Finish Before You Start

Everybody knows procrastination is bad. What many people don’t know is that multi-tasking is one of the worst forms of procrastination you’ll ever see.

I know there are people who swear by their multi-tasking “skills.” If you’re one of those I’d like to ask you to sing your favorite song WHILE you read this post. Not AFTER you read it and not BEFORE, read it WHILE you’re singing. That’s multi-tasking!

If you’re so confident in your ability to multi-task then I have another offer for you. If you’re willing to read this while you sing there will be a test available for you online. If you answer every question right you’ll receive a check for a million bucks. (That might be fake news)

Are you still confident enough to risk a million bucks by reading this WHILE you sing?

If you are then I’ll bet you’ve cost yourself way more than a million bucks worth of productivity through the years. That’s because rather than improve your productivity multi-tasking kills it.

For the record, actual multi-tasking is impossible for a human being to do. You can have a bunch of balls in the air but you can only focus on one at a time. You cannot compartmentalize your brain to do two entirely different things at exactly the same time. You simply can’t.

So you move from one thing to another to another going back and forth and back and forth. You do none of them as effectively as if you were focusing on them one at a time. All this switching back and forth causes each task to take longer to accomplish as well.

4 tasks done singularly, to the exclusion of other distractions may take an hour. Doing those tasks all at once through multi-tasking (at least what people think is multi-tasking) will likely add at least 25% to the time it takes to complete them all. That means your one hour of productivity has consumed nearly 90 minutes.

If you don’t believe that then you have never used a time log to determine where your time goes during each 24 hour period that we call a day.

The most productive people finish what they are doing before they start something new. If it’s a big task they may break it into pieces and work on it at different times of the day or different days of the week. But when they are not working on it they put it out of sight so as to not be distracted by it.

Focus wins the productivity battle! It always has and it always will.

If you’re attempting to focus on several things at once then you have no focus. Sorry to break that to you but the sooner you believe it the sooner your productivity will soar!

Skip the multi-tasking for a week. See if you’re not accomplishing more. Prove me wrong if you dare to try. But if I’m right you won’t need me to send you a million bucks; you’ll be on your way to making it on your own.

Slowing Down

Ever heard of the saying “speed kills?” It is kind of a given that doing most anything too fast is not a good idea.

What isn’t mentioned often enough however is that going too slow can be just as bad.

I wanted to point that out because I’ve seen some slowing down of late. Many leaders and organizations entered into the current crisis doing a lot of the right things at just the right speed.

They made the proper efforts to keep their people engaged. They communicated appropriate information and didn’t over or under communicate.

I was also impressed with many of the individual efforts I’ve seen. From salespeople reaching out to try and help customers to moms and dads working together to school their kids at home. I was especially impressed with the effort I saw and heard about regarding people making sure to stay in touch with family and friends while pretty much stuck at home.

There have been many good things that have come about as a result of the situation we all find ourselves in. I hope at least some of those things outlast the current situation.

But I kinda feel like many of those efforts are already slowing down. Collectively we are taking our feet off the gas and beginning to drift.

Don’t drift!

Stay focused on how you began dealing with this situation. The things that worked well will work even better when this mess is over and life begins returning to something that feels normal.

Think of it this way… there is a reason the people say “speed up” and a reason they say “slow down.”

Slow apparently has do to with going down. I don’t want to go in that direction. I don’t want my success to go in that direction. I don’t want people thinking my effort, the quality of my work or the amount I care is going in that direction either. I also don’t think you want that.

Intentionally slowing down with a purpose in mind can be good. Allowing slowing down to unintentionally creep into your day is not so good.

Discipline and focus serve you well in good times and bad. Maintain the focus and discipline you had at the beginning of our unusual times. That will give you the opportunity to exit the unusual times better, faster, stronger and more prepared to succeed than when this whole thing started.

Lots of people start strong. The most successful people finish strong as well. Which one are you?

The Power of Focus

Somebody a lot smarter than me once said “the man who chases two rabbits catches neither.” I don’t recall who said it but it’s absolutely true.

But there is a way that guy can catch both rabbits. He just has to chase them one at a time.

That’s focus.

If you can’t say no to many things then you’ll find it impossible to say yes to focus. In most areas of your life what you choose not to do will determine what you are able to do. If you’re trying to do too much you fall victim to what is known as task saturation. If you fall into that trap you end up accomplishing far less than the person focused on one thing at a time.

That’s the big illusion that multi-taskers present to themselves. They believe they can do many things well and that they can do them all at once. But every bit of research shows without a doubt that they are fooling themselves.

One person doing eight things one at a time will do them better and faster than one person trying to do all eight of them at once. That’s the power of focus.

Some people would tell you they can’t focus. That’s not exactly right. What they can’t do is decide. They can’t decide on their priorities. They are like a kid in a candy store…they want it all and they want it right now.

