“There is nothing less productive than to make more efficient what should not be done at all.” – Peter Drucker
The Idea: I like to start many of my forum events with a challenge: “there will be a lot of important ideas shared today, but find the one that you need to think about right now and immerse yourself in this idea.” Varying studies show that we are exposed to over 2,000 daily marketing messages competing for our attention. Our culture works more than anyone in the industrialized world, take less vacations, and competes at a frenetic pace. Our favorite coping mechanism is the “to-do” list because it helps us stay organized. But does it help us make better decisions? It’s a wish list, not a priority list. Here’s the one idea to immerse yourself in this week: find your number one priority and commit more resources than ever before to solving it.
Researcher and author Cal Newport describes optimal performance as that which takes place during “Deep Work.” Deep work is a state of distraction-free concentration, pushing cognitive abilities to their limit and actively generating new value with less effort.
It’s no wonder the Deep Work paradigm is so important. The average person gets interrupted every eight minutes, approximately seven times an hour or fifty-six times a day. The average interruption lasts five minutes which means one can spend up to five hours a day distracted. Here is where it gets interesting: almost eighty percent of those interruptions create “little or no value.” Three hours of time is wasted per day. We are losing ourselves in a whirlwind of interruptions and impulsive “low value” priorities. Activity doesn’t necessarily result in accomplishment. Here’s more proof:
- Ninety-five percent of self-improvement books, audiotapes, and videotapes purchased are not used.
- Ninety percent of people daydream in meetings because fifty percent of meetings are unproductive.
- Ninety percent of what we read, we don’t retain.
We need to simplify our approach to work and mental concentration. But, more importantly, we need to simplify our approach to what we concentrate on. Mental concentration is the battle, but prioritization is the war.
Too often, we list several initiatives but don’t stay concentrated on the most important one. An article titled, How to Act Quickly Without Sacrificing Critical Thinking by Jesse Sostrin reminds us to find a way to balance urgency with thoughtfulness and deliberation. Sostrin calls this “reflective urgency” or “the ability to bring conscious, rapid reflection to the priorities of the moment, aligning your best thinking with the swiftest course of action.”
Derek Lidow, author of A Better Way to Set Priorities, points out that our choices have an impact on what we can achieve. He reminds us that there are three kinds of priorities:
- Critical – Priorities defined as those that must be completed within a fixed time table – no excuses. These limited priorities demand unlimited resources and are non-negotiable. They are vital to your success.
- Important – Priorities having a significant positive impact on performance, supported with fixed resources during a variable time table. They are important but not urgent.
- Desirable – Priorities where both resources and time are variable. These priorities will be executed only if resources become available. This is essentially a “wish list.”
Very few priorities are critical, yet we convince ourselves otherwise. Next time you look at your priorities list, make sure to bring an eraser.
Do you have the courage and discipline to invest fifty percent of your time on your most vital personal goal? What’s trapping you?
Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” -Leonardo da Vinci