Tag Archives: priorities

How to stay focused on what’s most important



What a beautiful country. Before I even visited it, I was seduced: the food, the wine, the history, the style, the language – what’s not to love. I’ve long harbored fantasies of speaking fluent Italian in Italy, freely conversing with Latin intensity and big hand gestures, making even the most arbitrary conversation sound like a passionate call to arms. I’ve downloaded and used two different language apps. I’ve bought and listened to half a dozen Italian language audiobooks. I’ve watched Italian movies in Italian. But I still can’t speak it. Life is busy – there’s always something getting in the way and preventing me from really progressing with my Italian language learning.But that’s precisely the point. If learning Italian was truly so important to me, it would be Italian interrupting my usual pursuits, not the other way around. That may sound obvious, but the day I admitted that to myself I was freed from a significant amount of anxiety and mental stress – not because my apparent inability to learn Italian was such a major factor in my life, but because I realized the extent to which this was a pattern in my general behavior. Like most people, I have a long list of interests and “I’d-love-to-do’s” – things that I want to achieve because they seem interesting, fun or fulfilling. Everything from learning how play the piano to walking the 88 Temples of Shikoku. Learning Italian has always been on that list, but getting honest about what is most important to me right now and into the foreseeable future helped me focus on what’s truly valuable to me.

The 21st century human is subject to unprecedented amounts of daily distraction. Managing this distraction requires conscious effort and focus – a critical part of improving productivity. By when I speak of focusing on what’s most important, I don’t only mean in the moment. I mean long term focus, the kind that keeps you committed to the most important goals in your life.

Here are 5 tips on how to do that:

  1. Get clear about what’s important

One of the pleasures of being alive in the 21st Century is that everything seems possible. The digital revolution and advent of elearning makes it possible to learn almost anything online. Our exposure to foreign cultures and tastes has been made easier and more immediate through the effects of globalization and relative reductions in the costs of travel. And if we need help achieving our goals, we can even access world-class coaching without leaving our chair. Suddenly, it seems, we can learn more, do more and see more than ever before. So, we try to do it all. We create wishlists and bucket lists and end up dispersing our attention across them: work, exercise, surf the net, spend time with friends and family, plan the next holiday, learn a language in the grocery line, play a game while waiting for the bus, dabble with guitar when we have 10 minutes free at the weekend. The trouble is we end up doing a lot, but not achieving very much, which has a negative impact on our long-term happiness and sense of self-worth. Results are only achieved with sustained focus and commitment on the things that matter, even though what matters will inevitably shift over time.

So, what’s truly important to you? My favorite system for answering this comes from über-investor Warren Buffet:

  • Write down 25 things you want to achieve on the foreseeable future. Don’t overthink it. Go with your gut.
  • Now identify the 5 most important things. These are not necessarily the most urgent.
  • Those 5 things are now your exclusive focus, not your ‘I’ll focus mainly on these and work on the other 20 in my spare time’. No. You spend all your time and attention focused on achieving these 5 goals until you’ve ticked one of them of the list, then you can add a new one in its place.
  • Regularly remind yourself of these 5 goals and why they are important to you. Keep them visible so that you see them often. Don’t just focus on WHAT achieving these goals will look like, connect to WHY you want to achieve them – what is the deeper meaning for you and your life.
  1. Get clear about what’s not important

Spend some time identifying where your extra time and attention have been wandering to. What has been pulling your focus away from achieving these goals? Be honest with yourself; if you have an illicit Candy Crush addiction, own up to it, no-one else needs to know. Do you watch TV series 5 episodes at a time? Are you hitting the snooze button every morning? Are you secretly inventing extra things to do so that you can justify skipping gym? Whatever it is, add it to the list.

This list is now a powerful weapon against distraction and procrastination. Don’t be ashamed of what’s on there – we all have our vices. Rather, use it to help you spot those times you are wavering from your top goals, and then recalibrate. Every time you do that it will become easier the next time.

