In Greek mythology, the Sirens entranced passing sailors with singing so beautiful that the sailors would crash their ships onto the rocky shore. Odysseus still had an intense desire to hear the deadly music, so he devised a plan. He instructed his crew members to tie him to the mast of the ship and plug their own ears with beeswax. No matter how much Odysseus pleaded, they were never to untie him from the mast or change course. As their ship approached the island, Odysseus begged to be untied, but the sailors couldn’t hear him. As a result, they stayed the course and resisted the lure of the Sirens. Had Odysseus relied only on self-discipline and willpower without a plan, he wouldn’t have accomplished his mission and wrecked the ship.
Likewise, no matter how much you want to accomplish your biggest priorities for the day, distractions can wreck your plans. Unscheduled phone calls, unnecessary meetings, random visits from clients or coworkers, and other interruptions can seem unavoidable and tempt you to veer off course. But there’s a way to plan your day, stay focused on top priorities, and resist those pesky distractions.
What We’ll Cover:
- The Sirens of Your Day
- The 1% Rule for Planning
- Prioritizing with the Ivy Lee Method
First, The Sirens of Your Day
Did you know that the average distraction can take a 25-minute1 bite out of your day? That’s the amount of time you’ll spend getting refocused.
You need only one or two “sirens” to divert your attention before feeling like your own ship is about to crash into a pile of rocks. These sirens come in the form of a cluttered email in-box, unscheduled inbound phone calls, coworkers or clients dropping in, and market volatility. They’re just some of the things that can pull you away from priorities and hinder your productivity.
So how do we mitigate those costly interruptions? Although tying yourself to your chair and placing beeswax in your ears may work, there’s a much easier and attainable way to win the game each day—before it even begins.
Second, the 1% Rule for Planning
Avoiding distractions to maintain control of your day requires planning. For some, planning doesn’t come naturally and can sound daunting. But it can be very simple if you consider the “1% Rule.”
There are 1,440 minutes in a day. One percent of that equals 14 minutes. If you carve out just 14 minutes, you can create your daily plan. This is so important that you shouldn’t start your day until it’s finished on paper. In other words, put your plan in writing first. This gives you the opportunity to set realistic goals, keep critical tasks in the forefront, and create accountability.
You might feel like there’s always million things to do and not know where to start. So how can you plan your day in just 14 minutes? Consider the Ivy Lee method.
The “1 Percent Rule”
There are 1,440 minutes in a day—only 14 are necessary to plan
Third, Prioritizing with the Ivy Lee Method
The Ivy Lee method dates back to 1918 when Charles M. Schwab, the president of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, hired Lee to improve his company's efficiency. Lee offered his method to Schwab free of charge but after three months, Schwab was so impressed with the results that he wrote Lee a check for $25,000—about $400,000 today’s dollars.2
One hundred years later, this strategy is still widely used.
Each morning, write down your six most important tasks for the day, in order of importance. Allow enough time for accomplishing each one. Then, focus on one task at a time until completion, going from most important to least important. Any unfinished business should be moved to the next day’s list of tasks (if you still deem them to be worthy).
Distractions Are Inevitable—but They Can Be Managed
The greatest way to avoid getting mired in distractions is through the art of “time-blocking.”
Instead of responding to emails, voice-mail messages, or unexpected requests immediately, you can set a timer for 30 minutes and focus exclusively on addressing those things. During that time, one of two things is going to happen:
- You can hold that focus and be blown away by what you can accomplish in 30 minutes.
- You’re going to be equally blown away realizing that you aren’t able to stick to one thing for 30 minutes. Either way, you win.
One method of time-blocking is called the OHIO Principle: Only Handle It Once. If you’re going through your unanswered emails—or voicemails—for 30 minutes, only handle it once. Either do it, delegate it, or delete it. Don’t let these smaller, less significant tasks pile up, especially when you’re trying to eliminate them.
Takeaways for Planning Each Day
First, if we’re not prepared, life’s endless distractions—emails, unscheduled incoming
calls, drop-ins, and other interruptions—can easily take us off course with disastrous results, just like the sirens did to powerless sailors. Second, committing only 1%, or 14 minutes, of your day can help you create a plan for getting things done and avoiding costly distractions. Third, the Ivy Lee method helps you determine your daily priorities before your day begins and remain focused on them.
Without a System, Ulysses Would Have Been Doomed
It can seem nearly impossible to stay on task in our distraction-rich world. The pings and dings of our day are constantly vying for our attention, tempting us a lot like the sirens tempted the defenseless sailors.
Even if you have the right systems in place, you’ll realize there’s more than enough time to accomplish your priorities—but there’s never enough time to get everything done. There’s always more you can do. But at the end of the day, if you’re able to check priorities off your list of six, you can have a sense of accomplishment.
- Download our advisor worksheet.
- For two weeks, use the Ivy Lee method on side 2 to establish your top-six daily priorities and focus on completing them.
- Listen to our webinar replay, How to Win the Game Before It’s even Played, as Dave Ingram, Regional Vice President and Advisor Consultant for Hartford Funds, explains how to implement this system in more detail.
1 12 Common Workplace Distractions and How You Can Stay Focused Anyway, entrepreneur.com, 3/22/19
2 A CEO and dad uses a 100-year-old strategy to get control of his schedule in just 15 minutes each night, businessinsider.com, 9/8/18