That “kid in the candy store” mentality causes them to accomplish things right at the deadline. They get them done in the nick of time because suddenly they didn’t have to decide what to do next, a deadline made the decision for them. The problem is, things done at the deadline are seldom done as well as those things done with time to spare.

The most successful people possess laser like focus. They invest a bit of time, well actually some serious time, in determining their priorities and then they go after them to the exclusion of all distractions.

Warren Buffett has laser focus and he has a dependable process to keep it that he shares with people who struggle with their own focus.

He’ll ask them to invest some time to write out their top 25 goals. These can be life goals, 10 year goals or goals for the coming month or year. Once they have that list he asks them to review it and select their top 5.

So now they have two lists, let’s call them list one and list two. Buffett asks what the person intends to do with list two. Most say that they will work on them as time permits because while they are not as important as list one they are still important.

That’s when Buffett gives them life altering advice. He tells them list two is actually their “avoid at all cost” list. He says that list should get zero attention until list one is 100% complete. That’s what focus looks like in practice.

I can tell you from personal experience that focusing is easy when compared to developing the lists. If you want success with your own list one you must be willing to sacrifice everything on list two.

Most people are able to do that but are unwilling to do that. Those 20 things on list two prevent them from achieving any of the things on list one. In their case, ALL the rabbits got away.

Some would say if you’re focusing on more than one thing you don’t really have focus. I’ll give people the benefit of the doubt and say so long as you’re focusing on one at a time you can maybe have five or six things on your radar.

Any more than that and you might as well be Elmer J. Fudd.

Understanding Success – Part Seven

Successful people get it. They simply understand some things that less successful people seem to have a hard time grasping. The things they understand are the “it’s” of success. 

This is the seventh post of an eight post series. They will be short posts, each just long enough to give you time to focus on one “it” of success until the next post arrives. The goal of this series is not to get you thinking about success, it’s to help you do the things that successful people do and less successful people don’t. The choice of success is completely up to you, always keep that important fact in mind.

One way successful people listen well is by focusing on the other person’s words and non verbal communications. But they don’t just focus on someone speaking, they focus period.

They also understand that focus means focus. They know that focusing on more than a very small handful of things is not really focus at all. Successful people do more than enough to succeed but they also know that trying to do too much usually ends up with less actually being done.

There is a proverb that says when you chase two rabbits you most often catch neither. That’s true with more than just rabbits. It’s true when chasing your goals as well.

Your focus should be a reflection of your core values and the goals that come out of them. For instance, if I just watched you for a week would I be able to tell what things in your life are a focus for you? Would I be able to tell what’s important to you? The odds are the answer to that question is no. It’s no because we fall victim to the tyranny of the urgent, we focus on the urgent things of life rather than the truly important things of life. 

Taking a business call while having dinner with your family is a prime example of the tyranny of the urgent, the call may have been “urgent” but your family is important. “Urgent” comes and goes, important, ignored long enough, just goes. Very, very, very few of you have “business” that will ever be more important than your family but if you lack the ability to focus on the important things it will surly look that way.

Some people have convinced themselves that they have this skilled called multi-tasking but successful people understand that true multi-tasking is a myth. What passes for multi-tasking is in fact the greatest productivity killer of all time. Multi-tasking is the opposite of focus and people who believe they can accomplish more by “focusing” on several things at once are just fooling themselves. They are in fact fooling themselves straight into failure. 

Focus is singular, it requires that whatever it is you’re doing you do it to the exclusive of everything else. No one needs to focus 24 hours a day but the reality for less successful people is that they have little or no focus in their life at all. 

Focus on focusing, block out the urgent things that don’t matter in the long run and focus on the important things that do. 

 

The Truth About Multitasking

Most everyone agrees that focus is a major key to success. The ability to block out distractions and hone in on the task required for success is often what separates the most successful people from the merely successful people.

Multitasking is nearly the exact opposite of focus. 

As technology allows people to do more tasks at the same time, the myth that we can multitask has never been stronger. But researchers say it’s still a myth and they have the data to prove it.

“People can’t multitask very well, and when people say they can, they’re deluding themselves,” said neuroscientist Earl Miller. And, he said, “The brain is very good at deluding itself.” Miller, a Picower professor of neuroscience at MIT, says that for the most part, we simply can’t focus on more than one thing at a time.

What we can do, he said, is shift our focus from one thing to the next with astonishing speed.

“Switching from task to task, you think you’re actually paying attention to everything around you at the same time. But you’re actually not,” Miller said. “You’re not paying attention to one or two things simultaneously, but switching between them very rapidly.”

In reality, multitasking slows your thinking. A brain attempting to perform two tasks simultaneously will, because of all the back-and-forth stress, exhibit a substantial lag in information processing. When you try to do two things at once, your brain lacks the capacity to perform both tasks successfully.

Research also shows that, in addition to slowing you down, multitasking lowers your IQ. A study at the University of London found that participants who multitasked during cognitive tasks experienced IQ score declines that were similar to what they’d expect if they had smoked marijuana or stayed up all night. IQ drops of 15 points for multitasking men lowered their scores to the average range of an 8-year-old child.

