"My success, part of it certainly, is that I have focused in on a few things." ~Bill Gates

"It is a mistake to look too far ahead. Only one link in the chain of destiny can be handled at a time." ~Winston Churchill

Most of us as leaders are in a constant state of being pulled in different directions and balancing competing priorities. It is in the middle of this storm of things that all need to be done “right now” that we see our highest levels of stress throughout the day. But it doesn’t need to be that way, we can thrive on the chaos to reach higher levels of productivity. How is that you ask? Through FOCUS. When we have the most things going on at the same time is when we most need to focus our attention on single tasks as opposed to everything.

Think of a cheetah hunting a pack of gazelles. If the cheetah did not focus on a single target, they would be constantly moving from among the hundreds in the herd and getting absolutely nowhere. Similarly, we must “hunt” our tasks one by one. I know, I know, “easier said than done Cameron”, but really it can be that simple. Take a few simple tips and see how much more effective you are at working through the chaos:

Take the extra few minutes – Rarely is it the case where the latest thing that “must be done right now” can’t actually wait 3-5 minutes. Focusing an extra couple of minutes on the task you are currently working on is often all it takes to finish and get it off of your plate.

Write down the to-do list – That herd of gazelles can be pretty confusing when they are all going in different directions. Similarly, when you have a bunch of emergencies swirling around you it can turn a difficult decision into chaos rather quickly. A list allows you to put those gazelles in a single file line for sorting. It takes only a little time and if you add to it throughout the day you ensure nothing goes forgotten.

Knock out some little things – That list of 20 competing priorities can seem a lot more manageable when it is only 10. This is one of the only times I suggest that taking care of the little things can be productive. I’m not saying you always should, but it creates a little momentum with quick wins and it can make it easier to focus on the bigger things if the “noise” of the little things isn’t ringing in your ears constantly.

Priorities – Along with the little things are the things you must get done right away, and the things that can actually wait until tomorrow. Moving a couple of your tasks to tomorrow reduces the “noise” even further. One caution: never allow something to get bumped more than twice, lest it become an emergency.

Don’t shut the door – It may seem counter-intuitive to focus, but closed door rarely stops anyone, especially your boss, from barging in and putting more on your plate. A closed door also mitigates your immediate access to more resources. Focus doesn’t end with you. As a manager you need to focus ALL of your resources on the tasks and priorities of the company and that means delegating and collaborating. That analyst that happens to be walking by may be the resource you need to help with the spreadsheet right in front of you. Don’t close your access to assistance.

When things get their craziest, the only way to get through it is one thing at a time. If you can’t focus on getting the first thing accomplished, you’ll never make it to the second, the third, and never get out of the storm. As Churchill said above, one link in the chain at a time. So FOCUS on that next link to get yourself through the day to day chaos.