The Evils of Stop-and-Go
Can any of us even count the number of times we’ve started a weight loss program? A book we know we “should” read? A consistent program of business follow-up?
Chances are good that you’re willing to believe stop-and-go driving decreases the fuel efficiency of your car and puts undue wear on it. So why is it so hard to accept that stop-and-go business practices are equally counterproductive?
In my experience, I’ve found there are a number of factors that lend themselves to a stop go stop go stop go stop approach. Do you see yourself in any of these situations?
- You start on an important project, then decide you’ll clean off your desk first so you can focus.
- You look for an e-mail you need to review before responding to a prospect; your eye falls on a different message that you know you can deal with quickly, so you decide to handle it now. Then you see another quicky e-mail and answer that…and another…
- You feel virtuous in starting to plan for a new project well in advance. In fact, you’re so on top of things that you decide to step back for just a moment and get a cup of coffee so you can really settle down to it. Unfortunately, the coffee inspires you to fix a quick snack, and then you want to brush your teeth, and then you realize that the shirt you want to wear tomorrow needs ironing…
You get the point. It’s so easy to be thrown off course that most of us, in a typical day, start a dozen or more activities and finish – if we’re lucky – two or three of them. That way lies madness and a really crappy bottom line.
So…What can you do to get in the habit of focusing so that you complete what you start? Give the following strategies a try and see which work best for you.
- When faced with a tedious or mondo task, set a timer and commit to working on said task for just 15 minutes. Since most humans have a fairly perverse streak in them, giving yourself permission to quit after a fixed amount of time very often means we’ll work longer and accomplish more.
- Ask yourself what three tasks you need to accomplish to feel your day has been highly productive. Note these tasks on a separate piece of paper and keep reminding yourself that you have just these three tasks to focus on all day.
- Put a sticky note on or near your computer screen: “Is what I’m working on right now essential to moving me toward my major business goals?” After you’ve given yourself this unsubtle nudge enough times, staying focused on key activities will become your default setting, rather than a rare event.
- Plan in rewards for finishing tasks. In my opinion, you can never go wrong with chocolate. For you, a welcome reward might be taking your dog for a brisk walk, doing a few minutes of relaxing yoga, or turning off your brain with some computer solitaire. Just be sure that there’s a clear end to your reward time, so you don’t end up taking more time off work activities than you can afford.
- Chunk big tasks down.This works particularly well in keeping you motivated and in helping you see that you are making progress. If you have a long list of small action steps, you can focus on one manageable step at a time, rather than getting overwhelmed by thinking of everything that has to be done before the task is truly complete. By keeping your efforts and your attention zeroed in on each individual step, you’ll be more energized, relaxed, creative, and productive.
- Only open windows needed for your current major task. You know it and I know it: Facebook, Twitter, e-mail…all are seductively distracting. Why require yourself to call on that much willpower? Just keep the damn extraneous programs and apps closed so there’s no possibility of temptation and you don’t have to put that willpower to the test.
Are you already using these or similar self-management tools? If so, what works best for you? Now would be a great time to brag so that the rest of us can pick up some additional tools for the times when those lovely bright shiny objects appear to lure us away from what we’re supposed to be doing.
By the way, thanks to LeahNicor and TheMarque for the traffic signals and bullseye, respectively. I found these images on flickr.This entry was posted in focus, productivity and tagged completion, focus, productivity. Bookmark the permalink.