What’s missing, I think, is advice for just how to stay focused on one thing. You probably also won’t hear that it’s perfectly okay to become completely unbalanced for short periods of time… but it might be critical to your success.
Please keep in mind that I don’t recommend any of these techniques be used on a long-term basis, but they can be practicality essential for short productive bursts.
1) Embrace imbalance. We all crave balance, but sometimes it gets in the way of doing things that are important. Sometimes in order to be effective you need to be completely immersed in what you’re doing. Toe dipping just won’t suffice. To do that, you’ll need to embrace life-balance craziness and become consumed in your work. This is, of course, intended for short bursts and shouldn’t be a long term strategy. (Loss of a realistic sleep schedule is usually a good sign you’ve gone too far.)
2) Be incredibly flaky. This will probably not be easy to swallow, but if you’re working on a really big, important project, you’ll likely have to let other stuff slide. You’ll need to become really flaky. You might need to not show up for meetings, clear your schedule and leave unnecessary events unattended.
3) Disappear. In order to focus on what’s important, you may need to isolate yourself. That could mean going to work at a library, cafe or just putting up a “do not disturb” sign over your door. Make sure you communicate to your loved ones that you’ll need some temporary solitude. If you have co-workers that have a habit of bothering you, tell them you’re working on an important project and you need to focus. They can email you or leave a note and you’ll get to it later. Embellish if you need to. It’s not your fault other people don’t have their priorities straight.
4) Stop caring. Caring in most situations is an incredibly healthy thing. In fact, you’d probably consider people that don’t care as cold or callous, and I agree. What’s not good is when excessive caring keeps you from doing the things that really matter. If you’re more concerned with a perfect desk and an immaculate filing system, you’ll probably get less done on that novel you really want to write or that business you want to start up. Try to see how much you can give up caring about things that really don’t make a difference.
5) Triage ruthlessly. Sometimes things seem important, but you’re really just responding to whatever comes up. Learn to take stock of what’s really important and use it to guide your attention. Productivity is really just about mastering attention. Triage your attention to focus only on tasks that support your primary aim. Delete, put off, or batch the rest for a later date.
6) Disconnect. Turn off the TV and the internet. Cancel your cable subscription. Go on an information fast. Do whatever you need to do to disconnect from distractions. Create a minimalist workspace that allows you to focus on what’s meaningful.
7) Drop out. If you’re working on getting your dreams off the ground, you’ll need to quit all of the things that don’t matter. Take an assessment of things in your life that aren’t provided you any meaningful value. Take out what’s not working and not getting any results. You’ll be left with the awesome.
I recommend following these tips with a grain of salt. Obviously disappearing too long might make your partner — or friends — very unhappy. (My wife helps keep me in check with this.)
But these tools can be seriously valuable when working on a big project that really requires being hyper-focused.
What’s interesting is that it’s often the times when you’re completely out of equilibrium and your life is a mess, that you remember what it means to be balanced. It helps give you a reference point to get back on track.