Focused or Fragmented?
Cell phones ring. Texts and e-mail come rolling across the screen. Our constant urge to check Facebook and Twitter take us away from the task at hand.
We live in an age when our time is fragmented. We feel the need to be constantly available, and in doing so, we are constantly interrupted. Who is to blame for our fragmentation? From the words of a 1970 poster, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
Barbara has defined “rigor” as, “…creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels, and each is supported so he or she can learn at high level, and each student demonstrates learning at high level.” It is the phrase “creating an environment” that is central to this post.
One of my favorite books is The Effective Executive written by the late management guru Peter Drucker. Despite its 1966 copyright date, it remains a hallmark book on time management and the solution to our fragmented society. One of my favorite passages is this one:
"To be effective, every knowledge worker, and especially every executive, therefore needs to be able to dispose of time in fairly large chunks. To have dribs and drabs of time at his disposal will not be sufficient even if the total is an impressive number of hours." (Page 29)
While opportunities to fragment our day increase, the fact remains that nothing of much worth is going to be accomplished without some degree of focus. How can we create the "chunks" of time in an age that so desperately tries to fragment our lives? How can we do all of this whether our age is 8 or 88? Below are five suggestions:
- Allow things to "pile up" and handle them in one group. Avoid the ring and ding of the electronic gadgets and the lure of other distractions. Stay with the task at hand and work to a logical stopping place. Then, turn full attention to handling that pile of interruptions.
- Stay ahead of deadlines. When we bump up against deadlines, we are invariably causing problems for other people. Naturally, they phone, text, e-mail, and drop by for a "status report." Staying ahead of the game eliminates the need for others to "check up" on us and provides more time to focus on the project at hand.
- Visit other people on your own time schedule. If interruptions come from the same few people, drop in on them first. Call them or drop by in person, and get the anticipated interruption out of the way so that you can focus. In this way, you are doing it on your schedule. As a principal, I made it a point to be in the halls before the start of school and circulate through the building. If a teacher had a quick question, my presence coming down the hall provided the perfect opportunity. Those quick interactions in the hall reduced the number of interruptions throughout the day.
- Plan your work, and make it easy. We interrupt ourselves. We often do so by turning from the difficult job at hand to some diversion that is easier and more fun. To combat that temptation, make what is at hand easy, and hopefully make it fun as well. Break the overwhelming goal down into manageable tasks that are clearly worded. All too often, the to-do list contains items which have rolled from day to day simply because they are ambiguous. Clear up the ambiguity by making decisions and asking questions.
- Group related tasks. Grouping applies to more than e-mail and voice mail. When a few quick face-to-face meetings are needed, handle them all in a group. Go from one person to the next as you make your way through the building. Do the same with errands. Once you get in the car, go from one to the other. Teacher your students to do the same kind of thing in their world.
If our history books have taught us anything, it is that we are a people capable of great things. Great things happen when human beings focus and turn potential into accomplishment.
Focused or fragmented? It's a choice. It’s our choice. It’s a choice between an environment which encourages high levels of accomplishment versus one that leads to something much less.
Can you recall a particular time when you were focused? What were the results? How did it feel? What if you could feel like that all the time?
Frank Buck retired from public education after almost 30 years as a teacher, principal, and central office administrator. As a consultant specializing in organization and time management, he works with school systems and businesses throughout the United States and into Canada. After writing Get Organized!, Dr. Buck authored a book just for teacher entitled Organization Made Easy!: Tools for Today’s Teachers. Both are published by Eye on Education. You may visit his blog (FrankBuck.blogspot.com), website (FrankBuck.org), or contact him directly at Frank@FrankBuck.org.
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