Last week I wrote about developing your imagination. This week I thought I’d balance things out with a left-brain productivity booster.

Normally, I’m not a fan of the “just make it happen” school of sports and military inspired productivity talks. Like the oft-cited quote from heard former Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi’s: “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”

Interesting factoid: at the end of his life, Lombardi is purported to have said to a journalist:  “I wished I’d never said the thing…I meant the effort. I meant having a goal. I sure didn’t mean for people to crush human values and morality.”

Organize Tomorrow Today: 8 Ways to Retrain Your Mind written by Dr. Jason Selk and Tom Bartow draws from elite sports performance coaching, but the focus on training your mind intrigued me enough to want to read it and I’m glad I did. Selk was formerly “director of mental training” for the St. Louis Cardinals and Bartow is a basketball coach turned leadership trainer, who draws heavily from the wisdom of UCLA’s famed basketball coach, John Wooden.

Here’s a summary of the points from the book I found to be most useful:

Pick the three most important things you want to focus on each day and then choose the one that is the most important.

Don’t try for a jillion. The authors say we have to respect our “channel capacity” (great term!) and acknowledge that we can’t do all we assume we can. Trying to do more than is do-able throws us off our game. (Smaller priorities can be fit around bigger ones or done after you’ve accomplished your most important things.) The authors are particularly interested in finding the key things that will improve our performance if done consistently.

“Choosing wisely is difficult because it is counterintuitive. It is easier to put a list together of all the possible things you need to get done than it is to actually choose your one most important task and then master it.”

Guilty as charged. After reading the book, I’ve started to look at what is most important to my business/life each day, and keep a list of those items in front of me as I manage the rest of my stuff.

“Focusing on one primary task makes action much more realistic–one simple, positive change builds momentum and primes you for the next success.”

The authors also advise not to fixate on results. Your results are data. But an athlete who keeps looking at the scoreboard will likely fumble the play. More important during a game is focusing on the practices that can lead to success. Athletes bent on peak performance learn to identify the specific competencies that they need to develop and then they practice, practice, practice.

For me as a writer, focusing on results would be like worrying about being published, instead of sitting and writing. I need to work daily to develop my craft so my book will eventually be publishable. I can explore the specific steps to take to improve such as writing more vivid imagery (see last week), adding more dialogue, and practicing imitating the writers I admire.

Evaluate yourself in a productive way.

Evaluation shouldn’t be self-flagellation. The authors recommend spending two minutes a day to fill out a success log with the answers to these four questions:

  1. What did I do well in the past 24 hours?
  2. What is one thing I want to improve in the next 24 hours?
  3. What is the one thing I can do differently to help make the above-mentioned improvement?
  4. How did I do today with my “3 Most Important/I Must?”

I like the focus on reinforcing the positive and setting realistic goals that allow you to succeed.

“Setting goals too high and hoping to ‘get close’ is one of the most damaging things you can do to your performance.”

They recommend disciplining your self-talk to focus on what you do well before you look at how you want to improve.

I remember when my niece, a fellow equestrian, used to criticize herself out loud during her riding lessons. I’d hear her castigating herself with negative self-assessments, even when she was receiving positive feedback from her trainer. It was painful to hear. (Her trainer had to tell her to knock it off.) When I asked her why she was so hard on herself, she said that it would help her improve. The authors argued the reverse, writing:

“What you focus on expands. Focusing on the negative is essentially like fertilizing the weeds in your yard.”

Do a mental workout daily

They suggest taking five minutes to do these steps:

  • Take a centering breath (Breathe in for six seconds, hold for two, exhale for seven.)
  • Speak your identity statement – basically an affirmation of your strengths and an acknowledgment of the best of who you are.
  • Visualize three “done wells” from the past 24 hours. Then visualize three things you want to do well in the next 24 hours.
  • Repeat your identity statement.
  • Take another centering breath.

I like this!. It’s compact, do-able, and positive. I can see it sharpening my focus without turning me into a do-aholic,

Watch out for thoughts that pull you off your game plan.

Give up viable excuses. (This is one that was a bit too yang for me. Mothers, in particular, know that there are things that can and should pre-empt your plans.)

Don’t focus on what you can’t control. I really like this one. I cannot control the President of the United States. (Alas, who can?) Yet how much time do I spend worrying about him. I’m not giving up watching political satire, (thank you Seth Myers for making me laugh), but I need to make sure all the national upset doesn’t take me away from focusing on improving what I can change, like my performance.

Give up problem-centric thinking. Like the above, this suggestion is useful for anyone (like me) who is vulnerable to occasional bouts of awful-ing.

“When we focus on small, incremental improvements instead of perfection, the human spirit takes over, and all things become much more possible.”

So there you have it. I’ve started using the three priorities system and find that useful. Next I’ll try the mental workout and put less of my precious energy into do-loops of worry about current politics. (Note to self: I do not. Need. To Fret.)

To learn more, check out Organize Tomorrow Today: 8 Ways to Retrain your Mind.

And don’t forget to keep growing your imagination!