We serve as counselor, creative idea generator, executor and priority-setter. Chief cook and bottle washer. Janitor. Oh, and it was needed yesterday.
With our own identities conspiring against us and technology morphing faster than you can say gigabyte, focus becomes even more of a premium skill in today’s world. The topic of focus has crossed my laptop, handheld and hootsuite about seven times in various guises this week alone, soit’ss my best guess that others out there are wrestling with the same issue: How do you prioritize when everything’s a priority?
Wired‘s Nicolas Carr asks if the internet is literally changing our brains. The New York Times has an online test to see how well you can focus: have you taken it? Pretty wild. For those keeping score at home, I tested out at 92% and 100%, respectively.What’s a bit scary (at least for me) is that the more distractions there were, the higher my concentration level became. Perhaps I was destined to be an air traffic controller?
To make matters worse, folks who gravitate to entrepreneurism tend to be highly enamored of shiny objects and are loathe to miss The Next Best Thing.
I had a point somewhere.
Oh. Yes. Focus. How do you prioritize when everything’s a priority?
Be quiet. Find somewhere where you can shut out all distractions and breathe for a couple minutes. When I was in radio, I used to get in the booth, shut the door, flip the ON AIR switch and zone out for 15 minutes. Ask yourself “what’s important today?”
Apply a triage lens to Your List:What’s bleeding? What can wait? Record it in whichever way works for you: Outlook task list, pen and paper, tickler file. Then follow up accordingly.
Set up the pins and knock ’em down. One. At. A. Time. Multitasking does not work.
Honor your system. Establish the foundational structure (of your business plan, of your social media presence et al). Then honor it. Make it a habit to honor your system and you’ll discover a paradox: structure provides fluidity.
RELAX. Hold your shorts on, man. Unless you’re MacGyver, the fate of the free world does not rest in your hands. Besides, tense people can’t flex. Bring your breath to center and recalibrate when you feel as though you are going in circles.
Celebrate your victories, no matter how small. Success begets success.
You can do this. What do you think? What works best for you when you need to focus?
Molly Cantrell-Kraig is a woman with drive. Possessing an innate sense of purpose and a pragmatic, solution-based approach to empowering people, she fused these two traits in order to establishÂ Women With Drive Foundation. Based upon its founder’s personal history, Women With Drive Foundation is a means through which Cantrell-Kraig may effect change on both a micro and macro level. By providing women with something as essential as personal transportation in order to transition them from poverty to prosperity, she, through Women With Drive Foundation, seeks to empower women to help them help themselves. Through this action, the individual applicant benefits, as does society as a whole. Follow Molly on twitter as @mckra1g or @WWDr1ve (Women With Drive Foundation) or “Like” them on facebook.
I can remember distinctly the first few minutes of my oldest daughter’s life. She arrived at 7:04 p.m. after 18 hours of labor and every hour since then has been changed by her arrival. My very first recollection was that I had never felt anything as soft as her skin.
“The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new.”Â ~ Rajneesh
I remember also something that I believe has shaped not only her childhood but that of her sisters… I somehow innately grasped and internalized that she was an autonomous Being. …That her choices would be hers and that, although I could shape them by the upbringing and environment that I provided, she would be capable of making her own decisions.
This comprehension of her independence from me has made all the difference in the way I’ve interacted with the three people who have come into my life as my children. Rather than think of them as three extensions of me and proxies of my life experiences, they have given me lessons and made me a better person, and here are just a few:
1. Take ownership of your choices. This can also be framed as “If everyone else ___________ (jumped off the bridge, stayed out past curfew, set fire to their underwear) would you?”Â
2. Mean what you say. There are fewer mirrors as unflinching as a three year old who takes you at your word. They expect you to walk your talk.
3. Decide what’s really important. Whether a budget item like band camp over a Coach bag or time (like a recital instead of one more meeting squeezed into the end of your day), priorities take on new dimensions when you become a parent.
4. Build efficiencies. When the girls were very little, my closet had three “Emergency Ensembles”Â hanging on hangers within. Each held a complete outfit, including jewelry in the pocket and shoes to match. When the occasional oversleeping morning hit our household, I could still make sure that we left the house on time.
5. Admit when you are wrong. I am so grateful that my daughters have the perspective and courage to even now point out when I am missing a greater Truth. Ceding ground when faced with a nuance or understanding that I fail to see creates children who trust their gut and who are not afraid to voice opinions.
6. Always be learning. I think I finally understand the saying, “Those who can’t do, teach.”Â The only way I’ve learned how to be a parent is to teach myself the lessons through my children. The neat part is that I’ve actually turned out to be the student (and that I’m still learning)! I’ve had three very loving, patient teachers who have helped me through the iterations.
What are some of the lessons your children have taught you? What are your thoughts on being a mother? A parent?
Happy Mother’s Day to you all!