  1. Stop multitasking

Despite how good you may believe you are at multitasking, it is not technically possible. The human brain is only capable of processing tasks sequentially, one after the other, not concurrently. Yes, it may feel like you’re doing 5 things at once, but you’re actually just flipping between those tasks really quickly. That flipping radically depletes your brain’s energy resources, leading to lower focus, easier distraction and less emotional stability. And, the more often you multitask the worse these effects get.

Pick a task and commit to focusing on it for a specific period of time eg. one hour, followed by a short rest before changing tasks. If you know that you have a bunch of small tasks that need your attention, then set aside specific time just for that and refocus on a single task later. Always do your most important work earlier in the day when your willpower and energy are highest. And get to know your working patterns. Come up with your best ideas at 4 in the morning or 10 at night? Keep time aside then for creative work.

  1. Get to know your anxiety

Important tasks can often raise anxiety, either because we know we’re not getting to them or, when we do commit to them, we are endlessly distracted. If left unrecognized, this anxiety can stimulate further anxiety.

Learn to anticipate these uncomfortable emotions. If possible, get curious about them, but at the very least acknowledge them, label them and know that, even though these feelings are just trying to protect you in some way, you are well and capable of achieving success.

  1. Improve focus

Easier said than done, but very possible. This actually has two parts: improving your faculty of focus and reducing distraction. Focus is like a muscle which is strengthened with regular practice, the most effective practice by far being mindfulness, which improves your ability to pay attention to what’s happening in the moment and make better choices about how to use that attention. Intelligent energy management is also key.

Distraction is constant and the only way to manage it effectively is through taking action. Have important work to do? Serious about getting it done? Silence your phone, close down email and close your door if you can. If this is difficult, start with 10 minutes at a time, with the aim of working towards one hour pockets of distraction-free work. The results will astound you.

Visit Koach.net to discover how our coaches can help you find clarity at work and at home, and can lead you to a more successful and fulfilled you.

Your story, our platform: If you’ve got a story and would like to share it with other Femflectors, please let us know. Femflection is all about transferring learnings to help others, be they big or subtle. We want to connect with your feelings, your learnings, your reflections or your hopes for the future – in blog or interview format. Express yourself here. Get in touch with us via anja.uitdehaag@femflection.com

For more content visit our website http://www.femflection.com


The elusive work-life balance – Is it really attainable?


By: Koach.net

We all want it, but few of us have found it…the elusive work-life balance. You’ve probably heard this expression mentioned a lot, especially in terms of coaching or therapy, but what does it really mean?

Wikipedia says this:

Work–life balance is a concept including proper prioritizing between “work” (career and ambition) and “lifestyle” (health, pleasure, leisure, family and spiritual development/meditation). This is related to the idea of lifestyle choice.

The work–leisure dichotomy was invented in the mid-1801s. Paul Krassner remarked that anthropologists use a definition of happiness that is to have as little separation as possible “between your work and your play”.

So how does this affect you?

It’s a sad fact of life but if we don’t work, we don’t earn money. And if we don’t earn money, we struggle to live the life we want. So it stands to reason that many of us struggle to find the balance between dedicating time to our job (which for most people amounts to where they spent 70% of their waking hours) and ensuring we still have the time and energy to spend with the ones we love, and doing the things we love to do.

In a Harvard Business School Survey (as reported by Forbes magazine), it was discovered that “a whopping 94% of working professionals reported working more than 50 hours per week and nearly half said they worked more than 65 hours per week”. With the introduction of technology making it easier for us to be accessible 24hrs a day (and making it harder for us to escape) and thanks to the worldwide recession adding uncertainty in the workplace, it’s no surprise that people are struggling to not only find the time to stop working, but also to not feel guilty when enjoying themselves out of working hours.

So what can you do to find that inner peace?

We all have 24 hours in a day – so how can you best utilise your time?

 1. Look after yourself:

Your busy life may feel like you are lurching from one emergency to another, a perpetual cycle of ticking things off your To Do lists, but to keep that lifestyle sustainable you need a healthy mind and body. So as much as the adrenaline of a hectic schedule may be giving your short bursts of energy and a buzzy high…the reality is that you will come crashing down or worse, get seriously ill and burn out, if you don’t look after yourself.

