Want to Win? Stay Focused on What Matters Most

Everyone has the same number of hours in each day, so why are some people far more productive than others? The most direct reason: discipline. Sure, other elements are part of a bigger explanation – performance, systems, focus, priorities, accountability – but none of them are possible without discipline.

Laura Stack, a fascinating speaker and author I recently interviewed on my Start With a Win podcast, had a built-in advantage in the discipline department. As the daughter of a U.S. Air Force Colonel, Laura grew up in a very structured, militaristic household on the Air Force Academy base in Colorado Springs.

“I loved it,” she told me, “I really didn’t know anything different.”

Laura’s disciplined upbringing serves her well. For 27 years she’s made her living sharing her thoughts on productivity, performance and making full use of the 24 hours we all have each day. She’s written eight books, with more on the way.

Funny thing is, she doesn’t really enjoy writing. But she does it – and even prioritizes it – because it brings her the highest return on her investment of time. Her books deliver her insights to the widest range of people, which in turn leads to speaking engagements and other opportunities. Her disciplined approach to writing illustrates one of the great points she made on the podcast.

Here’s a rundown of key insights she shared:

 The most important activities are usually hard – and not that fun

Even with her disciplined background, Laura procrastinates. We all do. We can all find plenty of things we’d rather be doing than the one thing we ought to be doing. The trick is staying focused on your most vital activities each day – and getting them done when you’re at your best.

• Block your time to make the most of your peak periods

Most of us tend to be energized and operating at maximum capacity at certain times each day. For Laura, it’s 11 AM to 12:30 PM. She devotes that 90 minutes to difficult activities that demand her full attention and focus. It might be something creative, something strategic, or something she simply won’t have the energy to excel at later in the day. She knows spending this critical time on anything less important – checking emails, for instance – is a waste.

• Turn technology off

It takes seven minutes for an adult to ramp up to a state of full attention and focus, so trying to get there amid the dings of incoming emails or the vibration of your cell phone is a mistake. During your time-blocked period of peak performance, turn everything off. The biggest obstacle to productivity is distraction, and the best way to avoid it is unplugging when you need to.

• Avoid the trap of to-do lists

Massive to-do lists are an invitation to tackle quick, easy jobs in order to feel the reward of knocking them off the list. The predictable result: running out of time and energy before getting to the more important things. It’s a trap. Instead, Laura uses the Tasks function in Microsoft Outlook to organize, schedule, and prioritize her work. It helps her maximize her time and formalize her follow-ups. The key is that it’s a system, not a list – and having a system is critical to success.

Productivity experts like Laura reinforce many of the concepts we hear from top performers time and time again. Fact is, most of us know what we should be doing, but we just don’t get it done. Ultimately, discipline is doing what you need to do – over and over and over until it becomes habit.

Laura Stack, CEO of Productivity Pro ®, is a member of the Speaker Hall of Fame. She’s an author, columnist, spokesperson, educator, industry leader and, most importantly, a wife and mother of three. Find out more at https://theproductivitypro.com/.