Molly Cantrell-Kraig is a woman with drive. Possessing an innate sense of purpose and a pragmatic, solution-based approach to empowering people, she fused these two traits in order to establish Women With Drive Foundation. Based upon its founderÃ¢ÂÂs personal history, Women With Drive Foundation is a means through which Cantrell-Kraig may effect change on both a micro and macro level. By providing women with something as essential as personal transportation in order to transition them from poverty to prosperity, she, through Women With Drive Foundation, seeks to empower women to help them help themselves. Through this action, the individual applicant benefits, as does society as a whole. Follow Molly on twitter as @mckra1g or @WWDr1ve (Women With Drive Foundation).
Steve Jobs has a quote about focus being not the ability to say “yes,” but is instead the discernment and power to say “no” to everything else that takes you off your course.
This is a slight shift in the interpretation of focus, but it makes a huge difference in the way leaders allocate their time and choices if they wish to accomplish their goals.
“Learn to say ‘no.’ It will be of more use to you than to be able to read Latin.” ~ Charles H. Spurgeon
Take a quick inventory of the time you spend each week doing something for someone else. While you’re at it, think also of the choices you make that are not in line with your values or your goals. How much of your time is spent pursuing someone else’s opinion of what you should do or can be?
Most of us hate to say no.
Whether it’s because we want to be liked or because we fear that we’ll appear weak, many of us struggle with giving voice to that small, but significant syllable. Some of us have deep, systemic “people pleaser” issues that are born of low self esteem. When people pleasers say yes to projects or volunteer opportunities, it’s usually because they seek approval or want recognition.
Some of us wish to appear as though we are super-human, efficient go-getters. But this facade is also based upon insecurity: if we say no, we fear being passed over when promotion time rolls around. Or we’re letting someone down. Especially in the age of social media, iPads and smartphones, people are expected to be accessible all of the time.
But what happens when we dilute ourselves to the point of being unrecognizable and inefficient?
“Until you value yourself, you will not value your time. Until you value your time, you will not do anything with it.” ~ M. Scott Peck
Take another look back at your week. How much of it can you actually remember? Was most of it spent in a flurry of busy-work that seemed to blur into one big To Do List? Did you feel as though you were a hamster in a wheel?
Or did you set conscious, measurable goals and jettison anything that didn’t align with your intention? No week is perfect, and there will always be unforeseen obstacles that present themselves. There will be days that go off the rails shortly after you’ve had your first cup of coffee.
That said, if we hope to become independent, we must discipline ourselves to set and stick to an overriding set of goals: immediate, intermediate and ultimate. When faced with a request from someone that doesn’t dovetail with what we’ve determined to be our goal, we must summon the courage to say no.
“The cost of a thing is the amount of what I call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.” ~ Henry David Thoreau
The day I internalized this quote was the day that my schedule magically opened up. After I read a book called Your Money or Your Life, it was literally as if the biblical scales fell from my eyes. My choices and time commitments stood out in stark relief. I could see with perfect clarity where I needed to focus my time and what I could let go.
Once you reconcile the fact that every choice you make costs energy (time, money, effort), you start to view your commitments and investments with an entirely new set of eyes. Only you will know what has value and what does not.
Â “How much of my life am I willing to pay for this choice?”Â
Â “If I say yes to the PTA meeting, I’m saying no to playing catch with my daughter.”
Â “If I say yes to buying this $50K car, I’m saying no to a good chunk of my retirement planning.”
Furthermore, every commitment or yes that takes you farther from your presumed goals also keeps you from independence. You are ultimately beholden by the choices you make.
“Review our priorities, ask the question; ‘What’s the best use of our time right now?'” ~ Alan Lakein
Again, none of us are perfect and there are going to be days where you have the ambition of a slug. However, this must be the exception and not the rule if you wish to be free. Discipline creates the paradox of freedom. Create habits and touchstones in your day to keep yourself on course for the times when you’re experiencing free fall:
Â Before you leave your office/end your work day, write down three things that you need to (MUST) tackle first thing the next day.
Â Block off one hour per day to take stock, realign your choices or perform course correction.
Â Exercise. This must become a non-negotiable. In addition to multiple physical benefits, exercise is a commitment to yourself that pays mental dividends.
Â Practice mindfulness. When you’re juggling three things at once, become aware of what you are doing. Ask yourself, “What’s the best use of my time right now?”Â Delegate or stop doing the unnecessary, or something that can be done equally well by someone else.
Â Follow through with your decisions.
“Time is the most valuable coin in your life. You and you alone will determine how that coin will be spent. Be careful that you don’t let other people spend it for you.” ~ John Dryden
When we find ourselves mindlessly saying yes to everyone else, we are saying no to ourselves. Our hopes. Our goals. Our dreams. There’s a difference between self-care and selfish. Saying no doesn’t mean that we are selfish.
