James Bond is on the chase in Switzerland. Behind the wheel of his new Aston Martin DB5, begrudgingly modified with enumerable gadgets supplied by Q, Bond follows Mr. Goldfinger, transported in a vintage Rolls Royce driven by OddJob. Not too many frames into the scene, Bond’s car is overtaken by a white Mustang convertible driven by an attractive young woman.
As she passes his car, Bond smirks, pushes down the accelerator and begins a new chase. Then, prudent thinking overcomes his primal urge and he says out loud to himself, “Discipline, 007. Discipline.” The primary chase, that of Goldfinger, subordinated momentarily by a new priority becomes primary once more.
The choices and challenges are almost always present. We have great intentions, make lists, set priorities, then soon find our well-laid plans way off track. Every morning about 7, I take Chumley the dog for his walk. Anyone who thinks taking a dog for a walk can be good cardiovascular exercise soon learns that it is not to be. Chumley means well; he trots down the driveway and onto the sidewalk at a brisk and determined pace.
But soon, often within a few feet, something captures his attention and he is drawn aside to stop, sniff, and most often, leave his mark. Dogs do that because they live and react to their surroundings instinctively. And repeats the pattern the entire walk – starts off with determination and vigor, sees, smells, or hears something, gets pulled off target and onto another one.
They do not, indeed cannot possess the foresight and prudence to consider actions, make plans, or orchestrate life. He cannot help himself.
Bond could and did so in encounter after encounter. His words succinctly describe what it takes. “Discipline, 007. Discipline.”
Some of you may know that I have written and published a free mini-course called Mastering Your Time (you can register here – it really is free). The feedback has been reassuring. I do not merely deal with time management techniques that help someone organize their day’s work. I take a giant step back from that to challenge readers to examine the big picture.
We cannot do everything. Way too often we try to. But one may be efficient without being very effective. Managers, this includes time managers, are focused on doing things right, of getting the most from the least. I challenge you that we should not start there.
Let us look instead at doing the right things.
You can efficiently use every minute of every day and accomplish a great many things. You can schedule appointments, complete tasks, meet deadlines, handle complex projects, but can burn through several years before you begin to question whether it might be a waste of time.
Why? There has been a good deal of discussion about what is the single greatest human need. Some propose it is the need for life itself and that is of course, fundamental. The most elementary need is, however, quite basic. Except for those whose very life is threatened (which in reality does not happen very often), life is seldom even thought about.
Others say the single greatest human need is the need for love, for connection with others, or for success, and more.
But I have always believed that the greatest need humans have is the need for significance, to be comfortable and confident in saying that our presence, our effort, our words, our life counts for something.
To examine your schedule and see it crowded with activities, to make a few changes here and there and find you can crowd in a few more activities, and to learn how to better control your space has some value. Many can be quite content merely making the occasional adjustment in technique and feel that an increase in efficiency is enough.
But, if that is the focus, then you will discover that your life is PROBLEM-CENTERED. It revolves around things that need to be fixed, calls that need to be made, or fires that need to be extinguished.
May I suggest that you instead become PURPOSE-CENTERED?
Attention distractions can and do override intention abstractions. Too often our intentions are too general, too indefinite, not plotted logically or chronologically. Thus the have a short life. We intend to do things but then something comes up and, well, Chumley knows that lifestyle very well.
Hoping for a life free of distractions is hopeless. It is not possible and cannot ever be. Hoping for even a week or so free of them is equally impossible. I doubt you can get through a day without at least one. Life is too untidy, too unpredictable, too unstructured.
No, I am afraid my friend James has the key. “Discipline, 007. Discipline.” Single-mindedness is the secret, the ability to focus and the discipline to maintain that focus.
The concept of focus has two elements. First is the visual element of clarification, to capture all that is fuzzy and make adjustments to bring it into clear definition. This admittedly takes some introspection and usually brutal honesty. We can’t get to where we want to go if we don’t know where we are. So we have to focus in on what it is we really want out of life and then walk it backwards. If we are going to reach the target up yonder, what has to happen before that, and before that, and before that. There will be distractions, some of them noble and decent. We cannot get pulled off target.
Second, to focus is to narrow the range and scope. Most will agree that modern life is too full. Few will acknowledge that their own life is overcrowded. Fewer still will admit that anything can be done about it.
But it can. And if we are to find genuine satisfaction in our pursuit of significance, then we must focus.
I have had to regularly, did so again yesterday. I have many interests and many, many ideas. I cannot pursue them all with conscientious effort. Bond shows me that focus is the key, discipline to honor that focus is the device.
There is much more to be said and tools I have developed to make the pursuit of significance easier. Why not register for my Mastering Your Time mini-course? There is no cost, nothing to turn in, no tests, only proven tools and principles. Check it out here. Sign up is easy, a few clicks with your name and email address and the first lesson will be in your email box before you know it.