Making Urgency Your Friend

Everyone has those moments where they feel like time is flying and they are ‘in the zone’ - Those periods when you just focus intensely for a couple of hours and you get more done than you thought possible.

By contrast, we also have those times when we go the entire day and feel like we’ve been spinning our wheels, not making any real progress.

Which of these situations happens more regularly for you? If you’re like most people, then chances are your week is dominated by the times when you feel like you’re spinning your wheels, and those super-productive times are pretty rare.

80% Syndrome and Attention

Here are some disturbing statistics:

  • 28% of our day is taken up with interruptions,
  • When I’m interrupted by an email, it takes, on average, 24 minutes to get back to the primary task
  • People switch tasks every 3 minutes, and generally switch from high value tasks, to low value, easy tasks.

While we think we are operating at full capacity most of the time, the reality is that most of us aren’t.

Attention is one of the most important things we can build to be as productive as possible. It might even be THE most important thing. And what seems to matter most isn’t the amount of time we spend on doing something, but the amount of focus we have while we are doing it.

When we get in the office, do we get distracted by trivial things? Or do we focus on the most important things? Our ability to pay attention is called our mental focus. How long do you think the average person stays in this zone?

The answer is about three minutes.

Research shows that we get distracted every three minutes and, generally, we switch from high value things (or difficult things) to low value things (or easy things). Unfortunately, nine times out of ten, it is the high value, difficult things that make us most productive.

One Simple Thing to Stay Focussed

You’ll find that people are most productive when a deadline’s looming, when they are clear about what needs to be done and when they are alone in the office either early in the morning or after hours.

Let’s pay particular attention to the first part: when a deadline is looming.

In the absence of someone (our client, manager, wife etc) giving us the right deadline – one that is not too close but not too distant, we have to learn to make our own deadlines. This is where the Timer Strategy comes into play.

Make Time Your Friend – the Timer Strategy

The Timer Strategy is a simple yet effective strategy for gaining focus and getting us out of our un-motivated state. And it goes like this:

Firstly, write down a list of one or two things you really need to get done. if it’s part of a bigger project, then write down a couple of specific things you can do right away. Now, get an electronic timer or use the countdown feature on your watch or smartphone and set it for any amount of time up to 2 hours. Then put your task list containing those two to three things in front of you and keep the clock somewhere you can see it.

Now hit start.

This false deadline creates just the amount of pressure you need to get you into the performance zone. As strange as it might sound, we can actually fool ourselves into thinking that we need to meet the deadline.

People who do this really well create some urgency around getting those two to three things done by the time the buzzer sounds.

To do this well, you need to be able to SEE the timer counting down. If your phone goes to lock screen, then it doesn’t work so well. You also need to be really clear about what you want to achieve in the time frame.

Another option is to set an alarm and have a clock somewhere you can see it.

This may not work the first time, but if you practice, it can be an amazing tool.

** Tony Wilson is a Workplace Performance Expert. His insights into performance science and its application in the workplace will make you re-think the way that you approach leadership, culture change, high performance and productivity. Tony has an MBA and a BSc majoring in physiology and delivers workshops and keynote presentations around the globe.

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