You have so many so-called "time-saving" methods and technologies available today to get things done. Why does it seem that you have more to do than ever before? Why does it seem like everything actually takes longer that it used to?
The gadgets and technologies we use to get stuff done come with their own built in distractions. You often have to deal with conflicts and breakdowns in the technologies themselves. Worse, you also have to deal with the unprecedented glut of advertising, promotion and other competition for your attention while you're using them.
Here's how you get off track.
Just think about how distracted you can get while doing online research for something simple.
Say, for example, you are trying to be more organized in your home office and want a file cabinet. Once upon a time, you'd just go to a local vendor, pick up the cabinet, bring it home and put your files in it. Today, you probably first go to a search engine.
And then the trouble starts. There are thousands of choices of kinds and styles. Even assuming you restrict your search to no more than ten vendors, there are countless comparisons you need to make: shipping schedules and costs, local pick-up availability, price, and so forth. Finally, you find a source that gives you a cabinet you like, at a good price with the shipping or pick up that's best for you.
Oops. There's an hour gone already. But only if you've concentrated on the search for a file cabinet and did not get distracted by other lovely objects and ideas. You also still have to go get the cabinet or put aside your filing tasks until it's delivered.
Of course, you did get distracted, didn't you. Maybe you merely took some time to look at more home office supplies and equipment. Ordered some folders, staples or printer supplies. But, more likely, you saw more advertising on those search results pages than you get in three hours of watching television with commercials.
You wandered off to explore ideas related to the ads. Your search really took a couple of hours. Your excuse for that couple of hours is that you found three new sources of article or e-book ideas. Or something else practical and valuable for your work.
Unfortunately, you didn't need those sources or ideas right now. You needed to get a file cabinet. Then you needed to go to the next item on your to-do list and get it done.
Since you've promised yourself faithfully that you'll be more efficient by not checking your email until you've "worked" for at least two hours, having done so, you are now free to go check that. In your email there are several fabulous offers you have to check out or lose the time-limited opportunity. Plus, you simply have to forward that hilarious note from your best friend to at least ten other people on your mailing list.
Oh, it's time for lunch. Well, you'll just get back to that to-do list right after you eat.
At the end of the day, you'll ask yourself where all the time went. You'll wonder why it's so hard to get everything done you need to do.
Here's how to get back on track.
How do you get disciplined to do the stuff on your to-do list. To avoid those distractions and keep on track? The bad new is, it's hard. The good news is that productive people do it everyday. So can you.
You set priorities and stick to them by constantly checking on them. By keeping a record of what you are doing on your list, when you are doing it, how long it's taking and what else you're doing that interferes with it.
It's great to have a to-do list. In fact, it is essential to start with a to-do list. But the to-do's have to be sufficiently specific and listed in order of importance or timeliness. A to-do list alone will make you more productive than just relying on memory or gut feeling. A well-ordered to-do list that you learn to follow without distraction will make you a powerhouse.
It doesn't take a lot longer to make a well ordered to-do list than to simply make a to-do list. Just as you know that you must boil water first to make a cup of tea, you know what tasks you must do -- at what time and in what order -- to get your desired result. Make your list in that order. If possible, make that list into a schedule or a time-blocked array.
Then follow the to-do list until everything on it is done that actually can be done.
The real trick is that you include a to-don't list within your to-do list. You know the ways you get distracted. You hold yourself accountable for avoiding the distractions. Using the same example as I did earlier, imagine that you are doing that search for a file cabinet. On your to-do list, you would write something like this:
1. Find new file cabinet
a. Search Google for no more than five vendors. Allow no more than 15 minutes.
b. Avoid ads.
c. Avoid other shopping.
d. Compare file cabinets at vendors for no more than 15 minutes
e. Avoid other shopping.
f. Buy file cabinet. Allow about 15 minutes.
Obviously, the items that begin with "avoid" are the to-don'ts. You check off each item as you complete it. Including the to-don'ts. You'll have a written record of how you handled your time. After each item, list the actual time spent doing the item. If you violated the to-don't, put a minus instead of a check mark and note the time spent doing the to-don't.
As you become accountable -- on the record -- for completing your priorities and avoiding your distractions, you will find yourself becoming more focused, less distracted. You will be more aware of your habits, so you can avoid the bad ones. You'll start getting more done.
If you have someone else check up on your to-do/to-don't list, you will probably get focused faster. Merely holding yourself accountable to yourself may not always work, but having someone you respect check up on you adds an entire new level of accountability. It often does the trick.
Something else to think about.
Of course, you realize that in the file cabinet example I used above, you could always go "old-fashioned" and simple drive down to Office Depot, get a file cabinet and bring it home. The old ways still work for most everything. Often, they work better than the new, distracting technologies. And they make to-do lists much simpler.