If you’ve seen the movie Bruce Almighty, you’ll remember what happens when Bruce (as God) wills everyone to win the lottery. Everyone wins a few cents. The same thing happens when saying yes to everyone at the expense of what you really desire. It’s an underwhelming, diffuse sort of effort/payoff. Just think of how much more you can help people when you say no when necessary so that you can spend your time on that which truly fulfills you.
Your effectiveness increases. You live a more abundant life. You’re able to truly give from a place of security and sanity. Give yourself permission to say no.
When was a time that you said no and lived to tell the tale? How did your decision affect you? the folks around you?
Molly Cantrell-Kraig is a woman with drive. Possessing an innate sense of purpose and a pragmatic, solution-based approach to empowering people, she fused these two traits in order to establish Women With Drive Foundation. Based upon its founder’s personal history, Women With DriveÂ FoundationÂ is a means through which Cantrell-Kraig may effect change on both a micro and macro level. By providing women with something as essential as personal transportation in order to transition them from poverty to prosperity, she, through Women With DriveÂ Foundation, seeks to empower women to help them help themselves. Through this action, the individual applicant benefits, as does society as a whole. Follow Molly on twitter asÂ @mckra1g orÂ @WWDr1ve (Women With Drive Foundation)
I think my life has sped up in the last few years.
Do you feel the same way?
Things that need doing seem to pile up faster.
Things I want to do keep coming up more quickly too.
Are you having the same experience?
These days I think of time off as the luxury of time to do what I want to.
And I ease into Mondays with ideas of keeping time working for me.
Keep Time Working For You
Time is flexible. We can waste time, spend time, invest time, have a good time, even use time to plan how we’ll use it. We’ve been know to stretch time and cram things into it. Some people actually speak of killing time. Why would you do that? The only thing we can’t do is get more of it. Twenty-four hours in a day is what we get no matter what we do with it.
I’ve spent some time considering the time I spend when I’m feeling like I don’t have enough of it.
If you want to know what you value, look where you spend your time and who you spend it with.
We Make Time for Things Important to Us
Here are a few truths about time that I’ve become aware of. You should too if you want to keep time working for you.
- We make time for the things we know are important.
- We find time for the things we want to do.
- We use time to find things that will save us time. Sometimes using up the time we had do it whatever we would have been doing.
- If we can’t find time to do something, we don’t value it as much as what we’re already doing.
- When we take time for ourselves, we’re not so tight on the time we spend on others.
Time is the only resource we can’t renew. We need to use it while we have the time to. Time well invested gets us closer to the people we care about. When we spend time focused on what the relationships, projects, and businesses we’re building, we build them better.
This week, before time gets away from you, take a few moments to choose one goal that’s important to you. Decide to focus your attention for a set amount of time each day on that important goal and see what happens. Quality time focused in that single direction will have an exponential effect. But you knew you.
Be aware of the things you’re doing and the time you’re spending doing it.
Are you spending your time on what you value?
How do you keep time working for you?
It’s irresistible to be generous with your time.
–ME “Liz” Strauss
Whoa! Look around us!
Everyone is so . . . busy. We’re almost can’t see each other.
We’re juggling, talking, typing, scanning instead of reading, talking instead of thinking, putting off time with our family and friends. We all know so much about productivity, goals, keeping connected, and following our passion to build the business that we love. It’s enough to make a brain shut down into auto-mode.
I know I occasionally find myself staring out from a glazed look, walking into walls. How about you?
Being determined, motivated, set on a path with a laser beam focus is a good thing. . . . right? It is, if every now and then, we check that our destination is still where we want to go and that we’re enjoying the ride on the way.
The Going Not the Getting There
I see it in clients. I’ve felt it in my friends. I’ve done it myself. It’s a heads down sort of thing that takes over our thinking. We become so aware of time, so time-managing, that we manage to set aside anything that might, even possibly from far off, appear to be construed as doing nothing.
What’s wrong with doing nothing or better yet doing something just for fun — not balance . . . F-U-N? What’s wrong with enjoying the folks we care about as we move through our lives?
Nature has no straight lines.
Our priorities can get so straight that they become twisted and upside-down. We can get so focused on our destination that we forget to pay attention to the journey and the people who make living our lives magical, meaningful, and worth living.
Way, way back in the olden days, Harry Chapin sang this in a song.
It’s got to be the getting there, not the going that’s good. –Heads and Tales, Greyhound
We’ll never get this moment back . . . oops, it’s already gone!
At the end of my days will I regret the work I didn’t do or the time I didn’t spend with my husband, my son, my dad, my mom, my brothers, my nieces and nephews, my lifelong friends, the new exciting people I’ve just met?
If you knew that your time left was only tonight, what would you do then?
I’m going with Bruce Cockburn’s answer . . .
If it was the last night of the world, I’d have champagne with you. –Breakfast in New Orleans, Dinner in Timbuktu, Last Night of the World
Yep, that’s what I’d do.
I’m making a sign and putting up right above my monitor.
Will you make a sign too? It’s the time of your life.
–ME “Liz” Strauss
Work with Liz!!