One of my best friends – and the most organized person I know – recently sent me an article from the Harvard Business Review on keeping up with the wild pace of life, and the two lists professionals should make to keep from drowning in information overload.
The author, Peter Bregman, a strategic advisor to CEOs and author of 18 minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done, says trying to answer, attend and review every e-mail, meeting, phone call, news event, and tweet is counterproductive. Instead, he says success hinges on our willingness to risk missing some information.
“Trying to focus on it all is a risk itself. We’ll exhaust ourselves. We’ll get confused, nervous and irritable,” Bregman says.
His solution is taking time to pause, prioritize and focus by creating these lists:
The Focus List: Developed to help you concentrate on the road ahead, this list designs your time around things that make you happy and help you toward your goals.
The Ignore List: Intended to keep you from getting distracted and helps you succeed in using time wisely. To make this list, ask yourself what gets in your way.
Bregman goes on to say that most people have a Focus List but very few keep an Ignore List, and that is most important of all.
“The leaders who will continue to thrive in the future know the answers to these questions and each time there’s a demand on their attention they ask whether it will further their focus or dilute it,” he said.
Bregman says these two lists are a map for each day and recommends reviewing them every morning along with your calendar and asking: what’s the plan for today? Where will I spend my time? How will it further my focus? How might I get distracted?
His last bit of advice: Find the courage to follow through, make choices and be prepared to disappoint a few people.
The amazing thing is this article was written in 2009 and it still applies. Demands on our time are increasing while time on our schedule is decreasing, and it’s time to tackle that inbox, planner, and voicemail box in one fatal swoop.
I, for one, am not disappointed to get rid of my endless stream of sticky notes, planner to-dos and e-folders that are reminders of reminders, yelling “read me! do this! don’t forget!”
Heidi Sullivan, VP of global media research at Cision and an author of CisionBlog, does an amazing job of managing a large department, attending countless meetings and shuffling through hundreds of e-mails. She reminds her staff to follow-up with her in-person if they haven’t received an e-mail response, and this tactic makes employees feel top-priority without Heidi having to spend all day and night at a computer.
To get started, here are a few tools the amazing Jay Krall has shared with me which you may find useful for organizing your Focus and Ignore Lists or managing a project:
What will appear on your Focus and Ignore Lists? Do you have any other tips to share?