Escape Chaos, Find Zen, and Attain Maximum Efficacy

I found a quote recently that has inspired a lot of introspection and rethinking productivity. The quote is from Peter Drucker, known as, “the creator and inventor of modern management” (Bloomberg) and is as follows:

Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.”

I’ve spent the greater part of my life mastering efficiency. I can get things done. I can cut to the chase. I can separate the essentials from the fluff. I can blaze a path from A to B and defend, against all odds, the invasion of any other unnecessary letter trying to squeeze its way in between.

However, now that I see clearly that efficiency is only half of the equation, I realize that without effectiveness, or doing the right things, efficiency has no purpose. Tim Ferris dedicates an entire chapter to this topic in The Four Hour Workweek, summarizing, “Doing something well doesn’t make it important.”

In an effort to increase my effectiveness, one of the self-improvement exercises I’m working on is focus. As you may have read, my life has been a bit insane lately; I’m spinning a lot of heavy plates. The result leaves me with little time for the most important things, which are then all fighting for my attention, leaving me without attention to any of them.

In this post I outline four practices I’m testing to battle my lack of time, get some focus, and getting to what’s important.

Light Speed Through a Comet Field

If empty space is the mind of a Bhutanese monk, meditating at the edge of the Taktsang Monastery, the clarity of a high mountain breeze wisping by, then a comet field is my mind, with thoughts racing like an LA traffic jam, horns honking, accompanied by passionate hand gestures. Lightspeed through the comet field I go!

In my five to ten minutes of meditation each morning, I concentrate on my breath, fight away these comets, and put myself in my futuristic space. The rest of the day, good luck. With too much on my mind, I constantly catch myself multitasking (which is just not getting a bunch of things done, albeit efficiently so).

The crux of my dilema is that I don’t have enough time. I agree with Tim Ferris that, “Lack of time is actually lack of priorities.” I am working to shape life around my priorities. But while I do that, I just have too much on my plate. It is what it is and I must deal with it.

Focus for Effectiveness

This intense season of my life calls for drastic measures. If I can’t cut out the chatter and beat away the pressure of all the demands for my time, I will either end up stuck right where I am, or worse, I’ll explode.

I am testing 4 practices to escape the chaos, find some daily Zen, and get my efficacy back:

  1. Meditate each morning. I recently started meditating and am convinced it is the single best practice you can start today. I’m not the spiritual type, so I have come to meditation with great resistance. I started with just five minutes first thing each morning, and am stepping up to ten. I find this small dedication to my mind, and to the practice of controlling it, does wonders for me all day long.
  2. Pick one critical task. No matter what the task, if it is important enough, it takes time to get the juices flowing. This probably the most convincing reason why to avoid multitasking. I long for the day I have enough time in the day to dedicate two or three good chunks of time to important tasks, but for now I barely have time for one. I review my important goals and break them down into tasks that take 60-90 minutes. Then I find a time, usually in the evening, when I can dedicate that chunk of time to that task.
  3. Use a timer. Once I get flowing, I can easily get lost in the task. Worried about losing track of time and eating into my sleep, I found myself constantly stealing glances at the clock, taking my mind off the task. I finally started setting an alarm so I could stay focused without worrying about the time. However, since I’m now putting away the phone (see the next point), I started using the online timer: E.ggtimer. I like this timer because I can create a link with the timer criteria in it (such as: http://e.ggtimer.com/90minutes) and then bookmark this link for quick access.
  4. Put the phone away. The phone by my side is a constant temptation. Even though I’m good at controlling my actions, I can’t stop my mind from wandering to it. Once I’m home, it goes to my room, ready with my alarm for the morning.

Whether I have tons of free time, or am insanely busy like I am now, making an effort to focus on something important each day has always been a challenge. With these four practices, I feel like I am finally able to take control of my situation and make some progress, however little.

What practices have you found help you stay focused?