We live in a world with unlimited distractions, challenges, emergencies and interruptions – it’s a miracle any of us stay focused, sane and on track towards what we want (business improvement).
There are always going to be multiple tasks and priorities competing for your time – marketing campaigns to design, team members to manage, customers to respond to, business opportunities to explore, personal commitments etc. However, when you try to tackle too many things at the same time, nothing gets done. In the end, success and business improvement come down to focus.
In a world where there never seems to be enough time to get everything done, how can you avoid overwhelm, stay on track and get the things that are most important to you done? After all, it has been said there is always enough time in the day to do everything that is WORTH doing.
Here’s a list of questions that I have compiled over the years and shared with my clients and friends. They have helped me to put every challenge, “emergency” and distraction into perspective so that I can choose to focus my energy on what I really want and move forward toward my goals and business improvement each day. I hope some of these will also resonate with you…
1. Has Anyone Died? If not, relax, take a deep breath and know that as bad as things seem right now, “this too shall pass”. I learned this lesson the hard way when I was twenty four years old and had to come to grips with the terrible news that my mother had been murdered. As horrific and paralysing as this event was in my life, I eventually began to rebuild and discover strength that I never knew I had. And I learned a very important lesson – as long as no one has died, the situation really isn’t that grave, and there is always a solution or upside to every challenge you face.
2. Are You Trying to Eat an Elephant in One Sitting? Breaking things into bite-sized chunks makes the world of difference. Having broad high level business improvement goals are good but oftentimes it is easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of work that has to be done. That’s why having an actionable plan is essential – a step by step plan to help you move forward every day and get from where you are to where you want to be. After all, a journey of 1000 miles begins with one single step.
3. Are You In A Bad Neighbourhood? If you are in the ghetto emotionally, you need to change your physiology immediately. That means get up and get moving – put on your favourite song, connect with someone face to face or do a hobby/sport that makes you smile. Whatever it takes, do it NOW.
4. Are You Grateful For What You Already Have? It is impossible to attract more of what you want into your life if you are feeling ungrateful about what you already have. It has been said that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. In many ways gratitude is a bit like that – it’s not what you say, the mere words that count, but sum of the words and the heartfelt emotion that you put behind them.
5. Are You focused on What You Want or Don’t Want? Whether you realise it or not, you are visualising things all the time – visualising either what you want or don’t want. If you are relentlessly focused on the negative outcome and are riddled with fear, your thoughts will impact your reality and push what you want further away.
6. Does it Have To Be Perfect? Perfection can immobilize you and hamper business improvement – prevent you from making a decision, starting a project or signing off on a piece of important work. Truth is, most tasks on your list don’t have to be 100% perfect, you just need to pull the trigger and sign off on them today. The other way that this problem can show up is when you deceive yourself by believing that no-one else can do the job (even simple routine tasks) to your exacting standard, so you must do it ALL yourself. Try the 80/20 rule – delegate what you do not have to do yourself and give yourself permission to be human!
7. Are You Still Holding On To The Past – Have you ever caught yourself saying “last time I tried that, it didn’t work”? Or have you ever avoided doing something that you know you need to do but were afraid because it didn’t work last time? Even though it’s a good idea to stop doing what clearly isn’t working, it’s also important to remember that the past does not necessarily equal the future. If you catch yourself using reasons from the past to justify why you are not moving ahead today, you owe it to yourself to recognize this for what it is – self sabotage – and take action.
8. Are You Listening To Your Own Inner Voice? – The quickest way to guarantee failure and unhappiness is to worry too much about what other people might think. Deep down you know what is right for you in every circumstance. Sometimes it is tempting to suppress or ignore your gut instincts but there is freedom and relief in choosing to listen and to stand behind the decisions that you know are right for you. If you choose to please others, there will always be at least one other person who is unhappy with your choices, plus yourself.
9. Are You Avoiding Your Fears? – Ironically, everything you want is on the other side of your fear. Sometimes we are coaxed to the edge of our fears and pushed off, yet other times we willingly wander there, oblivious to what lies ahead. Either is good – for at the moment you feel your feet leave the safety of the cliff top – you will always find your wings and fly.
10. Are You Afraid of Making a Mistake? – It is only when we are stretched that we discover new things about ourselves. Often it is adversity and mistakes that allow us to become aware of and uncover our own innate talents. If mistakes were fatal, we wouldn’t enjoy most of the modern conveniences that we take for granted every day. Taking a risk and making a mistake is far better than doing nothing. In the brilliant words of Theodore Roosevelt “the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing”.
