MRO Magazine

Keeping your eye on the priorities

Five seconds after you get to at your desk, the telephone rings. Then, before you even sit down, you notice "urgent" correspondence that someone has recently placed on your chair. Two minutes later, a colleague wants to see you for a few moments.


June 1, 2004
By Richard G. Ensman, Jr.

Five seconds after you get to at your desk, the telephone rings. Then, before you even sit down, you notice “urgent” correspondence that someone has recently placed on your chair. Two minutes later, a colleague wants to see you for a few moments. And then you remember: you promised to help research the maintenance techniques for an pending repair job before noon.

And the day goes on. Somewhere near day’s end, you realize once again that you weren’t able to focus on most of the critical tasks at hand. The consequences: you’re not moving on your priorities.

Your days don’t have to be like this, however. Pay attention to 14 simple principles and you can bring renewed focus to your work – and, in turn, move faster toward your goals.

Post the priorities. Know your goals and priorities. Better yet, write them down in a prominent place so they’re constantly in front of you. Hint: Include a brief goal statement in your daily calendar.

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Stalk your schedule. Build your schedule at the start of each week, and revise it daily as needed. Block out time to reflect your priorities. Don’t worry if your schedule needs to be broken. It happens. Just reschedule important tasks as early as possible.

Mind your motives. Goals and priorities are ultimately based on things that are important to you. Ask yourself: Why do I want to achieve these goals? Whatever the answers, imagine yourself enjoying the great results once you’ve achieved them. This simple mental exercise will move you toward greater focus each day.

Ride the routine. Focus often comes about through consistency. Determine which tasks you need to perform on a regular basis, and build daily routines around them. If, for instance, you must return telephone calls within 24 hours, build a twice-daily telephone routine into your schedule.

Make appointments with the big guy. The big guy (or gal) is you. When you’re trying to focus on an important goal – whether it’s making a big proposal, writing an important report or using “think time” to develop a new initiative – set time aside for yourself. Guard that time just as you’d guard any critical appointment.

Break it up. Psychologists tell us that the human brain can only deal with so much activity and stimuli before it becomes overloaded. Once this happens, distraction, fatigue and stress result. Good prevention: Take frequent breaks. That means a coffee break, walk or some other relaxation at least a few times a day. And it means periodic time away from the job.

Track the trivia. “Trivia” is the collection of miscellaneous correspondence, e-mails, calls, and followup tasks that can easily fill – and clutter – your day. From now on, save the trivia in a file or tray. Dig into it once a day. Don’t let it sidetrack you at other times.

Savour the silence. One of the best ways to build focus is to shut out the noise. That might mean closing the door, turning off the computer e-mail alarm, and keeping distractions to a minimum. Silence is especially valuable when you’re working on “heads-down” technical tasks and you need concentration and speed.

Listen. Poor or inadequate communication is one of the leading causes of workplace distractions. So when you’re receiving information, actively listen. Understand the words, the hidden messages behind the words, and the potential sources of confusion. When you’re giving information, test your listener’s understanding of the message. Good listening minimizes questions and misunderstandings.

Hold the important stuff. Keep a file or receptacle for every task you’re working on. Ditto for each person you work with on a regular basis. Into these files place letters, reports and notes that you’ll need. When you need to focus on a priority, pull the right folder, and whatever you need should be there.

Follow the flow. What’s the best time of day for you to engage in “think time?” When can you conduct meetings most effectively? Understand your daily “flow,” and build your activities around it.

Delegate the details. Whenever you can delegate, refer or outsource details – especially details of lower-priority tasks – do it. The result: you’ll have more time and energy for high priorities.

Don’t forget to file. Be sure that items are placed – or replaced – in the appropriate files as soon as you’re done with them. You’ll save countless minutes (and hours) searching for information later on.

Run your own retreat. Schedule a mini “planning retreat” once a week, say Friday afternoon or Sunday evening. Identify the objectives you want to achieve during the week ahead, and the tasks you need to complete. Better still, spend five or ten minutes at the close of each day, evaluating your progress and preparing for the next workday. The result: real focus and progress.

The 80/20 Rule

You’ve probably heard of the Pareto Principle: 80% of the results in any given endeavour come from 20% of the time or resources invested.

When it comes to business focus, this simple principle is true. You might spend only 20% of your time on high-impact tasks, but chances are that this expenditure of time will produce 80% of your sales, gross income or other tangible results.

– Imagine for just a moment what would happen if you could spend 60% or 70% of your time on high-impact tasks? Or even half your time on critical priorities?

By learning how to focus your time and energy on what’s really important, you can increase the proportion of time you spend on things that matter – and boost the probability of success.

Richard G. Ensman, Jr., is a regular contributor to Machinery & Equipment MRO.