Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The Sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus
Alexander Graham Bell
In the last post, I had given out my normal routine to impress upon the point that it is possible to squeeze maximum life out of a 24-hour day provided we apply the Power of Focus. I had also given real-life examples to showcase what all could be achieved if one is clear of the goals and the path to these goals. But you might say, it is easier said than done, and you may not be totally wrong. Out of my life experiences, I have distilled these Ten Commandments which I follow to improve my Power of Focus. You might find them useful, so here we go.
Begin with the End in Mind
I have taken this Commandment out of Steven Covey’s iconic book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. In a way, it is also akin to the concept of Start with Why? as elucidated by Simon Sinek and which we discussed in our last series, The Hedgehog Concept. We all are given the same amount of time in a day and have a multitude of competing priorities vying for this limited time. It is important to first prioritise your “Bucket List” into Vital, Essentials and Desirable (VED) tasks. The Vital tasks are those which must be done and only by you. Please see the nuance here, while the task might be very important and has to be done in a time-critical way, but is there someone else in your organization who, after due guidance from you, can accomplish the same? If yes, delegate the task to that person and have a mechanism to monitor the progress. If you have no one who can do this task, well, start to train your subordinates to shoulder higher responsibilities. Free yourself for those tasks that only you have to perform which will invariably be in the strategic realm.
Every minute of your day has to be accounted for in a constructive pursuit that must be aligned with your aspirations and goals. Please don’t get me wrong, I am not exhorting you to become a workaholic, I myself am not. All I am saying is that you should be the master of your time. If you want to take a power nap in the afternoon or sleep eight hours at night, or play Golf for three hours in the evening or watch Netflix for three hours at night, well go ahead and do it. But it has to be part of a schedule laid down by you and not thrust down upon you by your friends or your desultory thinking. Everything is important in life but prioritizing these will be different for each one of us. This focus will take us towards the few important things in our life while saving our time from the non-essentials.
One way to prioritise the VED of life is to open the Wheel of Life diagram in front of us and look at the hub (family) and the six spokes. Where do we see ourselves after say, one year, or five years? This reflection will focus us on our Why, why we are doing what we are doing? Is it the best use of my time at this moment? If on the Physical spoke my goal is to lose 10 kg weight in next one year, why am I shutting the alarm off in the morning and going back to sleep instead of exercising, which is part of my daily routine? Remember, everything in life can’t be a priority, get the pseudo-priorities out of your life- begin your day with the end in mind.
Learn to say NO
This has to rank at the very top of the activities that bleed our time in the pursuit of productivity. In a way, it is connected to point number 1. If you don’t have your priorities right, if you have not started your day/week/month with a clear Why or end in mind, you will be buffeted by temptations and time-wasters. We only have a finite time in the day and every YES has to be at the cost-of time, an entity that only moves in one direction, forward. Time spent can never be recouped. We must learn the art of saying NO judiciously, politely and yet firmly.
You will receive invites for many events, celebrations, parties, conferences, virtual webinars et. al., all very good but please spend 10 seconds before accepting. Do a cost-benefit analysis, is that time better spent on some other activity that is aligned to your Wheel of Life? Many a time you say Yes just because the person is a close friend or relative wherein in your heart-of- heart you know that it is going to be a time-waster, at least so far as your priorities are concerned. Even if you have committed, go back, think it over, and call back to say No – trust me, your friend or relative will understand. Anyways, it is best not to commit straight away and request the person if you could get back to him.
We have to make choices every moment of the day and every choice takes its toll on our precious time. At times, even not making a choice is also a choice because then someone else will choose the utilization of our time for us. The only problem is- that he/she will choose as per his/her requirements, and not ours. Irrespective of what we think, there is always scope for optimizing our time, be it at work or in social settings.
Spend some Time with You
In the frenetic world of ours, the epitome of effectiveness is construed to be – our being busy. If you walk into someone’s office and don’t find an ‘In Tray’ full of files, you consider that person to be a vella (unemployed or time-waster). We rarely think that the person is actually very efficient because he/she has left nothing pending. Similarly, going early to work and coming back late from work is considered the virtue of a true professional. Someone who spends just a few hours at work is, well, a shirker, deadwood. I will exhort you to read the wonderful book, The 4-Hour Work Week, by Tim Ferriss, which illustrates the art of time-management.
In this rushed life, we tend to lose touch with ourselves, the real us, which is deep within us. A place where all the abundance, the richness, the solitude is found. It is a must to have some dedicated time, both in the mornings and evenings, which you spend with yourself. This Solitude Time could be in the form of meditation or ‘Doing Nothing’ time. Whenever we sit to relax, we always have our smartphone/TV/book etc. to give us company. Remember, you are not with yourself in such moments but with the author/ actor/virtual world etc. No, I am not talking about this kind of Solitude Time – this time has to spend with you and you alone. Meditation or just “getting bored” by doing nothing, will connect you to the real you. It is quite difficult initially, but start with just a few minutes, you will find this Me-Time quite cathartic. This will be a time when you will get bright ideas, revelations, epiphany, and so on. This will turn out to be the most productive time of the day for you- start from today, just 10 minutes will do.
