27 September 2023

The eyes have it: How to focus on matters that matter

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May Busch* says there are some simple decisions we can use to prevent ourselves from becoming overworked or overwhelmed and take back control of our lives.

Multitasking is a bad idea — it lowers your IQ and it’s draining to switch from task to task.

Yet it’s hard to stop and easy to keep taking things on until you feel overwhelmed and out of control.

What if you could be just three decisions away from regaining control of your work and life and no longer feeling frazzled?

Well, the good news is you are. We all are. It’s just that we put off the following decisions:

How Can I Simplify?

This is about making things more streamlined, direct and efficient.

Get clear on what matters most to you.

What are the values you want to be guided by?

Which tasks and projects are aligned with what’s essential in your work and life?

This acts as your guidepost for what you choose to take on and the standard to which you do it.

If the work isn’t essential to your path you don’t have to take it on, and if you do it doesn’t have to be your best work.

Next you need to unclutter your space.

For years, I’ve held on to the excuse that “an uncluttered desk is the sign of an empty mind”.

In reality, having a clean, clear, inviting space to work provides a sense of calm and also helps you to be more creative.

When you’ve got way too much to do, it’s tempting to dive right in and get through as much as you can without wasting time.

When it comes to simplifying, the key is to think first and create a mini-plan so you can execute on it more smoothly.

When you take the time to think upfront, you’re more likely to do the right things in the right ways, and that saves time.

As you implement ‘think before you do’, look for ways you can create templates or other repeatable processes to save time the next time you have to do that task.

You’ll also find it helpful to batch your tasks as another way to simplify.

Grouping the same kind of tasks so you can do them in the same sitting is a great way to save time and reduce the cost of switching between different activities.

What Can I Eliminate?

This is where the real magic happens.

I’m guessing that most of us could easily eliminate at least 25 per cent of the things we’re doing.

However, this is also the hardest of the three decisions because letting go is not easy whether it’s thoughts, things or relationships.

Are there invitations you say “yes” to out of habit, like monthly meet-ups with a group you’ve outgrown or dinner with people who drain your energy?

Perhaps you could call a ‘truce’ on expensive birthday gifts?

Which projects are not leading you to your bigger aspirations?

Are there some that are holding you back from doing what you’ve identified as mattering most?

You may find there are some projects you wanted to get rid of, but on reflection are actually important to your future success.

Then you can pursue them with greater motivation.

What’s on your plate that causes you anxiety?

To what extent are you experiencing unnecessary worry and stress?

What would happen if you eliminated this internal churn and directed that valuable mind-space and energy to your true priorities?

Are there things you do (or do in a certain way) because that’s how you’ve always done them?

Are there rituals that are unnecessary or counterproductive, like checking email first thing in the morning before you even get out of bed?

Who drags you down versus lifts you up?

What could you do to eliminate contact with them or at least minimise their effect on you?

Is there someone you need to ‘fire’ from your life?

What Can I Outsource?

While ‘eliminate’ is about the fact that not everything has to be done, ‘outsource’ is about the fact that not everything has to be done by you.

Women, especially mothers, are particularly at risk of believing that you personally need to do a whole lot more than you actually need to do.

Resist the urge to think that you have to do every step of the work to deserve credit for the result.

At the office, you can think of this as delegating.

Frankly, you can get more credit for leading a team that delivered the result or for being someone who collaborates with others instead of doing it all yourself.

Plus, you’ll have preserved time to work on something else that potentially creates even more value.

What could you have delegated this past week and what would that have freed you up to do?

More broadly, some prime candidates to outsource or delegate include things that many others can do.

These include running errands, household tasks like cleaning or cooking, and routine tasks at work (for example, filing or making travel plans).

Things experts can do better than you can (assuming you’re not the expert), such as: tax preparation, analysing legal documents, or making PowerPoint slides look gorgeous.

Your brain has a limited ability to make decisions, so sometimes you need to outsource them to someone else or create an automatic/default process.

When you leave it to someone else to decide, whether that’s allowing your family members to choose the vacation destination or how to implement a new program, don’t bring it back onto your plate.

* May Busch helps leaders and their organisations achieve their full potential. She can be contacted at [email protected].

This article first appeared on May’s blogsite.

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