Time Management – Focus Through Accountability

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Last week I made the claim that time management is our modern Holy Grail, because finding it will give us life. (It was actually Benjamin Franklin’s idea.) I first pointed out that you have to know that you should and believe that you can take control of your time.

This week’s focus is, well, Focus.

The word “Focus” can have a range of meaning, but today I am particularly interested in “keeping your attention on the task at hand.”  As in, “I will stay focused on writing this blog post, even though there is a John Wayne movie playing in the other room, and I need to pick something up at Home Depot, and there are dozens of interesting books about 18 inches from my right arm, and I’m kinda hungry, and this can really wait til tomorrow, and oh, tomorrow I need to remember to…” Ok, you get the point.

Accountability Gives Focus

I will give you an example of how I help myself be more focused.  When I was a college kid, one of my summer jobs was working for a man who ran a business making pipes, septic tanks, and other items out of concrete.  It was a hot, dirty job.  He had a lot of responsibilities, so he would sometimes leave us unsupervised for most of the day. He had us keep a log of what we did, at what times.  For example, we would write:

8-9 – bent reinforcing wire cages

9-10 – cleaned and oiled forms

10-12 – poured 2 tanks and pipes, stepping stones, and parking ties

12-1 – lunch

1-3 – mowed the grass

3-4 – bent wire

4-5 – cleaned up

After a while you pretty much knew how much time each task COULD take, so if the cages took 2 hours instead of 1 hour it was pretty hard to hide the fact that you had slacked off.  The paper showed that you had not been focused.  After doing that once, you had a little more energy the next time to keep your attention on the task at hand.  Lesson: Accountability brings focus.  I respect that boss for a lot of reasons, and this is just one of many lessons that I learned from him over my two summers.

So now I do the same thing to myself.  I have created a printable sheet that I use at work.  At the beginning of the day I write down the 1 or 2 things that I HAVE to accomplish that day.  Then I log my activities all day.  I’m certainly never perfect in filling it out, but when it crosses my mind I just draw a line across at the correct minute and write down what I’m doing then.  When I switch to a new task I try to draw a new line there and write down what the new task is.  In the middle column I write down the distractions that interrupt what I am doing.  (You have to be honest there.)  You can also see that there is a section for energy, the other member of the time-focus-energy triad, and a place to write down things to remember later.  Throughout the day I evaluate whether I am making any progress on my ‘Have To’ list.  (Sometimes I will work all day without even touching any of them!)  But on the other hand, when I get to write down something on the left column that is in my “Have To’ list it is very encouraging – I’m doing what I need to be doing!  At the end of the day I can review this log to see how focused I was to answer the question of “What did I do all day?!?”  I don’t use this form every day, but it certainly helps me to stay focused if I am having an unfocused week.

In today’s busy and immersive world, there are hundreds of opportunities to be distracted by everything under the sun.  By disciplining yourself to be focused, you are able to accomplish so much more that you would ever thought was possible!

I am still working on this area of my life, so I need your advice.  How do you stay focused?  How do you buckle down and get it done?


OPL Time Sheets: A visual reminder of your level of focus. |  Excel (you can edit) and PDF_Picture PDF (printable) versions | 

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