As there are only a few precious minerals on earth, the things that matter in life are VERY FEW. In a world where everything and everyone is dying to get our attention, there has never been a better time to choose what to focus on than now. In an era of information overload, the wealth of information has led to a poverty of attention. In the words of Greg McKeon, “Only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that matter.”
IT’S ABOUT BEING EFFECTIVE, NOT EFFICIENT
While efficiency is about getting more things done, effectiveness is about getting the right things done. As Peter Drucker encapsulated it, “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”
Focus not on being productive but being productive on the right things.
WHY IT’S EASY TO MISPLACE YOUR PRIORITIES
While the things that matter are very few, it is very difficult to strip off the non-essentials. The things that matter are whispering when calling for our attention. The non-essentials are not even shouting, they are screaming! We have to go for the things that matter while the things that have zero significance are coming for us. The things that matter require patience, are boring, do not offer instant gratification, and are not appealing. The things that matter require effort while the non-essentials are effortless.
As a result, we have ended up with misplaced priorities and disoriented lives. Everything is upside down if not inside out.
Sleep is one of the things that we ought to score highly in our daily scorecards. We hardly get enough sleep. Sleep seems boring. There are so many things we could be doing rather than sleep. Lack of enough quality sleep has very few implications in the short term. They are easily ignored.
In our homesteads, we are spending more time on social media than we spend with our loved ones. We are giving more of our attention to celebrities and strangers on the internet than we do to our loved ones.
SHOW ME HOW YOU SPEND YOUR TIME AND I WILL TELL YOU WHAT OF A MAN YOU WILL BECOME
As Seneca wrote, “People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time, they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy.” Even though people often say that time is money and that time is the most valuable asset that we have, their actions say otherwise.
We do not protect our time. We are not stingy enough!
When you value your time, not everyone will have access to you any time they want. They will have to book appointments to see you. You will be scarce and valuable. They will have to go through your assistants or secretary before they get to you.
BEING BUSY IS BEING LAZY
The difference between being busy and being productive is made apparent in a soccer game. A team dominates the game with ball possession nearing 100%, takes more than 30 shots, it’s by far the better team on the pitch, but ends up losing to their opponent’s only shot on target.
If you look at the statistics at the end of the game you will realize that the only metrics that matter are the goals scored. The rest are vanity metrics.
You may be very busy but are you getting anything done? Being productive is about measuring the right metrics and taking little or no consideration of the rest.
In the case of a student, you should not obsess over the many hours you spend studying. Instead, you should be obsessed over what you covered or what you learned.
PRODUCTIVITY AND OPTIMIZATION
Optimization is what makes less to be more.
In as much as we have limited time to attend to our daily activities, we all want the best value for our time investments.
One of the places where optimization matters is at the GYM. The optimum workout program consists of three workout sessions per week, each one-hour long. While that is enough to yield maximum results in weight loss or muscle build-up, many people spend lots of hours in the GYM in the spirit of “more input yields more output”.
Our culture tends to reward personal sacrifice over personal productivity. It is the employee who gets early to work who receives all the praise from our bosses. It is the student who does a lot in class who is praised by the teacher all the time. It is the player who takes the most shots that is ought to be the most hardworking on the pitch.
THE ULTIMATE PRODUCTIVITY METRIC
Distractions kill our productivity the same way weeds impede the productivity of crops on the farm. While weeds compete with plants for nutrients, distractions compete with tractions for our attention. Traction represents all the activities that move us close to what we want while distractions are activities that move us away from what we want to achieve.
High quality work = time spent x intensity of focus
To quote Cal Newport in his book, ‘Deep Work,’ this is how your intensity of focus should be like, “Let your mind become a lens, thanks to the converging rays of attention; let your soul be all intent on whatever it is that is established in your mind as a dominant, wholly absorbing idea.”
Distractions impede productivity because they make the unintentional switching of tasks possible.
Distractions eat on our attention making the most important tasks rely on attention residues. This results in poor performance on the successive tasks and the more intense the residue the worse the performance.
From a neuroscience perspective, focusing intensely on the task at hand while avoiding distractions is the only way to isolate the relevant neural circuit that triggers useful myelination. When in a state of low concentration, the brain fires too many circuits simultaneously. This isolates the group of neurons that should be strengthened.
THE 10 MINUTE RULE
Poor reactions will put you at war with the distraction itself when it should not.
As Nil Eyal put it, “A technique I’ve found particularly helpful for dealing with this distraction trap is the ‘ten-minute rule.’ If I find myself wanting to check my phone as a pacification device when I can’t think of anything better to do, I tell myself it’s fine to give in, but not right now. I have to wait just ten minutes.”
THE PARADOX OF DISTRACTIONS
In as much as distractions elude our productivity, well-intended distractions make us more productive. Think of reading for three hours straight on one side and reading for three hours with 15-minute breaks between one-hour intervals on the other side.
In as much as we want to be engrossed in deep work, breaks cannot be ignored.
During workout sessions, the breaks between sets create room for rest and hydration. The body is, therefore, able to carry on with the successive sets.
While traveling, stopovers make traveling exciting.
Breaks create room to pause and reflect. They rejuvenate our concentration spans and alertness. They create room for constant evaluations and analysis.
THE 80/20 PRINCIPLE
It states that 20% of the inputs account for about 80% of the output. In other words, 20% of your efforts account for 80% of the results.
Examples of this are everywhere. 80% of the world’s wealth is owned by 20% of the people. 80% of the questions in a standard exam come from 20% of the coursework. 80% of the stress you have in life is brought about by 20% of your problems. In a coffee farm, 80% of the coffee production is harvested from 20% of the coffee bushes.
Realize that 80% of your results are brought about by 20% of your efforts. You now have to work on identifying the 20% of the efforts that matter and disregard the rest.
Stop doing the 80% that hardly makes any difference.