11. Do You Have Reasons or Results? – In life you either have results or you have reasons, but it is impossible to have both. If you don’t like the results you have produced, you will do one of two things (1) find a reason or excuse to explain why or (2) change your behaviour to produce a different result. Looking for justification as to why things have not worked out is a pointless exercise. When we look at causes, rather than reasons, things are very different. There is no failure, only results. Essentially, it means never having a reason or excuse again.
12. Are You Unrealistic? In order to succeed and achieve your goal of business improvement, you have to be at least a little unrealistic. Being realistic, never led to any significant change, innovation or giant leap forward. Only unrealistic thinking will achieve a result that until now seemed impossible. In the ‘60s, U.S. President Kennedy seemed unrealistic when he announced to a very large audience that America would put a man on the moon in less than a decade. Prior to that statement, a lunar landing seemed impossible, or at the very least, something that was a long way off.
13. Have You Forgiven Yourself & Others? Perhaps we never really completely understand life until we face death. What if we all started off on our deathbeds? Would it make a difference? Would it change the way we choose to play the game? Would it take us to forgiveness sooner? On our deathbed, I doubt any of us would say ‘I wish I held onto more anger and resentment or took a bit longer to forgive.’ In fact, if you were to look out into the future and imagine the world and all of your relationships from a position where you knew with absolute certainty that they would be gone tomorrow, would you act differently today? Would you mourn the years that you kept yourself enslaved by bitterness, blame and indignation? Would you lament the loss of pleasure, love and peace that could have been yours if only you could have found a way to forgive sooner?
14. Are You Hiding Who You Really Are? – We all have scars, but they are not ‘terminal’ blemishes, evidence of your defects, or validation of your lack of worthiness. Richard Nixon once famously said “the finest steel goes through the hottest fire”. Life isn’t easy but that perhaps it was never designed to be! Amazing things can happen, character and strength often develop through the most challenging circumstances – whether the heat destroys you or sculpts you is entirely up to you.
15. Are You a Poor Communicator? – Anytime you have more than one person observing an event, the door is open for the possibility of misinterpretation and miscommunication based on differing maps of reality. Learning to recognise that we all have different maps (filters by which we see and process the world around us) allows us to see the world through another person’s eyes and therefore understand, relate and communicate with greater respect and results.
16. Are You Thinking Inside Your Box? – Our beliefs about what is true, right, real or possible are largely assembled in childhood through a process called conditioning. Essentially children learn what is ‘normal’ from the people around them. These beliefs about the world can have a massive impact on how your life turns out. Einstein referred to limiting beliefs as the “boundary conditions of our thinking” – they act as a box that we unconsciously put ourselves in from a very young age. What we consider possible is influenced by these rigid ideas. That is why it has often been said that the thinking that got you to where you are now will never get us to where you want to be.
17. Are You Running Away? – Sometimes a fresh start can do you a world of good, but the interesting thing about a fresh start is that it never stays fresh for very long. The irritating part of physical or geographical changes is that you stay the same – wherever you go, there you are. As time passes you are forced to realise that while there may be a new job, new boss, new partner, or a new view out the window of your kitchen – you are exactly the same! Now might be a great time to look at the changes that need to come from within.
18. Are You Over Thinking It? – Most of us make a ‘decision’ today, knowing that tomorrow we can change our mind, backtrack or simply do nothing. That isn’t a decision. Unless you take action immediately towards your goal, you haven’t really decided … you are merely thinking about it.
19. Are You Motivated? – No matter whether you have experienced awful things in life or not, there is an innate drive in all of us to seek meaning and purpose. If we understand our ‘why’ then we can deal with any ‘how’ that life brings our way. Even in the darkest of nights, we can all find a way to let the light of who we really are shine through, if we believe in our hearts that there is a grander purpose.
20. Are You Driving The Bus? – I am the only one who can attribute meaning to the events in my life and the same is true for you. Positive, negative or neutral – the choice is always yours. If you are not happy with the choices you have made so far in life the great news is that you can choose new meanings immediately that will drive you towards your bright and compelling future. It’s never too late to become the person you were meant to be!
21. Are You Your Own Worst Enemy? – In my own life, it has never been the load or the obstacles that broke me, but rather the manner in which I chose to carry them. Despite what happens or what others think/say, it’s the things we tell ourselves when no one else is listening, that have the biggest potential to harm and hold us back. Re-writing negative self-talk is the single biggest gift you can give yourself this year.
It’s very easy to get so caught up in the emotion of emergencies, distractions and thoughts that don’t serve you – you can easily lose sight of what is most important to your success, business improvement and well-being. These simple questions (and keeping your sense of humour) are vital to helping you to stay focused and moving towards your goals and success.