Back when I was a computer programmer, my job included a lot of troubleshooting for clients. So, when something wasn’t working right, it was my job to (1) determine what the problem was and (2) fix it or find a work around and report it to development.
What does that mean? It means that was no shortage of options when it came to what to work on each day. Quite frankly, some days it was hard to stay focused because there were many important tasks I could be working on at any moment.
Now, fast forward a couple years, I’m an entrepreneur working from home. While I don’t get phone calls from clients with websites or software that’s not working, I still have a lot of important tasks I could be doing for my business at any one moment. And because I work from home, there are also a lot of personal things I could be doing.
And of course, at home, no one but me is going to notice if I’m watching TV, YouTube or doing something else instead of working on one of those important tasks (well, my husband might start to notice).
So, how do you stay focused to work on those important tasks?
Here are some things you can do or consider:
- Lists. You’ve taken the time to write down all the tasks that you need to do. Yes, it took some time that you could have used working, but it also saved you all that time and energy of worrying that you’re going to forget to do something. And when you remember something else, you have a spot to write it down so you don’t forget it (hint: it’s that same list, don’t start a new one!).
- Plan tomorrow at the end of today. When you don’t have to think about what the next thing is to do, because you already planned it out, it’s easier to jump into the next task. It’s another reason why creating your master or weekly list is so important.
- Clarity. You are clear on why the task is important to you, your business and your goals. You know that this task by itself might not be important, it is important to your larger goals.
- Minimize Distractions.
- Email / Phone – Close your email (yes, really do that!) and silence your phone. This way you have a solid period of time to work without distractions.
- Family – You’ve also let others in the house know you’re working and should not be disturbed for 1-hour (or whatever period of time you need) or until you open your office door. However, once the time is up, go engage with your family, play with your kids for a half hour or talk to your husband. Why do this? If your family knows that you’ll emerge from your office and be there for them, they’re more likely to leave you alone for a bit.
- Noise – If there is distracting noise (or distracting quiet – yes, I occasionally find silence very distracting), find some soothing music to play in the background. Pandora or Spotify are great for that.
- Just sit down and do it. Personally, this rarely works for me. I need to have one or more of the items above figured out before I can just sit down and do it. And I’m guessing, because you’re here, that you’re probably like me in this regard.
Anything else you do to stay focused on the task at hand? Share in the comments below!
How often have you reviewed your week and been frustrated because it seems like the BIG and difficult things didn’t get done?
Yes, maybe a lot of other things were completed, but those really don’t seem to count, because the really HARD thing didn’t get done. So, you automatically feel bad, and maybe guilty, for missing that target.
Why aren’t you excited about the things you did accomplish?
Sometimes we don’t give ourselves credit for the routine or simple things we do that support us and our businesses.
- Did you send out you weekly or monthly newsletter/note to your subscribers? Congrats! How many weeks or months has that been going without interruption? Are you celebrating?
- Did you get out of the house and go networking, even though you had items from yesterday’s to-do list undone? Congrats! You’re out there meeting people and strengthening existing connections!
- Did you meet a personal goal this week? Congrats! You’re taking care of yourself so you can continue taking care of your business!
- Did you have meetings with clients this week, timely follow up with them, or sell your product and deliver it? Congrats! You’re taking care of your customers!
I could go on, but hopefully you get the idea.
We often get caught up in everything that didn’t get done, goals that were missed and maybe opportunities that were lost.
We want to improve for next time, which is good! You want to review why something didn’t work and adjust for next time.
But we’re so busy focusing on those things that we miss some of the celebrations, big and small, that we could be having along the way.
So, I have a challenge for you: over the next 7 days, at the end of each day, write down what went right and what you accomplished. At the end of the 7 days, review it and have a little celebration for yourself! And come back here and share!
In the meantime, what have you already accomplished today? Share in the comments below!
It’s easy to answer “Where do I start?” with “at the beginning” isn’t it? Sometimes though, the beginning isn’t immediately obvious.
“I’m soooo overwhelmed with what has to be done! And I have no idea where to even start making changes so that I feel like I’m accomplishing something on a regular basis.”
I’ve heard it a few times, heck – I’ve said it myself a few times!
I pulled this great quote from David Allen’s book Getting Things Done:
Trying to manage from the top down, when the bottom is out of control, may be the least effective approach.
This describes exactly why I believe you need to know what’s currently on your plate before you set your long term goals.
Now, you might be saying, but Evie! You’re a coach, don’t you encourage your clients to set goals right away?
And yes, I do, but the shorter term goal of “I want to understand what’s currently on my plate” needs to be accomplished before adding more goals to the plate.
So, why take the time and energy to know what’s on your plate before you set your goals? Well, there are three reasons:
- When you don’t already know exactly what is on your plate, taking on more things only adds to the confusion and overwhelm. ‘Should’ becomes a constant companion as in, “Oh, I should be doing this” and you spend less and less time with what makes you excited, as in “Ohhh! I get to do this today!”
- When you know what’s on your plate, you can easily see where you’ve taken too much on or what’s not as important as you previously though. And then you can let that stuff go. Remember, just because you’ve always done it that way, or other people in your profession have, doesn’t mean that you have to do it that way.
