by Steven Iwersen
“If I have one more thing that doesn’t get done on schedule, I’m going to…!”
The frustration is mounting for many leaders around the world. Everyone expects us to sprint to the expected outcomes; but at the same time the varied demands for our time and attention slow us down. It begins to feel like we can hardly stay focused on what matters. This is true for every leader, but even more so for those that are leading a small business or are solopreneurs.
You and I know that the inability to stay focused on one thing at a time affects our bottom line. There are real costs to this issue. Some studies reflect that the cost of a single brief interruption can eventually equal up to 23 minutes of lost productivity while we work to get back on task.
The personal impact of unfinished business is just as costly. Consider these:
- Higher Stress
- Emotional Frustration
- Relational Tension
- Cognitive Disruption (Thinking about many things at once and unable to finish a thought.)
The answer must be found in the power of an effective Time Management System! Not really. I’ve tried many different systems over the years in a desperate attempt to be more effective and productive in my work load. Time Management strategies, calendars (hard copy and digital), downloaded apps – all are supposed to keep me focused. Many of these helped to a degree. But none were completely effective in overcoming the curse of real and imagined distractions.
However, that changed when I started to process my priorities and workload using One Word as my guideline. This single word brought a clarifying focus to my planning. It also became my mental mantra that helped me stay focused on the tasks at hand when the distractions were begging for attention. To my surprise, within two weeks I discovered that:
- My productivity had greatly improved
- My personal satisfaction had increased
- I had achieved more in less time
- I had more time to pursue other interests.
- The desk was frequently cleared at the end of the day
- The status of open projects was current
- And best of all – I had peace of mind.
That’s right. One word made a big difference! I’m convinced that this single word strategy can help you be intentional about your priorities/planning and protect from impulsiveness in your practice.
WARNING: Do not dismiss this as too simplistic. It may appear to be way too easy and obvious; but it is, like any other discipline, a behavior that has to be used consistently in order to see the results. As you already know, old habits are hard to break and new behaviors are difficult in the beginning before they become a natural part of your routine.
So what is that one word?
The word is….
I told you, it looks too simple! And yet, it has proven to be a significant tool for staying on task.
WHY IT WORKS SO WELL
The word FINISH triggers a core need in our psyche that desires to have things completed. For example, a check mark next to an item on the To Do List feels good. It means that we don’t have to keep thinking about it – we can move on. Moving on implies that we are progressing and more importantly it is deeply satisfying.
Unfinished business doesn’t feel good. Responsibilities unfinished linger in our minds and clouds our ability to think things through to a conclusion. That makes it hard to be fully present for the people who deserve our attention. When we have tasks piling up we agonize over the fact that we don’t have enough time to do everything. We begin to entertain the mental impression that we are failing. There is no satisfaction and therefore little motivation.
But then, there is that word – FINISH.
It has a uniquely powerful influence in your mind. When you think or even say the word aloud – it influences your decision making abilities in that single moment. It recalls your previous reasoning in regards to what is important. In a sense, it gives you a mental splash of cold water in the face and makes it much easier to say no to the distractions. “Finish.” That word reminds you that the decision to do this task first was already made and is not open for discussion until this is done.
I’ve personally found that when I’m tempted to stop what I’m working on to check an email or to fiddle with social media, my thoughts filter that distraction and I’m empowered to immediately redirect to the greater priority.
The commitment to finish leads to completion. Completion leads to a personal and professional freedom. The freedom to entertain other matters without the guilt of knowing that a priority task has been delayed.
FINISH gives you focus!
HOW TO MAKE IT WORK FOR YOU
It is my practice to use the FINISH mindset in three specific methods: In One Session, In Scheduled Segments and With Structure/Systems.
1) FINISH IN ONE SESSION
This is the fastest application of the Finish Mindset and the most challenging because we are conditioned to be multi-taskers. The methodology is based on an old lesson we were taught in our childhood – “finish what you start”. In other words, stay focused. Whatever you are working on, stick to it until it is done. This works best with tasks that have a short term focus and a potentially quick outcome. It will also help you resist the urge to dabble in the distractions.
Look at your most important tasks and determine if you can finish in a single effort. It could be a 5-10 minute task (responding to an email). It could be a project requiring an entire morning (research and writing a report). It may even require of you one or two days to complete (building a fence). Whatever it is, work at it until you can confidently say it is done.
If you determine that what your needing to work on is not a One Session task (or that you will have interruptions) get strategic and schedule your plan.
2) FINISH IN SCHEDULED SEGMENTS
The battle most leaders have (especially solopreneurs) is allowing the daily schedule to be determined by whatever pops up or whomever drops in. That could be real or virtual. Productivity on essential business building activities takes a big hit when we relinquish our focus, instead of leading the agenda.
We all have major responsibilities that involve much more than simple daily task management. The workload includes: team members, customer feedback, meetings, travel, reports, analysis, etc. The more complex it is, the more you’ll need to break the priorities down into manageable segments.
HERE IS THE IMPORTANT PART – Identify the elements or tasks that can each be accomplished in One Session. Schedule those sessions into your calendar. In advance, block times during each week that you will work only on those highest priorities. Then protect those blocks of time and “finish” what needs to be done during that allotted timeframe.
3) FINISH WITH STRUCTURE / SYSTEMS
The best thing you can do to help yourself and your team make the Finish Mindset a natural discipline is to create a structure that compliments your commitments. Anything you can do to make the recurring or repetitive tasks easier to manage and track, the better you can focus on the more valued responsibilities.
Here are some quick tips:
- Automate. Find and use applications or software systems that can take care of daily repetitive essentials. This could include: email sorting, computer backups, social media posting, research, etc. Check out IFTTT.com (If Then, Then That) A great way to manage and track recurring tasks.
- Calendar. Sync all your commitments to one calendar. I make sure that mine is available to my team members and family.
- Meetings. I’m just going to say what your people want to say: A) Fewer meetings. B) Make the meetings meaningful. Less repetitive reporting and more dialogue on ideas of growing the business. C) “The shorter the meeting, the greater the focus, the better your results.”
- Appointments. Create an easy way for people to connect with you. There are apps that allow people to choose a day/time that you’ve predetermined your availability. Examples: www.timetrade.com or www.appointment-plus.com
- Sharing Portals. The more you work with others and need to be connected virtually – the more valuable it is to use cloud based systems for sharing projects. Check out Google Docs, Hightail, Dropbox, and more.
- Lifestyle. Create ways to streamline your life. As silly as it may sound, you can get more done if you make advance decisions concerning what you will wear or eat any particular day. Outsource weekly tasks. But most importantly, practice the Finish Mindset at home. You will have less clutter. And your family will notice that you are more present and attentive to them.
Give it a try. FINISH.
I’m pretty sure that you will be pleasantly surprised with your results.
This article was originally posted at steveniwersen.com.
Steven Iwersen, CSP is a faculty member of LEADERSHIP USA.