By Mark Rockwell

One of the biggest challenges I face, and which most leaders face, is limiting distractions and focusing on the important thing at hand. It is impossible to completely eliminate this problem, but there are some simple things you can do that will dramatically up your game.

Quiet Time

Each of us operates a little differently. Some prefer a quiet period in the morning, others at the end of the day. Either way, there is one inviolate concept and that is to carve out at a minimum of thirty quiet minutes each day to reflect, plan, and organize. Not only is this essential, but it can also become the best part of your day. Here is how:

Make it a ritual. Pick an enjoyable place to relax where you won’t be interrupted, even if it means leaving where you’re at and going someplace entirely different. Turn off your phone and email.

Then spend the first ten minutes doing nothing but quiet reflection. Let your mind relax. That’s when your best thoughts will bubble to the surface. After that, use the remaining time to prioritize and plan your day, or your following day. The “investment” you make, those thirty minutes or hour of quiet time, will pay huge dividends.

Abe Lincoln’s famous quote, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe,” is a perfect example of this.

Two-Minute Rule

The first thing each morning, complete the tasks that will take you less than two minutes each to finish. This will get you off to a fast start, and you won’t waste time during the rest of the day thinking about these tasks. They will be “off the list.” 

One Task At A Time

Resist the urge to multi-task. I love this quote: “Multi-tasking is the opportunity to do several things poorly all at the same time.” There is great science that tells us we are more efficient and more accurate (not to mention more thoughtful), when we focus on a single task at a time.

It turns out that when we do this, tasks take less time, work product improves, and stress levels go down. Like this:  talking on the phone and attempting to read an email, or worse yet composing one, will mean all three are substandard. Besides that, it is rude, and the person you are talking to will know you are distracted, which makes YOU look bad. In truth, we simply can’t do both tasks well. This gets us back to where we started: “Multi-tasking is the opportunity to do several things poorly all at the same time.”

Manage Your E-mail

No one has unilateral control over their email, because people send us stuff. But, there are several things we can do to manage it:

  1. Set aside a couple of specific times each day to read and respond. Let your colleagues know that unless something is really urgent, and they call or text you, you’ll respond within 24 hours.
  2. Shut off the alarm that indicates you’ve received a new email. Don’t allow emails to disrupt your work-flow by feeling a need to read and respond to each message immediately.
  3. Work with your colleagues to limit the number of “cc’s”, and in particular the use of “respond to all”. If you’re like most of us, a large percentage of your inbound messages are copies of an email you didn’t need to see. We often copy someone, thinking we’re being polite, when we are really just wasting their time. Ask your colleagues to copy you on a need-to-know only basis. I venture to say, this will reduce your email by 30 percent.
  4. Stop using “reply all”. Even when well-intentioned, it’s a kind of spam. I suspect as much as 90% of “reply all” emails are unnecessary. Implementing a policy of “no reply-all emails” will have a noticeable impact on email traffic.

These are some initial steps you can take to better manage your time, reduce stress, and regain focus. What are some other things you are doing?