 thing). I've outlined a book that I will start writing shortly. I collaborated on a case study paper that hopefully will be out soon. I sketched out topic ideas for the blog for the next month. I took a certification class to get some new initials to drop on the LinkedIn profile.

You know what I didn't do? Post much to the blog.

I could say that all of these other activities got in the way. I could say I was not inspired or didn't have time. But the truth is, I was able to watch several old episodes of Arrested Development and Key & Peele (thanks, Hulu, Netflix, etc.) and catch the premiere of Westworld on HBONow. So there evidently was some time in there. At least three hours.

And, like I said, I have three or four topics picked out already, so the whole "inspiration" thing really isn't an excuse either.

The truth? Lack of focus and prioritization.

Writing a decent blog post can take a couple of hours. A not-as-good blog post can take thirty minutes. Both of those could have fit in the schedule. The reason they did not is simple. I did not focus and make that a priority. So what could I have done?

Determine What's Important

In order for something to be a priority for you, you have to actually believe that it is important. I've previously written about "voting with your feet" and how what you do actually shows what you think about the importance of competing interests. But how do you determine what is really important?

First you figure out what is the impact of not taking action and the cost of delay of that action. For me, not posting on the blog means that the content starts to get dated and the more I delay, the longer the gap comes between posts. I may shuffle it up at some point, but for now I had been trying to drop a post weekly. Delay of more than a week means that regularity falls down. Also, while I might be writing other things, the blog keeps me in a habit of writing, which keeps the juices flowing. Again, if I am cranking 1000 words a day on a book, I might be in that habit, but the blog can even help to break up that single topic focus and give me a little breather.

So to me, the blog posts are important.

What's important for you? What activities should you do that provide the most impact? And is there any sort of cost (real, opportunity, or otherwise) if you delay? I'm not going to say that urgency necessarily generates priority, but if the impact of the action is reduced by delay or the benefits start to disappear, you might look at that first.

Focus Only On That Action

Once your priority item has been determined, go do that. I decided this morning that I had to get this blog post done (and not miss another week), so in my first free minute, I sat down and started writing.

Do just that.

Once you have a free second (and again, you are showing what is really your priority by doing other things instead of creating a free second to do the "important" thing), do the task. Get it done. Eat the Frog and all of that (though if every important thing is a frog to be eaten, you might want to go back to prioritizing and make sure you enjoy some of the things you do with your life - or try my take on Eating the Hot Pepper).

I won't kid you. This is actually the hard part. You know why? Because you need self-discipline to actually get yourself up out of the chair and go do whatever it is you need to be doing. Action is hard. Passivity is easy.

Pretending that you are a victim of the circumstances ("Time got away from me" or "I just had so much on my plate I couldn't get anything done") just lets you hide your inaction. So stop whining and go do something about it.

Did you do it yet? I am OK if you pause reading right now and go actually do the thing. Then come back once you are done. I'll wait.

How about now? Are you done? Great. Now what's next on that list?

Set A Deadline

This works for thousands of folks every year for NaNoWriMo and other month-long challenges. The premise is simple. Set yourself a deadline and challenge yourself to make it. Deadlines are powerful.

Douglas Adams had a saying that I find humorous, "I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by." It's funny, but not how you get things done. 

That quote does illustrate one point, though, and that is to make those deadlines realistic. Will you write a novel in a day? Probably not. A month? Maybe. If you commit to it.

Make sure that you give yourself reasonable time to accomplish the task. Once upon a time, I tried writing daily blog posts. It was overkill and led to a ton of really thin and not-fully-baked ideas. Once a week ends up being enough time to come up with a good idea, write it, edit it, and get it out. Sometimes. In an event, it is a reasonable amount of time. Do the same with your deadlines.

Don't Defeat Yourself

The last thing I'll talk about here is this: don't kick yourself for being down. I missed a week's blog post. You know when? September 26. But once I missed it, it became just a little bit easier and less guilt-forming to miss that next post. Don't do that.

Don't use your inaction of the past to justify inaction of the future. We tend to create these internal monologues that start telling us that since nothing catastrophic happened by delaying just a little bit, then procrastinating a bit more won't hurt.

Inaction does not solve problems. Only action can solve your problems.

So don't let your little voice in your head trick you to believing that you can wait just a little longer because you have already waited. You will spend more time arguing with yourself over whether or not you should do something sometimes than you would actually completing the job. Tell the little procrastinating voice to shut up for a few minutes, then go do the task while it stays silent. Take away the topic of discussion.


Staying focused on your priorities requires effort. Nothing that you want to do really comes without work.

When we make a mistake or lose focus, all too often we can get sucked into this little inner discussion that justifies procrastinating just a little bit more. To succeed, you need to shut that down.

Set your priorities. Put a due date on it. Then go do it before you do anything else.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

So there. I wrote a blog post. I probably should get started on next week's. What are you going to do right now?