This time,like all times, is a good time, if we but know what to do with it – Ralph Waldo Emerson
How often do you feel as though you’ve lost a day? The clock says 4:00, and your to-do list is just as full as it was at 9 a.m. What did you do with your day? This is a scenario that many of us find ourselves in, and we all want to escape it. But there is no easy way out.
Many posts of this type are lists of things you can do to accomplish something. Yet when you want to regain your time and productivity a bunch of one-off tips won’t do the trick. It’s a process, and it starts with big thoughts at the top. Here’s a good method for eliminating distractions and regaining control of your time — and your life.
1. Find your grand strategy
So often we hear about the importance of goal setting. I don’t want to undermine that point, because it is important. But how can you set goals if you don’t have an overall vision? That overall vision is grand strategy. It is the ultimate goal you seek. Everything you do, therefore, should move you closer to this all-encompassing goal.
In his book The 33 Strategies of War, Robert Greene describes the idea of grand strategy as something we should all embrace. He gives the example of Alexander the Great, whose mother told him from a young age that he would rule the world. From there all of his thoughts and actions lined up with this vision. While world domination isn’t exactly a virtuous goal today, the lesson is still applicable.
Once you find your grand strategy for life, your goals will fall into line. Everything will become blindingly obvious, because you know your ultimate desire.
2. Sever contradictory connections
Once you have decided on your grand strategy, you might start to notice contradictions around you. Your task list might contain items that have nothing to do with your grand strategy. Those things are distractions and nothing more. It is best to simply sever them completely, removing those distractions from your life.
A friend of mine hangs a piece of paper above her desk that reads: “If it doesn’t lead to health, wealth, or happiness, don’t [bleeping] do it!” This is essentially the same idea. If it doesn’t push you further along the path towards your vision, don’t do it. If the task happens to be critical for your job or a relationship, perhaps it’s time to reevaluate those.
3. Learn to delegate
There will inevitably be some small tasks that do relate to your grand strategy, but are ultimately time sucks. For example, if your goal is to be president of your company, then you probably need favorable reviews from your superiors. That might mean doing some meaningless work, because the higher ups for some reason consider it important. You don’t want your review to note that you don’t get all of your work done.
In situations like this, delegation is your best friend. If you have people working for you, delegate these tasks you consider meaningless to your grand strategy. That gives you more time to focus on the big picture, on the events that will push you furthest along your path. If there is no one under you to whom you can delegate, perhaps you should focus on the next step of earning a promotion so that you can delegate these tasks.
4. Set up a personal SCADA
Big industries use SCADA systems to monitor critical activities. This might be a telecommunications network, a sewage system, or even a nuclear reactor. The SCADA system constantly provides information, but only the hot-button information, to the network manager. You can learn more about SCADA here.
This is an important tactic to adopt for your own sanity. Chances are you get dozens, maybe even hundreds, of distractions per day. How many emails require immediate action? Is the blog you’re reading providing you with valuable information? Is Twitter really worth it? Set up filters and alerts that let you know when important information is headed your way. Only immediately look at email from your boss, for instance.
Setting up a personal SCADA allows only the important information to reach you immediately, while leaving the rest for later. That means you can concentrate on the tasks most important to your grand strategy. It is easily the best way to get rid of those distractions that can overtake your work and your life.
5. Review regularly
You can make all the changes you want, but if you’re not reviewing them they’ll have a diminished effect. Any useful system, whether personal or industrial, hinges on a thorough review process. It’s through this review that we can determine what is working and what is not, and adjust on the fly. That allows us to create a more efficient system, which again allows us to focus more acutely on what really matters.
Does it turn out that emails from your immediate supervisor don’t require immediate attention? Filter them out. Is the person to whom you’re delegating not perform the task properly? Train them or find someone else to do the work. Did you sever a connection with something that, upon review, did bring you closer to your grand strategy? Reconnect. Adjusting on the fly means we’re always aware. And awareness is the most powerful aspect of productivity.
Rooting out distraction and regaining our time is no small feat. It takes hard work and focus. But by starting with a grand strategy and working on each of these steps, you can rid your life of distractions and focus on what matters to you. This isn’t just for work, either. It can be for personal relationships as well. However you decide to employ it, use it for good. There is much power in the idea of grand strategy.
About the author: Joe Pawlikowski is an avid tech fan and has been blogging about technology since 2007. He writes about business and telecommuting at his personal blog, A New Level.