Focus Management In The Information Age

Focus management has become the most elusive – yet most important – life skill for our day.  At no time in our history have we had access to so much information, knowledge and business intelligence.  We are bombarded daily by a widening variety of data streams and communications.  And for those of us who are naturally curious the Internet beckons with promises of bright, shiny bits of new information.  So how do we navigate this sea of unending data in a way that keeps us on course? 

Decades ago Peter Drucker predicted that our workforce would be transformed into a village of knowledge workers.  He made this prediction in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.  Fast forward to today where our jobs have shifted away from agriculture and manufacturing and have very much grown in the services sector.

Drucker’s definition of a knowledge worker is any person who uses information to make a difference in business.  That’s pretty wide.  I’ll narrow that down for the purposes of this article to say let’s talk about workers who take in multitudes of information on a daily basis and must decide which pieces of information to act upon, which pieces to save for future reference and which bits may be discarded.  In that very loose definition we are talking about nearly any person working in an office setting – from the receptionist to the CEO.  The average office worker receives between 100 and 200 email messages daily.  The number of text messages sent each day exceeds the total population of the planet.  And we haven’t even mentioned voicemail yet.

Without a firm grasp on what we expect to accomplish our days will easily fill with unsatisfying information processing.  What we really need is a map – a well-defined picture of what we want to have or achieve.

In David Allen’s productivity structure called Getting Things Done (GTD) he outlines 6 horizons of commitments.  He identifies them as:

  • Purpose
  • Vision
  • Goals
  • Areas of Focus
  • Projects
  • Actions

If we’re completely honest, most of us would have to admit that we spend the bulk of our time at the lowest level – actions.  We put out fires, answer questions, respond to emails, and hope to cross off at least a few to-do’s from our list.  Possibly some of us would also have projects identified, but that is most likely as far as we will have taken our planning.  Expanding our consciousness to work with the bigger picture helps us make good decisions with the information that is thrown at us in the limited time we have each day to make something happen.

Exercise

Think of 3 things you can do today that will move you forward.  Go ahead and take a few minutes to write them down.  Now compare your list with the most important things you need to accomplish this year.  Is there alignment?  If you’re like most of us your list is made up of urgent matters that require attention but having accomplished them will not bring you one single step closer to attaining your overall objectives.  Now take a fresh approach to those 3 items:  what 3 tiny steps can you take today that will contribute toward achieving your goals?

Know What You Want

Steven Covey would call this “begin with the end in mind”.  What is your overall purpose?  Your vision and goals?  These things are often iterative meaning you don’t have to get them right the first time you commit them to paper.  Write down whatever comes to mind.  You can revise them some other time.  In fact you may find yourself revising them once or twice a year.  That’s okay.  Sometimes what is important to us changes or becomes clearer over time.

Own the Gap

Gaps are good – they show us the difference between where we are now and where we want to be.  The more we can identify where we are in relation to the end goal, the better we can plan.

Understand What Is Required

If we can’t figure out how to move from where we are to where we want to be, it’s up to us to get help.  Find a mentor, a colleague, a book.  Think it through until you reach the point where you can map out the path.

Commit and Recommit

Keep yourself on course by reminding yourself why this goal is worthwhile.  If you find yourself having to do this often, perhaps a good question to ask would be: Is this truly my goal or am I attempting commitment to make someone else happy?

Plan for Success

If it needs to be done it’s got to appear on our calendar.  Everyone has their own method; scheduling time for A and B activities, scheduling appointments with ourselves for specific projects…  It doesn’t matter what system we use as long as we do use a system that reserves time for these important steps toward achievement.  Break your projects into actionable next steps and decide when and where you will do them.

Say No to Anything that will take you off course

The most important person to say no to is ourselves.  We can be our own worst enemy when it comes to getting off track.  Vigilantly identify and cast off self-made distractions.  Once we get good at this piece, saying no to others will come much more easily.

The key to staying focused is knowing where we want to go and reminding ourselves of our chosen path.  Keeping our goals front and center will help us stay aligned with the bigger picture as we make time commitment decisions throughout the day.  We will play a bigger game.  At the very minimum it will help us process the seemingly unending stream of daily communications and distractions without getting pulled off course.

Thanks for stopping by.  If you have focus management tips or questions, please feel free to leave a comment below.  Comments are always welcome.

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