A lot of people like the idea of focus time, but they can’t wrap their heads around where to find it in their already-crammed calendars. And I understand where their trepidation comes from, because the truth is that their current calendars probably are crammed.
This is where a ‘Stop Doing At All Costs’ list comes in handy.
For me, making this list was the very first thing I needed to do in order to start working on my future vision. Before I could even think about setting aside focus time with my phone off, I needed to stop saying yes to things that weren’t serving my future vision.
Some of the things on my ‘Stop Doing At All Costs’ list included:
- Jumping into emails first thing in the morning.
- Working without a plan.
- Letting everybody and everything else grab my attention at all times – that includes texts, emails, social media, etc.
- Saying yes to the people and projects that don’t feed my future vision.
- Indulging in the old habits that don’t serve me.
I want to focus on Item #1 for a second, because it’s a really important one.
Back before the pandemic, I was doing a live session at a corporate retreat with about 180 people. I started my session by asking the following question: “When you wake up, how many of you reach for your phone first thing?” There was a ripple of laughter, but about 90 percent of the audience put their hands up.
The truth is that way too many people reach for their phones before they get out of bed, before they even get a chance to stretch or look over at their spouse. And when you do this, you’re effectively saying ‘I don’t want to drive the bus today.’ You start looking at all those emails and texts and meeting requests that came in overnight, and you’re letting everyone else dictate your day.
That’s why this item appears first on my ‘Stop Doing at All Costs’ list.
I was determined to figure out a better way to start my day, to establish a routine that would set me up for success. I had to experiment with a lot of different things, but now my mornings tend to involve some reading, some meditation, maybe a little exercise.
Most importantly, I don’t look at my phone for the first 90 minutes of the day.
I know that committing to that (life changing) practice sounds like a tall order – just like the rest of the items on that list – but the truth is that we make commitments all the time. We put meetings in our calendars and, because they’re there, we show up for them.
I think back to pre-pandemic times, when I used to do kickboxing classes 4-5 times a week. The class I went to was at 5:30 p.m., and the funny thing is, it was always the same 15-20 people there. Over time, as I got to know my classmates, I discovered they were a pretty high-performing bunch outside the gym. I was struck by the fact that these incredibly busy people made time for this activity, and one thing they all had in common was that they put ‘kickboxing’ in their calendars.
The simple fact of the matter is that when you make a commitment, even to somebody you only know as your kickboxing buddy, you show up.
It’s all about owning your calendar.
So, what does this ‘radical’ idea actually look like in practice? To answer that question, I like to lean on the advice of one of my favourite authors, Cal Newport. In his amazing book, ‘Deep Work’, he talks about a concept called ‘time blocking.’ Time blocking is the practice of assigning a job to each hour of your day. This can be challenging at first, but the results might just blow your mind. Here’s an example of how I use time blocking in my day:
From 6 a.m. to 9 a.m., I engage in what I call my ‘Winning Morning Routine.’ Because I tend to quickly lose control of my day when I turn my phone on first thing in the morning, this block of time is a strict ‘no phone zone.’
From 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., I ‘go to school.’ This is time for reading or taking courses that support my intellectual and/or business growth. (Depending on the day, I might move this block to the afternoon.)
From 2 p.m. to 3 p.m., I work on future projects only. This is when I might find time for my daily
practice of writing down five crazy ideas, or asking myself questions whose answers could lead to future growth. This is my focus time.
At some point during the day, I will block out some time to answer emails. This may seem like a small thing, but it’s a crucial part of the time management puzzle. Before I started doing this, I would be distracted all day long. When I started restricting myself to one hour a day for checking and responding to emails, I was amazed by how focused I was able to be for the rest of the day.
Follow-through is essential here. I can’t stress that enough. If you’re reading this and thinking, ‘I’ll see if I have the time’, chances are you won’t find it. If you’re not conscious and deliberate about the way you manage your time, I can almost guarantee that your old habits will keep calling the shots.
Now, I’m by no means an expert at time blocking. It’s something I’ve been working on for a few years, and it’s still a work in progress. That being said, even in its imperfection, it’s been a total game changer for me. I can confidently say that 80 to 90 percent of my current work and opportunities were created from time blocked periods. If I had waited until I felt ‘ready’ to start this practice, I would probably still be struggling with the same things I was struggling with before.