If you’ve been following along in this series, you now know why the old approach to setting new years resolutions doesn’t work, have identified what is important to you, have decided on your two themes for the year and given each one a colour.
To close this series off, here are a few practical suggestions that will help you save a massive amount of mental space and focus if you commit to them.
Quit now and quit completely
To achieve a goal we occasionally need to add things to our already busy to-do list and calendar (like our running example), but more often than not you can make MASSIVE improvements by simply removing clutter.
Identify the stuff that take up your energy, capacity and mental focus and cut it out of your life.
The obvious first place to look is for the unhealthy things like smoking, binge-drinking, consuming too much media and so on. However, there might also be good things that you can cut out of your life to improve your capacity for focusing on what is important.
For example, being an active part of your HOA or the president of a society or taking a self-improvement course are all great things if they align with what is important to you, but if they are in no way linked to what you’re trying to achieve this year, why not just stop them now? And when I say “stop them”, I don’t mean scale back.
I mean quit now and quit completely.
This is especially true of the bad things. Don’t “slowly cut back”. Become a person who “doesn’t do that, ever.” Maybe it’s gossip, or smoking, or sleeping late, or binging series. Whatever your thing, make that an identity statement:
“I don’t gossip ever.”
“I am a non-smoker.”
“I never watch more than one episode at a time.”
Everyone has 24 hours in a day, so why do other people get more stuff done with the same 24 hours? It’s focus. They know what is important and become excellent at that. Anything that distracts them from that — even if it is a good thing — they stop doing it completely.
Kill the distractions
Two practical things you can quit now and quit completely that will save you a MASSIVE amount of focus and mental energy are social media and notifications.
We waste so much time, energy and focus by allowing our digital devices to constantly bombard us with pings, jingles, banners, alerts and all sorts of useless visual noise.
This applies to all devices, but ESPECIALLY to your smartwatch. Getting notifications on your watch is senseless, stupid. They do nothing good for you, but do serve to distract you from what you are busy with at the time. Turn them off completely.
Seriously, TURN. THEM. OFF.
Do the same for your phone and laptop — Do Not Disturb mode is an amazing tool for this. Remove your email clients from your phone and keep them closed the whole day on your laptop except for one or two predetermined times when you check and respond to your email.
A majority of the emails you get aren't urgent, and you will work better when you are not switching your focus between your work and your email.
Tech tip: If there is someone who you absolutely must see contacting you, add them as an exception to your Do Not Disturb mode on your phone. Here’s how to do that on Android, and here’s how to do so on iOS.
I feel so strongly about this because notifications are such an attention grabber. Imagine you are working on becoming excellent at what is important to you, then you get a message and just take a quick look. Your focus is immediately shifted, and even if you don’t reply not you have to pick up that momentum you lost, and if it’s an important or interesting notification it stays stuck front-of-mind, absorbing mental capacity you could be putting towards the thing you are doing right now (that is moving your towards becoming excellent at what is important).
Multiply that little moment with getting notifications from all sorts of social media apps and you can imagine how much it costs you a lot in terms of your mental capacity, focus and momentum.
Then, DELETE all social media apps from your phone. Increase your barrier-to-entry; if you must check social media, force yourself to go to your computer to do so.
I’m not going to go into detail about social media here because there is a massive amount of information about it available online, except to say that if your job requires you to create content for social media, consider investing in a third-party social media aggregator (something like Buffer for posting, for example) that helps you stay off the actual platform and minimises the temptation of doomscrolling.