We live in a world of distraction and shiny objects. Everywhere you turn there is something vying for your attention. That could be a neon sign in a shop window, a brightly coloured advert on the side of a bus, or the incessant pinging and vibrating of our phones. It’s non-stop and if we allowed it, it would be twenty-four hours a day.
With all these distractions, our focus gets shredded. Even if we know what is important and needs doing today, the world seems designed to pull us off our plans and leave us exhausted at the end of the day.
But despite all these distractions, some people manage to stay focused on what is important. Some people seem to know how to get their work done consistently and on time and not allow themselves to be distracted by all the surrounding noise. How do they do that?
I’ve spent the better part of the last thirty years obsessed with this question and what I have learned is to get control of your time and to maintain your focus on the things that are important all you need are a few simple tools and a little discipline.
First up the tools you need.
Use a Calendar
Without a calendar, you will have no structure to your day. You will be pulled and pushed in all sort of directions—most of which you do not want to go. Thirty years ago, the most productive people carried a pocket calendar with them, and the high-flying business executives (this was the 1980s after all) carried their Filofaxes with them. Today, we have Google Calendar or Outlook on our phones and computers. There really is no excuse to getting control of your calendar.
Your calendar never lies. All you get are the same twenty-four hours we all get and it is on your calendar where you can schedule out your day. You can block time out to focus on your important work and you can schedule out your exercise and family time.
The trick with using your calendar is to spend a little time before the week starts and get all the things you want to do into your calendar. If you want time to work on your side-project, put the time on your calendar. If you want to exercise three times each week, schedule your exercise time on your calendar.
Once you have what you want to do on your calendar, then adopt the policy of: ‘what goes on my calendar gets done’.
If you do not treat your calendar as sacred territory, then all your planning will be wasted time. Be strict, but be flexible. If you scheduled exercise time between 6:00PM and 7:00PM but arrive fifteen minutes late, not a problem. Do your exercise. Managing your day is not an exact science, it’s more about developing the habit and the discipline to carry through with your intentions.
Make a To-Do List.
Throughout the day, you are going to receive many inputs. That’s the nature of the way we work today. Inputs come from our bosses, colleagues, clients, customers and generally arrive via email, Slack or Microsoft Teams messages. Leaving these inputs in your email or Slack feed means you have tasks all over the place and you will waste a lot of time searching for all these tasks.
Instead, create a to-do list. It does not have to be anything elaborate. All you need is a simple list in your notes app, or you could use a purpose-built app such as Todoist, Microsoft To-Do or Apple Reminders. There’s a lot of choices out there.
Whenever a task comes, quickly add it to your to-do list. Now there are many ways to organise a to-do list. You could use the tried and tested Getting Things Done methodology created by David Allen and explained in detail in his book by the same name where your tasks are managed by context—people, place or tool. Or you could use a simpler system such as my Time Sector System, where your tasks are organised by when you plan to do them: this week, next week, next month etc.
A Notes App
Once you have your day planned in your calendar and a place to collect all your tasks so you know what needs doing, the only remaining tool you need is a place to collect your ideas and plans. For that, I recommend using a digital notes app. And you have a lot of choices. The top three are Evernote and Microsoft OneNote and Apple Notes. Pick one.
In your notes app, you collect project ideas, meeting notes and plans for your future. You can save links to articles and sites you want to reference later and create purchase lists of things you want to buy, places you want to visit and foods you want to try. There’s so much you can collect in your notes app. Over time your notes will become an amazing reference library customised to your tastes and interests.
The Final Ingredient – Discipline
Just having the tools in place is not going to be enough. All these tools come built into our devices yet so many people never use them. They see their calendar as the domain of their workplace, and they’ve never opened their notes or to-do list apps.
To pull everything together and to finally get control of your time and how you spend your limited time, you must use these tools. Take some time to set them up, so they work for you, do the necessary research, take the courses or read the books, if necessary and make a commitment to yourself to start using them.
That takes discipline and can be hard at first. But if you stay committed, over a few weeks you will soon find yourself instinctively using them and when that happens, you will find yourself controlling your time and achieving all the things you wanted to achieve but never found time to do before.
Good luck and if you want to learn more about getting control of your time and achieving the things you want to achieve in your life, I have many resources on my website, blog, YouTube channel and podcast that can help you to finally get control of your time, reduce distractions and build your goals and dreams.
ABOUT CARL PULLEIN
Carl is a renowned productivity and time management coach who has helped thousands of people around the world get better at managing their time and become more productive using technology they carry around with them every day.
Carl has written three books on productivity and time management and coaches companies and individuals around the world through his one to one coaching programmes and Time and Life Mastery and Your Digital Life courses.
Carl is passionate and dedicated to helping people become better at managing their time so they can focus on what is important to them and his YouTube videos, presentations and workshops are highly interactive, entertaining and educational.
You can find out more about Carl on his website: https://www.carlpullein.com