People talk about impulse control, that is, the ability to remain focused on doing something even if you get an impulse to do something else. My good friend and fellow speaker Jens Hector at Ignicon told me that someone had investigated this ability in a study and found a connection between high impulse control and successful goal-attainment.
The people investigated in the study who found it easy to remain focused on what they had previously determined to do in spite of getting new impulses, reached their goals to a greater extent than those who found it difficult, since those who tended to act on new impulses and changed activity and direction more frequently, did not achieve as much.
For you who prefer listening to reading, this post is also available as an episode of the “Done!” podcast:
How does this apply to you? When you are working on a task and come to think of that you need to check something that does not have anything to do with what you are currently doing, do you do it right away or wait until the task with the highest priority is completed? When you have decided what you want to focus on for the next few months ahead and you run into someone at a party with whom you have a great time and you eventually start talking about doing a project together; do you put your plans aside and hop on this new project, or do you stick to your plan as you originally intended?
Practice your way out of multitasking
Perhaps you share my perspective on multitasking and hence see the value in remaining focused on one task during a longer stretch of time rather than attempting to do several simultaneously? If you are not already excellent at maintaining focus, you can practice new habits that reduce the tendency to multitask. Jens told me that his mentees practice increasing their impulse control by giving themselves a time-limit which means that they ”have to” wait for 20 minutes before acting on an impulse.
You and I can practice the same thing.
Doing so will give us the opportunity to get some perspective on and distance to the amazing idea we just got. We put it in another light — one other than that dazzling, infatuating glow spontaneous ideas tend to have. We can decide more consciously if we want to act on the impulse or not, and we are not carried away against the will of our future self and its more long-term desires and aspirations.
- Figure out the easiest way for you to set some kind of 20-minute timer whenever you get an impulse to do something. Perhaps you have a watch with a countdown timer. Your smartphone definitely has a timer function you can use.
- Try using it during the next week to suspend the following of impulses you get by 20 minutes. When you get an idea and want to google something, call someone (even though you are in the middle of working on a task), to develop something, to sketch up a new project you thought of, and so on, set the timer for 20 minutes and do not allow yourself to take the first step on the new thought or impulse until the clock rings.
- Take out your calendar right now and schedule a five minute meeting with yourself in a week during which you look back at the week that passed and reflect on how your practicing went. Do you want to keep practicing? Did it make a difference? Were you just frustrated by not being able to do what you wanted right away and felt unable to appreciate the benefits? Did you feel a greater sense of satisfaction regarding what you have accomplished this week?
- If it motivated you to do even better and you experienced benefits with using this method, then practice for another week. Schedule another five minute meeting with yourself in a week’s time right away during which you reflect and evaluate.
Restrictions that give you more freedom in the long-run
If you have thus far experienced your work and life as somewhat scattered and going in too many directions simultaneously, this simple restriction is a way to help you focus better. During the 20 minutes you have given yourself to hold your impulse, you will have plenty of time to remind yourself of where you previously have determined you want to be heading and what you want to do, and hence make it easier to stick with your original intention. The probability that you reach your goals sooner increases since you are able to complete more of the tasks that bring you a step closer to attaining your aims and aspirations.
During the 20 minutes you will let pass before acting on an impulse you will get a lot done. The task you almost left half done will be one step, or 20 minutes, closer to being finished, and perhaps you can even check it off your list completely before your timer rings. Instead of scattering your attention and energy, you will work more consciously and with concentration in the direction of your desired destination.
And no, you are not putting blinkers on yourself and you are not really missing any new opportunities due to lack of flexibility. After all, we are only talking 20 minutes.
What is your way?
What method helps you focus for longer periods of time on your most important task? Tell me!
(You might get the impression that you have to be harsh and rigid to yourself to succeed in having good structure at work. That is not the case. Shape a structure that is easy to follow without you having to be disciplined.)