You have some time to get some work done, and then end up doing something else. Or you set out to do something, and it turns out not to be the best use of that block of time. Can this be prevented? Yes. By setting your intention.
I struggle with focus. My ability to concentrate seems to have diminished over the years. Partly this is because I don’t practice my focus. But it is also that I am always wondering if I am working on the right tasks. That creates a lot of churn in my mind that distracts me from the work at hand.
The Power Of Intention
Productivity is usually defined as doing the right things the right way. In this definition we cover efficiency (the right way) as well as effectiveness (the right things).
A recent podcast I listened to made me think a bit more about the effectiveness part of the definition. (Smart Passive Income 258). The guest, Chris Bailey, talked about intentionality, and how he figures this plays into productivity.
Intentionality fits in when we do the things we intend…it is part of effectiveness, as it means that we take into account what the most important things are as we choose what to do. It works with focus, but isn’t focus.
Defining Productivity in the 21st Century
Back when productivity became a topic to be measured and studied, it was most about output. How many widgets did the factory worker produce, and all that.
Even as productivity evolved under a knowledge economy, productivity still clung to the old definition: how much did you get done? The focus of many productivity methodologies, even today, are still about the output.
But productivity concepts began shifting, because doing hundreds of things that weren’t important wouldn’t get you where you wanted to be. That’s one of the reasons that Stephen Covey emphasized the Eisenhower Matrix.
David Allen took this further, having people look at the various time frames of goals, and plan their weeks accordingly. This was shifting productivity even further into the levels of effectiveness: putting aside those things you were doing that were not going to take you where you want to be.
However, in the 21st century, more and more information comes flying at us at a truly astonishing rate. I think of it like this: when Getting Things Done came out, there was a slight imbalance in the rate tasks came at us. We might have to duck a few things, but we could still be walking our chosen path. Now I think the bombardment has increased, and flying objects are coming at us at such a rate that we can no longer walk the path without ducking and dodging everything.
If you have played the Wii fit game where the footballs (soccer balls) are being flung at you, mixed with the shoes and pandas, I think this is pretty apt.
Focus is being able to keep our minds fixed on what we are doing without getting distracted by anything else – even if it is important. That’s where intention comes in.
Intention is knowing what you are trying to get done, and getting it done in spite of everything else that is going on around you. This is beyond focus. You can say that intention tells us where to focus.
The average person, in this era of information overload and FOMO, has a lot on their plate. Many people descend into the confusion of trying to get everything done, and it becomes a confused muddle. It’s all important to them, but working on multiple projects just causes more time to be lost in switching between them.
Intention is picking one of the projects and working on it to the exclusion of everything else.
Think of it this way. You are walking toward a destination. Focus means that you keep putting one foot in front of the other. Intention means that you have told yourself where you are going.
Tying Productivity And Focus Together
I don’t believe that is enough to be able to put aside those things that are not important. If you do this, you are simply cutting through the noise.
I don’t believe it is enough to pick something and focus on it. If you do this, you are at risk of working without a context of everything else that is going on.
In order to be truly productive, you have to be aware of everything that is going on or you risk not mis-setting your intention, and consequently will focus on the wrong things.
Productivity requires the focus, the stick-to-it-tiveness that will allow you to get things done. But you have to accomplish what you intend, or you will end up doing the wrong things.
Using Intention to Drive Productivity
Intention has to be intentional. I find that when I set my intention for a work session, I am more able to focus, because I no longer have to think about what needs to be done. I have already done that thinking at the beginning of the session so that I do not need to revisit it.
One of the easiest ways that I do this is to think about what needs to be done, pick the one that I intend to do, and then write the task on a sticky note. I keep that sticky note in my field of vision, and any time I am allowing my attention to drift elsewhere, I have the reminder in front of me.
Have you ever had a work session when you didn’t stay on task, or ended up working on something that really wasn’t the best choice? Could have setting your intention help? Think about it, and leave a comment below.