How to Be More Focused, Productive, and Sane!

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Illustration of a cartoon man looking at a table with many different kinds of food on it

Do you find yourself lacking focus and filling your plate with more than you can handle? I call that the “The Taco Salad Principle.” It isn’t just what you allow your plate; it’s also what you allow to fill your mind. And when your mind is filled to overflowing, it creates stress, anxiety, and frustration!

Your mind might be occupied by replaying the past, which leads to guilt. Or it might be focused on the future, which leads to anxiety. When the past or future is taking up space in your head, there’s very little room for the present. There is no time like the present!

Imagine everything you ate last month all spread out on a table before you combined with everything you would eat in the next month. That would include everything you ate for breakfast, lunch dinner, snacks, and dessert – all of it spread out before you. And don’t forget to include the beverages!  That would be a massive amount of food to consume in a single sitting, even for competitive eaters. In fact, I would dare to say it would be impossible!  I’m betting trying to consume food in bulk like that would leave you feeling rather rotten.

In the same way, when you allow your mind to review over and over again what’s already over, and/or dwell on all that’s upcoming, it’s like indulging in a couple of months’ worth of food all in one sitting! Food is far more enjoyable when you can savor it in reasonable servings!

There’s no question that leading is demanding! It can be tough to stop your mind from getting on the merry-go-round of responsibilities. And when the thoughts never get you anywhere and tasks don’t get checked off your list, it leaves you feeling anxious, frustrated, and worn out.

You need every bit of your energy to be focused on what’s most important; the priority that’s right in front of you.  When your thinking is everywhere but in the present, it robs you of the energy you need for what’s really important and keeps you from being the dynamic productive leader you are capable of being.

How can you clear you mind and focus on today’s priority?

1. Connect With God

What’s amazing about spending time with God is that it helps you to realign the priorities in your life and work. He reminds you that He is the One in control, that He loves you, and wants the best for you. He often reveals ways to accomplish tasks more effectively if you are willing to listen.

The choice to carve out time with Him on a daily basis naturally forces you to exclude other activities that are less important.

2. Surrender

Trust Him to guide you through your day and give you the help you need to face the challenges ahead. Lay the looming tasks for the future at His feet. Matthew 6:34 says “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.” (MSG)

Surrender your day to Him.

3. Meditate

Rather than worrying and getting overwhelmed, get in the habit of breaking the cycle. When thoughts about the future pop into your mind when you’re your focus needs to be in the present, recite a favorite scripture or just reflect on who God is. You may have a go to phrase or your One Word that you can bring your mind back to where it needs to be. My One Word for this year is Accept, and it has diffused many a moment when my mind has gotten off track!

Allowing your mind to dwell on negative things is a form of meditation. Why not use meditation in a way that will actually be benefit to you?

4. Glance at the future

A key aspect of leadership, even if you are just leading you, is having vision and planning for the future. This might seem contradictory when I’ve just encouraged you to stay present. The truth is that setting aside regular times to reflect, plan, and consider what’s upcoming enables you to identify the steps you need to take to get there and set deadlines. That allows you to let go of those tasks so that you can dwell in today.

5. Implement Systems

Trying to keep important appointments, deadlines, and details in your head just makes you crazy! It also doesn’t leave much space for what needs your attention right now. That’s why implementing systems to help you remember such details is crucial.

There are variety of ways to stay on top of it all these days. Maybe you love the tried and true “tickler file” to prevent details from slipping through the cracks. The 45 file “tickler” system can be used to file anything you need to deal with later.

If you are more into tech methods, consider an app like Next Thing or Action Lists if you have an iPhone or Tickler for Android phones.

Systems allow you to fully focus on what needs to be done right now. Whatever your system is, it doesn’t need to be fancy; it just needs to be effective! Feel free to share the system that works for you below in the comment section.

6. Exercise

Physical activity is a marvelous way to clear your head and process what’s vying for your attention. The good news is that being more active also has a host of other benefits like reducing stress, contributing to better health, and more positive emotions. It doesn’t have to be a rigorous gym work out – a simple dance to an upbeat tune or a walk is great!

7. Block Out Time

Always being available means that there will be disruptions. Such interruptions keep even the most focused person from giving their full attention to what’s most important. Instead, you will find yourself putting out fires rather than devoting time to what’s most important. Consider blocking out regular times when you are “unavailable” to devote to the priority of the day, such as the two hours before lunch or the two hours right after lunch. When people know when you are unavailable, they will make it a point to check in when you are. Be sure to communicate clearly to those who need to know what your “unavailable” times are.

8. Don’t Go Solo

Leaders are ambitious, independent souls, yet, like everyone else, you need other people in your life to keep you grounded and to support you. Not to mention, leading can be quite lonely!

How can you create a network of people to support you? People who can be sounding boards and check-in to see how you are progressing towards your goals? Maybe even people who will pray for you.

Working with a coach is an incredibly effective way to have a confidential sounding board as well as someone who is able to challenge your thinking in ways that will aid in your success. In the past, working with a coach often had a stigma attached, but those days are long gone! The most successful leaders regularly work with a coach. It may seem like a luxury, but it’s actually more of a necessity!

Food eaten and savored one meal at a time just tastes better. It’s also more likely to contribute to your health! In the same way, when you focus on one task at a time – good-bye multi-tasking – the process is not only more enjoyable, but the results significantly better.  

What changes do you need to make to dwell in the present and focus on what’s most important?

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