By: Salil Athalye, Certified Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, Global Development Group

Why is it that after making time for meetings and dealing with interruptions and distractions you have no time to make progress on your commitments? Wouldn’t you just love to carve out some time to get things done?

I’ve come to recognize that focus, doing what is needed and not doing what is not needed and flow – efficient and effective delivery of the value of your work to the paying customer –  are deeply intertwined. Here are some practices I am putting in place that are helping me build a foundation for focused flow.

1) Mise en place – Everything in its right place
Make a concerted effort to capture all commitments on your plate and review the list at least once a week. Actions from notes, emails all go into a single electronic system I trust. Getting things out of my head helps me sleep better! 

2) Build a bias toward action
I identify the next tangible customer value-adding action that I need to take to make progress on each item. I create personal commitment by reframing the task to align with my values and interests. I WANT to finish those tasks!

3) Manage Time and Energy
Structure your day to work on items that demand focus when you can best provide it. Block off time as needed. Have a number of items that you can work on when your batteries are running low: calls, reports and other drudgery. I have things I need to learn and stuff I’d like to play with – I call those bootstrapping tasks, and they help me fire up my focus and ward off procrastination. 

4) Visualize Your Work
I’m visual so I like to see each commitment and its position in my workflow. It helps me see where things are getting blocked and provides a sense of accomplishment as work moves to “done”.  Start simple.

5) Mindful Monotasking
Create a distraction-free environment and focus on just one thing. I try to eliminate sources of distraction – Email, Yammer, my smartphone, ambient noise. I work in short bursts: 25 minutes, and take a 5 minute break. I use this sparingly for those items that really require focus.

These five practices, derived from the works of masters*, help me create opportunities for focused flow. I can see my workload, make decisions on what I need to work on and when and provide scheduled time for focus. How are you making the time for things that need your focus?

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*Sources for each practice:
1)       Getting Things Done by David Allen http://www.davidco.com/
2)       Making Ideas Happen by Scott Belsky http://www.actionmethod.com/blog?post=994
3)       Getting Things Done by David Allen
4)       Personal Kanban    http://www.personalkanban.com/pk/
5)       The Pomodoro Technique   http://www.pomodorotechnique.com/

Salil writes about using technology to augment personal productivity at www.bokehboy.com and is on Twitter as @bokehboy.