- When you set your goals after you know what’s on your plate, you can easily see what you’re already doing that supports those goals. And you might find that with a slight tweak, some things you’re already doing will support your new goals.
Think of it like this, if you’re driving and get lost, you stop and find out where you are (or pull out your phone or GPS) so you can determine how and when you’ll get to your destination.
So, what’s on your plate that you can let go of? Share in the comments below!
Whenever I talk about task lists, whether in a presentation or with clients, I hear about how they’ve tried making lists, but it just doesn’t work for them. And if they had a system for keeping track of their goals and tasks that was working for them, then I’d leave it alone. However, they usually don’t.
When I ask why task lists don’t work, I generally hear something like:
- It’s overwhelming to see everything I need to do in one place.
- I make a list, stare at it and then go and do something else entirely.
This isn’t a problem of task lists not working – the problem is what’s on the list.
Here are the top three reasons your list isn’t working for you:
- The tasks are too big.
Your tasks are things like updating your website, launching a program/product or paint the living room. Of course you’re frustrated and overwhelmed! Those are projects, NOT tasks (and you’ve created yourself a list of them!).
Your task list is exactly that, a list of tasks. Instead of writing “paint the living room,” ask yourself what’s the next step? Have you picked a color yet? Maybe your next step is to look at colors at a store and grab a few examples to take home and review.
- The list is too long.
Everyone has created lists like this. You’ve decided to write down everything that you need to do and before you know it; you’ve assigned yourself 20 tasks for the day. Again, you’re frustrated because you know that there is no possible way to complete all those items today.
And you’re absolutely right. It won’t all get done. You’ve actually created a list of things to do over the next three or four days. Recognizing that and deciding what to complete today from that list will save you time and frustration. So, create a smaller list just for today. If everything feels like it HAS to be done today, take a look at last week’s article here.
- The important tasks are hiding between the trivial tasks.
That looks like this: Clean off desk; Call Mom back; Email Jane; Write proposal for upcoming project; Make my inbox zero; Do the dishes; Wash towels.
So, the really important thing, writing a proposal (or whatever it is for your business) is nicely hidden in the middle. You do all the “easy” tasks and run out of time at the end of the day for the really important one. Sorry, but that is not your task list not working for you – that’s you not working your task list.
Always prioritize your list. Even if it’s not written with the most important item first, put a star or asterisk or something next to the highest priority item so it gets done first!
Think of it like this – if someone says I want you to call your mom back, do the dishes, read all your email, take this $1000 bill and clean off your desk – what would you do first? Yep, you’re going to take that $1000 right away and then go do those other things.
So, where is that $1000 on your task list? Find it and take care of that first.
What did I forget? What are your reasons for not keeping a task list? Share in the comments below.
Have you ever had this situation: You’re looking at the list of things you want to accomplish this week and it feels like everything really should be done today. Everything is super important and can’t really wait until the end of the week. So, choosing what needs to be done today is frustrating, not to mention deciding what task you’re going to do next.
I had that experience this week. Between deadlines, emails, phone calls, meetings and other things I just wanted crossed off my list – it was extremely difficult to pick out what was really my highest priority.
I’ve heard other people say your highest priority tasks should be the things that will directly result in bringing in money or growing your business, but what about those items that won’t contribute to the bottom line now, but they’re a step in that direction?
Yeah, I was a bit frustrated.
So, this is what I did (and what you can do when you find yourself in a similar situation):
- Make a list of what you want to do this week (or even just today).
If you already have that list, great! Mine was the undone things on my weekly list that had a few items added to it over the course of a couple days. I decided to rewrite it with just what was undone.
- In the margin, draw two lines down the page.
My lines were about a centimeter apart. It doesn’t matter which margin it is, use whatever space is available on the paper.
- Label the one column Income and the other Deadline.
- Review your list for income generating tasks.
Place a check-mark in that column. Now, you might be thinking: But I don’t have anything on my list that will directly result in me making money today, so I won’t be checking anything in this column.
And if that were exactly what I meant by “income generating tasks”, then you’d be right. However, income generating tasks are also those tasks that might generate income later.
So, that networking event that you plan to go to – belongs in this category.
The phone calls you wanted to make to connect with people – yep, it counts.
Creating a freebie for your website – you guessed it, it counts!
Reading every email in your inbox – NOPE, that doesn’t count. It might be a nice distraction, but it can wait.
- Review your list for tasks that are part of a deadline that is in the 24 or 48 hours.
Yep, you guessed it – place a check-mark in that column.
- Estimate how long each task with a check-mark next to it will take.
And write it down next to the task!
- Decide your priorities.
Anything that has a check-mark in both categories should be done first.
And anything that doesn’t have a check-mark can wait a day or two (yes, I know you’d really like that item completed, but you’ve just identified it as not being a high priority).
Now, for the income versus deadline items, you’ll need to make a call on those. I took a look at when the deadline was and how long each item was going to take and decided to do the income generating items first.
- Start working on the highest priority task!
One thing I’ve learned over the years is that 10 minutes of planning will save me a couple hours of being frustrated. It also means I don’t work late into the evening, because I’ve decided what can wait until tomorrow or next week.
What do you do to decide your priorities when everything feels important? Share below!