If you are meditating, follow a Guru – don’t let the YouTube channels and pop-yoga sites be your guide. Meditation is an art best learnt at the feet of your Guru, either by direct contact or following the books/courses that are run by him/her. I am myself a follower of Sri Sri Yogananda, the celebrated author of the book, Autobiography of a Yogi and founder of the Yogodha Satsang Society. He is long gone but his teachings are immortalized in the form of courses which I subscribe to. You may find your own salvation but do meditate under the benign tutelage of your Guru.
If your Solitude Time is non-meditation, I will suggest you to sit outdoors – your lawn or balcony, so that you have a connection with the environment and nature. Keep a diary with you so that if you get an idea, you can note it down. Don’t sit with any particular agenda, don’t have any distractions like your phone etc. with you. Just sit and reflect on life, on yourself, you will be pleasantly surprised to get revelations which will help you to be happier and more productive.
Bill Gates, the boss of Microsoft, is a strong proponent of this “Solitude Time” which he started way back in the 1980s when he visited his grandmother’s home with no particular agenda. These periods soon grew to “Think Weeks” where Gates lodged himself in his cottage by the ocean for an entire week, twice a year, in sheer solitude. Gates entertained no visitor, no distractions whatsoever during this week. One of the results of this sojourn was the launch of Internet Explorer in 1995 and many others which made Microsoft what it is today. Then, there is Jeff Weiner, the Executive Chairman of LinkedIn, who religiously sets aside four 30 minutes periods in a day in which there are no schedules. He professes that these two hours of “doing nothing” give him control over his time and life; he can reflect and be more productive.
Essentially, I am exhorting you to create this “Solitude Place” for you in which you can practice your “Solitude Time”, it may be minutes or weeks, that’s not very important. More important is to be with you for some time every day. You will be surprised by the virtue and beauty of “doing nothing” or “getting bored”.
A snapshot of a typical weekend – thank God it’s Friday evening and we are ready to party. The get-together begins at 9 PM and continues well into the morning hours with drinks, music and dancing in abundance, all indicators of a good time. You hit the bed at 4 AM, utterly exhausted but refusing to sleep – why waste time, it’s your well-earned “relaxation time.” You start watching the latest show on Netflix which is too engrossing to be left halfway. Before you realise, it’s 8 AM and you get caught in the daily routine of a Saturday – household chores, kids’ study, wife’s shopping and so on. You have kept Saturday evening as your “Family Time” and hence you spend the evening with your family, maybe watching a movie together or visiting parents/in-laws/relatives/friends etc. Tonight, you settle down to sleep early but remember, new episodes of the grand Netflix saga, are still left to be watched. Well, one thing leads to another and before long it’s 2 AM. You can barely keep your eyes open and drowse off for a few hours of fitful sleep before the alarm rudely awakens you at 7 AM. It’s back to Monday Morning Blues.
This is a typical relaxing weekend after a hectic week of work where, in any case, you feel too burdened to take adequate rest and sleep. In this frenzied lifestyle, the first casualty is our sleep which we often take for granted. As per the latest research, an average adult needs to sleep at least seven hours at night. Adequate and restful sleep maintains our heart, brain and bodily functions; it helps to process and imbibe all the information that we have gathered during the day- consciously or unconsciously. If one is not adequately rested, memory recalls and remembering takes a hit. Another study suggests that the best time to sleep is before 2 AM provided you complete your seven hours of beauty nap. This doesn’t mean that we have to stay awake till 2 AM, the earlier we go to bed the better it is.
Being awake for a 24 hours cycle or sleeping just 4-5 hours over a week, is akin to having 0.1% alcohol content in the body. Literally, the person is walking, talking and working drunk. Not only that, major health problem of the cardiovascular system, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, asthma and cancers like prostate and breast, is said to be one of the manifestations of sleep deprivation. Mental health issues like anxiety and depression are other unintended byproducts of lack of sleep. Would you believe that in Japan there is a phenomenon called Karoshi which means “death caused by lack of sleep”?
Do I really have to lay it out before you as to why you should sleep well or why a good night’s sleep will add to your focus and productivity? Please plan your day well and get into a habit of “early to bed and early to rise”. It will give you the time for your morning meditation and exercise and a night of restful sleep. Don’t delay this habit by even a single day, you are adversely impacting your health and productivity. If you wish to know whether you are sleep deprived, you can use this link to take a quick 3-minutes quiz.
We will continue with the rest next week.
Read more from Anand Saxena here: