You need to pay attention to what calls your attention
To most effectively utilize the fundamentals of self-management, it helps to have a reference point about where to start. You won't have to look far, because what usually most needs your attention is what most has your attention.
Things are on your mind because you are consciously putting your focus on them or because your attention is being grabbed. In the latter case your thinking is being pulled toward something that in some way needs your engagement, and it more than likely is something that needs greater control or perspective to release its hold on your psyche.
Many important things for you are not on your mind because they don't need to be—they are on "cruise control." What, then, does that say about the affairs that are grabbing your attention? There's something about them that has not been captured, clarified, decided, or handled sufficiently. That inventory of items that are on your mind because they must still be managed appropriately is the grist for the mill for winning at your game.
Identifying what's on your mind is the core practice in the first of the five stages of getting control—clearing—which I will describe in more detail in the next chapter. You may have already been thinking that making a To-do list is all that I'm referring to, and in a way that's true. But what most people put on those kinds of lists is but a minority of what they should, to really gain maximum control and perspective. if anything is still on your mind, in the sense of holding your attention hostage, you can still improve your clarity and focus by paying appropriate attention to it.
If you don't pay attention to what has your attention, it will take more of your attention than it deserves. The accumulated amount of mental, psychic, and emotional energy that will be expended on whatever the thought is, over any length of time, will be far greater than would be necessary to either deal with the situation that triggered it or decide not to.
What it takes to truly release the hold on your mind of any of these kinds of potential distractions is not to consider them distractions but rather to handle them as a ringing phone—a call coming from a situation. If it goes unanswered, it will continue to call. If you do pick it up, however, and then deal with the incoming message sufficiently, it doesn't need to call again. But if you don't pick up the line for the less-than-critical things, the circuit will stay busy and not allow the rest of your inputs to have adequate space.
All of this is to affirm the somewhat counterintuitive notion that, in one respect, everything is equally important. Everything, that is, that grabs your attention. If what you need to be able to manage your life and work is full access to your focus, any time and all the time, then whatever diminishes that capability should be eliminated. Ignoring it is an option, but not a good one. If it will go away in time, put it away now. if it won't, get it into your system like the rest of your world that you can manage with minimal effort, because it's in a trusted system. The good news is that the process of dealing with these blips, to get them off your screen, is identical for the small and the large ones. But if you don't accept what's there to begin with, you're undermining your effectiveness.
Focus is saying no to 1,000 good ideas.
Every time I read a management or self-help book, I find myself saying, “That’s fine, but that wasn’t really the hard thing about the situation.” The hard thing isn’t setting a big, hairy, audacious goal. The hard thing is laying people off when you miss the big goal. The hard thing isn’t hiring great people. The hard thing is when those “great people” develop a sense of entitlement and start demanding unreasonable things. The hard thing isn’t setting up an organizational chart. The hard thing is getting people to communicate within the organization that you just designed. The hard thing isn’t dreaming big. The hard thing is waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat when the dream turns into a nightmare.
The last 10% is 90% of the work.