Do you feel like your day is spent in “firefighter” mode – putting out one emergency blaze after another? You can easily spend eight hours or more at the beck and call of the urgent activities on your list: The phone call that come right when you're sitting down to do some much-needed strategic planning, the unexpected invitation to contribute to a blog round-up, the desperate plea for a last-minute speaker on an industry teleconference. While these all might be worthy tasks, they're not necessarily related to your high-level goals. And as a result, the time you've set aside for your important activities can be usurped by the tyranny of the urgent. 

Yes, it's hard to ignore a ringing phone or a full email inbox. But if you want to move your business to the next level quickly, you need to have a system for focusing on the important tasks instead of the urgent ones.
 
Here are five tips for keeping your attention in the right spot:
 
1.    Know what “important” is.
You have to have your high-level goals in front of you, literally and figuratively. You must know what you're trying to accomplish this month, this week, today, so you can filter your activities accordingly.
 
2.    Create zones with no distractions.
It's not practical to turn off your phone ringer for 8 hours straight, or to check your email only once a day. But you can set up zones where you limit outside interruptions. Start with a quiet time first thing in the morning for one hour. Get one big item off your To-Do list before you check email. If that works well, add another quiet zone in the afternoon, maybe right before you quit work, so you can put your planning together for the following day.
 
3.    Set expectations.
You train people how to treat you and what to expect from you. If you always respond to their emails immediately, they'll grow to expect immediate answers. Slowly wean them from expecting you to be on-call, 24/7.
 
4.    Create systems to support your new habits.
Email in-box filters that shuffle non-critical newsletters and group emails to another filter for later reading will help keep you from getting sidetracked. Removing all non-essential programs and icons from your computer desktop (and from your physical desktop, too!) can keep you focused. Figure out where you're getting derailed and create some boundaries to keep you on task.
 
5.    Remind yourself you can't do everything.
Admitting you can't read every book and newsletter, you can't keep up with every blog, you can't personally correspond with everyone on your mailing list, can go a long way to helping you see your limits. Suddenly, you realize you're only human, and if you can't do everything, you have to be strategic about where you do spend your time. 
 
It can be very uncomfortable to leave things undone, or to choose not to respond to certain invitations or requests. Remind yourself of the big picture, and hold fast to that vision. 
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