People that have the most data – and know how to analyze it – can make better decisions. Turning the data into useful information is vital. And the keyword here is useful. It’s important to learn how to avoid the noise. Doing so will help you think more clearly and as a result, make better decisions.
With the rise of technology, we’re blasted with information. With advertisements alone, we see over 1,000 a day. Our attention is divided but we can learn to focus on what matters most. Here are six ideas and techniques that you can use to improve your focus and impact in the world.
When information is cheap, attention becomes expensive. – James Gleick
1. Pareto Principle (80-20 Rule)
I think of the 80-20 rule often in the business world and in the rest of my life. An Italian economist uncovered this rule by researching landowners in Europe. Roughly 20% of the landowners owned 80% of the land. And the 80-20 rule applies to many other areas in our lives.
It’s a great rule of thumb that states 80% of the results come from 20% of the work. I use the 80-20 rule to bring attention to my efforts throughout the day. I always try to determine what portion of my work has the biggest impact on reaching my goals. I then focus on the impactful work and eliminate – or outsource – the rest.
2. Important vs. Control Venn Diagram
There are many important events in your life and the world. But when you spend time trying to change things outside of your control, you add unnecessary stress. To visualize this idea, here’s one of the most powerful Venn Diagrams I’ve encountered…
The left bubble represents important things and the right bubble represents what you can control. And the important part is where the two bubbles overlap. This is where you should focus your efforts. For more insight on this concept check out: One Mental Model that Can Lower Stress.
3. Information, Confidence, and Accuracy
As mentioned above, more information isn’t always better. As people take in more information to make a decision, their confidence climbs. Although, the accuracy of the resulting decision doesn’t always follow suit. I originally found this idea in a psychology book by a CIA veteran of 45 years, Richards Heuer.
In one study, horse race experts picked either 10, 20, or 40 variables from 88 to determine horse race outcomes (for example, jockey weight). The researchers used past race information without identifying names in case the experts recognized them. The experts then tried to predict the winners and give their level of confidence. The results showed that the average accuracy of predictions remained the same regardless of how much information was available. Although, confidence climbed with the amount of information.
This idea ties into the previous two points. You don’t need to consume every piece of information to be successful. Try to find the most impactful pieces and don’t get distracted by information overload.
4. Find the Motives: Who’s behind the Curtain?
Collecting data and turning it into useful information isn’t cheap. So most people and companies want something in exchange for their work. For example, what does an author get out of giving you a free book? … They get your attention and it often leads to sales. Companies are pinpointing what gets you to take action – usually pulling out a credit card – well before the action.
It’s always good to be aware of others’ motives. Some motives are more harmless than others. But keep in mind that unbiased information is near non-existent. Try to find out who’s providing the information and why. It’s good to have a healthy level of skepticism.
5. Elimination Thinking and Avoiding Stupidity
Do you ever find yourself in a group that can’t decide where to eat? If so, try asking where people don’t want to eat. Working backwards can lead to a faster solution in many cases.
In a similar line of thought, too many people waste energy on trying to be elite… but instead, it’s better to avoid stupidity. Here’s an amazing quote from Warren Buffett’s partner…
It is remarkable how much long-term advantage people like us have gotten by trying to be consistently not stupid, instead of trying to be very intelligent. – Charlie Munger
This also sheds light on the importance of risk management. In the investing world, measuring risk is more important than measuring returns.
6. Plan with an Eisenhower Matrix
There are a lot of busy people that don’t seem to get a lot done. Their to-do lists are ever-growing with a wide range of work but it doesn’t take them far. If this sounds familiar, you should consider using an Eisenhower matrix.
The Eisenhower Matrix is a simple four quadrant chart. It’s broken down into urgent/not urgent vs. important/not important. It helps you to determine a better approach to your tasks and goals. Here’s what it looks like…
When a task is urgent and important, do it first. If it’s not urgent but still important, decide on a plan to accomplish it. And if it’s not important but still urgent, you can delegate it to others. The last quadrant is not important and not urgent. It’s best to eliminate that work.
This simple chart has helped me improve the use of my time. I routinely sit down and come up with a comprehensive list of my tasks and goals. It’s not always easy to categorize my workload but it’s worth the time to try. You can use this matrix on specific projects or your life in general.
We live in a fast paced world and our brains haven’t developed to sort through this modern maze. Our attention is pulled in thousands of different directions. But you can take steps today to focus on more useful work and information.
P.S. Have any big goals you’re trying to accomplish? Here’s research that shows why you shouldn’t tell other people your goals.