How can you do that?

Drink lots of water and less alcohol and coffee (which in the short-term may calm or speed you up, but too much of either won’t help in the long-run).

Eat well and eat slowly, make time for your meals and add them to your schedule.

Go to the gym or to exercise classes, or even a short run every morning. Not only is keeping fit important, but it clears your mind and floods your brain with feel-good endorphins.

Rest your mind. Aim for 7-8 hours sleep a night and practice mindfulness – whether it’s ten minutes of deep breathing and visualisation each morning, or a guided mediation session a few times a week, your mind needs to rest sometimes too.

 2. Don’t expect perfection:

One of the biggest obstacles to getting through your work day, and the reason that many people stay on at work beyond their contracted hours, is because they want everything they do to be perfect. Stop!

Executive coach Marilyn Puder-York, PhD, author of The Office Survival Guide, says, “The key to avoid burning out is to let go of perfectionism. As life gets more expanded it’s very hard, both neurologically and psychologically, to keep that habit of perfection going.”

Puder-York adds, “ the healthier option is to strive not for perfection, but for excellence.”

3. Disconnect:

Technology has made our lives easier…but it’s also ensuring we stay ‘on’ at all times. Have you ever found yourself checking work emails at a friend’s wedding? Or scrolling through Facebook, locked in the toilet, while the kids are outside asking for you? Maybe you can’t even go for a meal with a loved one without leaving your phone on the dinner table. This constant need to be connected to everyone, at all times, means that we struggle to be present doing the important stuff. It also means that our attention spans are affected, making it harder for us to focus on the job in hand.

So in order to get full satisfaction from whatever it is you are doing – disconnect from technology! Leave your phone turned off and enjoy the people you are with, really live in the moment. By departmentalising your life you will benefit a lot more from every aspect of your day.

4. Stop wasting time:

If you are struggling to get all your work completed within the allocated hours, are you really concentrating 100% on your job or are you wasting time?

Focus on the people that reward you most. If you don’t want to spend your evening at after work drinks, don’t…go home and rest, or spend it with the family. Likewise don’t arrange meetings with people that don’t fit your life goals if your time is better spent elsewhere, you will only come away feeling frustrated and pulled in too many directions.

5. Change your life structure:

If your day is too stressful and you don’t know how you are going to manage to get it all done – step back and look at how you structure your day. Making one small change, like having a shorter lunch or turning off notifications at certain times, can free up your time and help you prioritise the areas of your life that you feel are lacking. Reorganise, prioritise, delegate and ask for help.

The perfect work-life balance may be elusive but it is attainable.

Visit Koach.net to discover how our coaches can help you find clarity at work and at home, and can lead you to a more successful and fulfilled you.


Your story, our platform: If you’ve got a story and would like to share it with other Femflectors, please let us know. Femflection is all about transferring learnings to help others, be they big or subtle. We want to connect with your feelings, your learnings, your reflections or your hopes for the future – in blog or interview format. Express yourself here. Get in touch with us via anja.uitdehaag@femflection.com

For more content visit our website http://www.femflection.com


Femsy has a lot on her plate. She is used to working on many different tasks at the same time but feels she is unable to finish her to-do list. Boss advises her to stop multi-tasking.

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Lindsay’s In Business: PART 12: Prioritisation – Pah!


by: Lindsay Uittenbogaard

What happens when you realise your path is entrepreneurship rather than employment? Lindsay takes up the challenge and shares an account of her journey as it unfolds…

Last week, if you had shown me the top 10 tips for how to make the best use of your time, I would have told you I was already doing them. Setting goals, writing lists, bundling work into tasks, starting with the most difficult thing first… piece of cake.

When I was younger, if I told my mum I didn’t have time to do something, she’d say, “Well make time!” So, I did. At one point, a few years ago, I had 2 young kids, I worked full time, acted in a play, and wrote a full film script among other things – like working full time. When I saw people wondering how I did it, I would share the secret: hard work pays off.

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