The research just goes on and on regarding how multitasking is ineffective. There is no research that shows multitasking to be effective.

Now I know that a substantial number of people reading this will disagree. They will say THEY are excellent at multitasking and that they are accomplishing more than they ever could without it. Please reread professor Miller’s comments again… you’re deluding yourself. 

Some people are indeed better at multitasking than others but no one is truly “good” at multitasking.

The truth is, and always has been, that focus, singular focus, is a key to success. Multi-tasking is a key to failure. 

Just another reason why the difference between success and failure is often in the choices we make.

Choose focus! 

Life in the Overlap

I have written before about the importance of knowing what’s truly important. The most successful people know that they control very few things that really matter. Most people spend entirely too much time on seemingly urgent “stuff” at the expense of investing their time on things truly important. 

The other major waste of time we experience is worrying about things that matter but that we have little or no control over. While we are worrying about things we cannot control we are not focused on the things that matter that we can control.

I could write thousands of words on this subject but this week a colleague of mine named Billy sent me the drawing that accompanies this post. It “shows” what I mean better than I could ever say it. (I guess that’s where the whole “a picture is worth a thousand words saying comes from)

A life well-lived is a life lived in the “overlap.” The overlap is where the things that matter coincide with the things that we can control. While I’m certain my colleague drew this picture rather quickly I’d still bet it’s almost perfectly to scale. There really isn’t much overlap to live in. 

Maybe that’s why we find it so hard to do. 

Living in the overlap requires discipline, awareness, and as the picture shows, FOCUS. As for me, I’m pretty good at not worrying about things that don’t matter and that I have no control over. But I’m constantly straying into the things that matter territory that I can’t control. That happens at the expense of my controllable things that matter.

It’s a very human thing to do. It’s also a very unproductive thing to do. 

I’ve thought about this drawing a lot this week and it’s amazing how the overlap aligns with my core values. I have a very few core values and I’ve been reminded this week that leaving the overlap also means I’m likely living outside my core values. My deeply held core values. 

If I stay in the overlap my core values will always be nearby.

I have it easy compared to many people; my core values have been developed through years of introspection. I know what matters to me. Most people have yet to fully understand their core values and I’m guessing that makes living in the overlap that much harder. 

Pay no attention to those things that don’t matter and less attention to things that do matter but that you can’t control. Care about those controllable things that matter and if you can, help the people who do have some control there. But YOUR focus must be on the overlap! 

I highly, highly, highly recommend that you begin to look at what is in your own overlap. What truly matters to you? What can you truly control? What are you willing to let go of so you can hold something even more important to you closer than ever before? You will likely be very surprised at just how small your overlap really is. You will also be shocked at how much time you spend on things outside of your overlap. 

If you’re completely honest with yourself you’ll discover that you control far less than you thought you did. That is not a sign of weakness, that is a sign that you are human.

My overlap is very, very small and yours probably is as well. But the days I stay within my overlap are special days. I accomplish more and what I accomplish actually can make a difference. 

I am not unique in this, days in your overlap will be special days for you too. You must know where your overlap is in order to live there. Find it, focus on it, live there and grow there. 

Most of all, enjoy the very special days you create there!

 

Why Leadership Really Matters

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Top performing, passionate people still need direction, focus and a purpose. The most common source for those three prerequisites for success is an effective leader. Without effective leadership even top performers lose the motivation the use their skills and abilities.

They can get simple direction from a manager, they can even be somewhat forced to focus but their purpose becomes clear only when there is a vision to work towards. Vision casting is a prime responsibility of an effective leader.

People will put forth effort for mere money… for a while. Money alone however has proven to be a poor motivator for top performers. People are most productive when they know that they are making a difference. Working towards a vision shows them where and how they can make a difference.

If the vision can’t be articulated by the leader then there might as well not be a vision. If the vision isn’t shared often then that too is nearly as bad as not having a vision at all.

Leaders are role models as well – good or bad. They should not expect to see more effort from their people than they are willing to offer themselves. They should not expect better decisions or more prudent risk-taking than they put forth as leaders.

If you’re in a leadership position then you absolutely MUST know that your people are watching you… always. They watch to see if your words match your actions. (They do what you do, not what you say) They watch to see if you’re committed enough to the vision and if they determine that you’re not then they will not commit to you.

If they cannot commit to you then they will not commit to the vision. People, especially top performing people, commit to a leader before they commit to the leader’s vision.

The energy that makes good people top performers turns on itself without direction, focus and purpose. When that happens top performers go sour, become ineffective and they eventually leave the leader…. or worse, they stay with the leader and simply stop performing.

Leadership matters, it always has and it always will. Without effective leadership even promising top performers will struggle to reach their potential.

If you’re in a leadership position then you not only have the opportunity to lead, you have an obligation to lead. If you can’t or won’t meet that obligation then you owe it to your would be followers, and even to yourself, to step aside and let a real leader take over.