I recently had the pleasure of catching up with a friend who works for a large property company running a number of financial programmes. I was amazed to hear of the complexity of the thinking in the range of processes and financial models that she delivers. And yet the same trials and tribulations of thinking seemed apparent in my background and hers!I was amazed to hear of the wide range of processes and financial models that she delivers and the complexity of thinking that those entail.

Here’s her thoughts:


The problem

The issue of multiple competing tasks, thoughts and chores in both work and personal life makes it tricky to stay focused and deliver optimal results. Trying to achieve this in an ICT-driven era can create another level of complexity. I find that there are, therefore, two central threads which both need addressing to be productive: personal effectiveness, and how to make best use of ICT.

I try to operate in a focused way that enables me to be most efficient and productive. I strive to be as efficient as possible, but when competing demands, deadlines, and a plethora of pressures from everyday life get in the way, it can create stress, perhaps a feeling of ‘loss of control’ and in turn a questioning as to whether you can really ‘handle it all’ which can drive a fear of failure. This is a stifling, inefficient state of flux and the struggle for control can be tiresome.

I think we operate in a world which means we must devise ways of dealing with the various modes of communication and filtering of information in the most effective and efficient way.

What I do to try and solve it 

Creating the space and time to deal with it appropriately is something I try to do along with strictly prioritizing workload. I have learned to deal with this and continue to do so by taking on board ideas and concepts from multidisciplinary fields; personal effectiveness courses, literature on new personal management ‘fads’, and wider personal development lessons as taught by philosophies derived from religions such as buddhism.


Useful things I try to do to make sense of my life and what matters in the here and now are:

  • Tabulating a monthly list of general things I need to do; I have a monthly planner which sits above my weekly tasks that not only reminds me of large and important things for that periods, but in constructing it I actually build in some ‘me time’. Now I am the kind of person who will never find the time for simple things like a regular hair cut, or forgets to get the car taxed and various birthdays, review my Isa etc. But in this brief planning period I can itemise and allocate time for it at the beginning of the month. The amount of times I have panic-bought presents, missed the post and then realised I didn’t get them what they asked for are countless. Dealing with this guilt is frustrating, but in a structured way some have been factoring in this into their everyday routine with a ‘guilt hour’
  • Being in the room; Perhaps one of my biggest annoyances has come out of this ‘connectivity age’ driven by technological development in ICT; aka, people being distracted. There is nothing more frustrating than being out for a drink and your having a conversation with someone who has their phone constantly glued to their palm. Another instance is when one swiftly checks emails when their companion has gone to the toilet, to read something that causes loss of focus, sentiment and mood. The issue here is that people do not know how to live and focus on the moment. The world will not end if you don’t check your mail for 2 hours. The increase in attention by avoiding these distractions can lead to a more focused ability to undertake tasks and experience 100% of someones company. I do agree, there are certain circumstances whereby this is more important. There are a great many benefits to multi-tasking, but when we are dealing with work that demands more cognitive processing power, being mindful and focused is necessary. I see this as being focused on what is important in the here and now. Stopping your mindset being terrorised by less important items, possibly completely unrelated to the task in hand and, in the grand scheme of things maybe menial is tricky. I am constantly trying to train myself to be more productive and effective in my personal and work life through utilizing the ICT which can actually lead to distraction. To a degree, some actions are common sense, some are due to ICT development, but mainly is down to mindset and general philosophy towards paying optimal attention to the here and now. A degree of this mindset come from teachings in Buddhism.
  • Learning/training – My employer offers personal development in the form of courses in personal effectiveness whereby an outside coach comes in and runs the session. I have been on this and it involves practical tools and techniques to manage priorities and workload. Interestingly, they have had one such occasional course that I attended on ‘happiness’ which was delivered by an external consultancy.  They presented ideas rather closely aligned to similar areas I have already mentioned (buddhism, mindfullness) – this takes it’s learnings from positive psychology and is really interesting. Now, there are loads of consultants that offer these, some seem fadish, however the company that came in delivered it well and was very professional with them also having done the same for large international FTSE 100 companies.
  • I often think ‘how could I better improve this’ during tasks to help increase my effectiveness and focus. As I need to ensure that my full attention is given to the here and now, achieving the best out of myself is a priority. Ways to achieve this include removing unnecessary distractions – phone, email to name but two –  and plan the tasks/elements that need to be achieved to ensure the objectives are met, then actioning them according to plan. I set reminders to ensure time keeping (usually using my google calendar or phone alarm, but its not seamless) and elements are missed.
  • My daily thinking is organised through itemised task lists using google tasks. I also have a word doc that looks at a fuller list of actions that doubles up as a catch up tool to review with management. I prioritise items that need to be achieved on a daily and weekly basis.

However, I do like to work on the 80/20 rule whereby I try to slim down the (seemingly) never ending list by spending 1 hour doing ‘quick fixes’. This includes shorter tasks that can either be completed or delegated. I isolate these simply by skimming the list to mentally assess how long it will take versus gain from completing (i.e. level of priority and dependants).

An issue I have with picking these up is when they become more laborious than initially envisaged. On a wider point, when any task takes up more time than expected, work gets delayed and I need to manage people’s expectations appropriately. I think this is a core area where I need most development; keeping to allocated task times or more appropriate ways to time plan initially are areas for improvement.

Things to ask yourself:

  1. How do you structure your thinking today?
  2. And how could you do it better tomorrow?

Han-Son Lee