At the start of each day, you have a choice: You can work on the noise that shows up, as it shows up. Or work on the signal, gaining momentum toward what you and the team has decided is the next goal.
There’s no secret to being productive. If there were, your search would have uncovered it by now.
No, in order to get things done, you have to sit down and, well, do them. The most important resource of them all -- more than funding, more than time, and certainly more than the next release of your product, app or service - is focus.
While I was working at the Los Alamos National Laboratory a while back, one of the engineers I met with explained the notion of the “signal-to-noise ratio” to me over lunch. Immediately, I began to apply this electronics term to the field of productivity and workplace performance.
The Oxford Dictionary describes the phrase as "a measure of how much useful information there is in a system, such as the Internet, as a proportion of the entire contents."
As you look at your own systems (your to-do lists, your email inboxes, your shared project management lists), can you quicky identify the “useful” information? Focus on the most important aspects of your work, and achieve more success each day.
Use visualization to see what you are working toward as you realize each goal. Two reasons for visualizing are to recognize what you want when you see it and so you're ready for the situation or result when it shows up.
Right now, practice an effective focusing technique. Open up your journal or notebook and on the top of a blank page write, “What will get me closer to my next goal?” As you write down each item, ask yourself, “Is that signal? Or is it noise?”
Having a positive focus is different than positive thinking. Watch what happens when you direct your focus on the positive, the plus side of things. An executive of a Fortune 50 company told me that he starts each day with a five-minute focusing exercise. Before he checks email, prints his calendar or sits in on a meeting, he mentally prepares for his day. Yes, he will surely have to put out some fires and handle some crises, but that doesn’t take away from his focus on what he wants to accomplish.
This kind of visualization process (which I've been using for a decade or so) is used by politicians, athletes, public speakers and startup founders. Try it tomorrow morning. Sit quietly and set a timer for five minutes. In that time, imagine what you’d like to see throughout the day. Then as things come up throughout the day, reflect on what you wanted to happen and make real-time decisions to keep you on course.
It’s all too easy to become distracted by emergencies or things that look important (even as you’re reading this article). Try these steps:
1. Think of an event that you'll be attending or participating in soon.
2. Close your eyes. Picture some of the people you might see there. If possible, imagine their faces. Are they smiling, serious, talking or listening?
3. Now think about what you'll do while there. Will you sit, stand or walk around? What might you be wearing?
4. Imagine what you'll talk about while there. Consider the other people who'll be there with you. What might you discuss? What will you ask them?
5. Stop and write down one thing you'd like to do now that you have visualized the event.
When you choose to visualize, you move closer to achieving your goal. And when you arrive at the event, you’ll experience a feeling of “this looks kind of familiar; it seems like I have seen something like this before.”
When you redirect your focus, your perspective changes. Clearly state what you want and increase the signal aspect of information to achieve the goal.
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