To takeover the world, first takeover yourself.

You can’t expect to manage anything well if you don’t manage yourself first. Self management is a huge challenge for me. I go through ruts of feeling like I’m not accomplishing enough and there never seems to be enough time to accomplish the things I want to accomplish. If this sounds like an issue you struggle with, read on and let me know your thoughts.

First of all, you’re not alone. Most people run on emotion, they operate and prioritize their business or work based on what they “feel” they should do. This will get you by for the most part. For a lot of people, especially very creative people, this method probably serves them well.

This is especially true when it comes to how we feel about our work life and accomplishments. These same feelings are why people that are into fitness track their weight. They know that the weight is a good indicator of how they’re progressing toward their fitness goals, despite how they feel after eating a slice of pizza. But how do you track your “weight” when it comes to accomplishing your goals? What can you use to indicate that you are actually moving in the right direction?

It all starts with understanding what focus is. Focus is your ability to continually work on your priorities over a period of time. If you track your focus, you can track your progress toward accomplishing your goals.

To help track your focus, first write down your priorities in a place where you can clearly see them. Print it out on a huge piece of paper, use a sticky note on your desktop, post them up in your bathroom, put a reminder on your cell phone cover, you get the point. I use several of these tactics and also a chrome plugin called todoist that displays my days priority with every new tab I open. This works for me because I’m constantly opening new tabs throughout the day.

Screen capture of the Todoist Google Chrome tab

Second and most importantly, TRACK YOUR TIME. There are a lot of time tracking apps out there. I’m sure any of the apps on top in the app store will do just fine. The one pictured below is ATracker. It takes a little getting used to, but once you start to get good data on how your time is ACTUALLY spent, versus how you “feel” its spent, you’ll find ways to knock off the nonsense and complete your priorities.

Screenshot of the time tracker I use

You can organize your activities however you wish. I chose to make meetings a separate task since no actual production typically is accomplished during meetings. There are plenty of articles on how to hold a great meeting, have a look at one here.

My general meeting rules are to set an agenda, keep detailed notes, stick to the time schedule, and don’t invite more people than necessary.

For unscheduled phone calls, let the person know your time constrained the moment you pick up the phone. “Hey I have about 5 minutes, what’s up?” or of course you can let the voicemail do the trick but this might not always be the right maneuver.

When I first started tracking my time a few years ago, it was clear to me that even though I felt like I was accomplishing a lot, I was not spending my time in the right areas. If you own a business or want to excel in certain parts of your career, dedicate your time to the areas you want to grow in. For me it was Business Development. I was spending a lot of time doing marketing and even more time in meetings and email. Now a days its quite the opposite.

A report from my time tracking app, very pleased with this!

I don’t expect most people to regularly put in 16 hour days but you can see that I spent most of that day working on business development.

This is exactly where I wanted to be with my time.

The other method I use to curb my own stupidity is taking notes. A notepad is the most powerful business tool in the world. I need notes to help me remember who I talked to, why I talked to them and what the purpose was in the first place. I’ve tried to replace the physical note pad with a digital one but its still not there for me. Its too easy to whip out a little note pad like this and jot down information.

The most powerful business tool in the world.
This is also the canvas to creativity. Processes make more sense to me after I draw a picture and I can visualize how things flow, how information moves from one source to the next, and how items go from ideas to action.

I would have taken a picture of some of my notes, but I believe you would need a degree in symbology to understand them, maybe one of these days I’ll post some.

The other piece of the puzzle is your piece of mind. I use mindfulness techniques to reset and continue focusing on my priorities. Mindfulness is basically meditation with less incense and rug burn. It involves taking a few deep breaths, relaxing for a few minutes, and just being aware of yourself and your surroundings.

A picture of NOT ME trying to relax for a few

Clearly displaying priorities, tracking time, mindfulness and taking notes has worked wonders for me, and I’m willing to bet it will work for you too. If you have any questions regarding controlling your focus or growing your business, feel free to shoot me a dm on Twitter @nickdsmith.