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Mike Richman


Focusing on What Matters

Excellence starts with a state of mind

Published: Thursday, May 17, 2018 - 11:03

There are many ways that we lose attention on tasks at hand. From nosy and noisy colleagues to extraneous emails and meetings to burdensome and often pointless short-term projects, even the most dedicated professional can misplace the ability to find meaning and value in the daily routine. And that’s just at work. Throw in the competing personal attentions required from family commitments, home maintenance requirements, financial responsibilities, and maybe even some stolen “me time,” and you’ll see that modern life is complex, and getting more so every day.

What to do? First, cut yourself some slack. All of us, pretty much, are in the same boat, and no one reaches anything close to perfection. At some point, everyone gets frustrated, everyone gets overloaded, and everyone feels that they are letting someone or something down. Some of us get stuck in those feelings, which increases guilt and pressure in a vicious cycle that’s bad for everyone, ourselves most of all. Others, however, can note the frustrations, acknowledge them, and then move past them. Those are the folks who visualize and manifest consistent, positive change in their lives, both at work and at home, by calmly taking the small actions that make the big things possible.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am not one of these latter kinds of people. However, I know some of them well, and have casually chatted with others. Their lessons for embodying excellence and delivering quality outcomes boil down to a few key and interrelated items.

Stay mindful

Mindfulness is all the rage these days, and with good reason. Far from psychological mumbo-jumbo, the act of conscious reflection—and the understanding that there’s only one present moment at any present time—is an effective remedy to the helter-skelter that most of us experience most of the time. The best part about being mindful is that you can get better at it, and that even small, incremental improvements can yield large benefits over time.

The easiest place to start is by remembering to breathe. The simple act of respiration is enormously helpful in slowing down learned fight-or-flight behaviors. Notice when you’re only taking short, shallow breaths. What’s going on? Are you nervous, stressed, angry? Now breathe… just breathe… deep into your diaphragm. You don’t even have to stop anything else you’re doing, even if that thing is causing your response. Just breathe and in out deeply, and you’ll be amazed at how it cuts your stress levels. Keep doing it; soon you’ll just start doing it naturally without thinking about it, and your fearful responses will start to fade away.

Being mindful is all about staying in the present moment. What happened is gone; what’s to come might or might not happen as you envision it (that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t plan, though… more on that later). The point is that you have only this moment to choose your response to given stimuli. Choose wisely, and you’ll be amazed at how many fewer weighty emotional incumbrances prevent you from being your best self in any circumstance.


Let’s be honest: We all have too much going on (of course, in a certain sense that’s a mindful choice, but in many cases there’s just a lot of stuff that gets thrown our way whether we want it or not). The point is that a condition of busy, effective people is that they run the risk of getting busier all the time.

Cutting down commitments is a great way to get more high-leverage tasks done. We all need to decide for ourselves what commitments we must keep and which we can let go. Some people won’t miss their child’s sporting events unless it’s absolutely necessary; others wouldn’t think of skipping out on a daily production meeting. The point is that if one of these is really important to you and the other isn’t, and you force yourself to do both (along with 20 other commitments each week), then you’re going to be neither happy nor productive.

Pruning is all about figuring out what you have to do, what you want to do, and what you’d rather not do. You’re never going to get everything you want and implement it perfectly each and every time. You may wish to skip things that aren’t feasible (Or maybe they are? Have you really examined those tasks?), but being aware of your priorities is an important step toward being more effective.

Some people want to be well-liked and thus are always happy to take on more and more work, and there are always colleagues who are more than happy to give it to them. You yourself must have strong boundaries and trim away those tasks that don’t matter for you or your organization.


I love the line, “People don’t plan to fail; they fail to plan.” The act of charting a course and sticking to it can greatly reduce the anxiety of too much work coming at you too fast. Even creating a list or a simple flow chart is soothing.

Note that planning and mindfulness work nicely in concert. Although being mindful means keeping your focus on the present moment, you also recognize that another present moment is coming up in the future. Making a plan enables you to avoid the stress that can come from thinking about an unplanned future.

When you have a discipline of mindfulness and have pruned away the extraneous tasks that don’t add value, then you can plan with power and precision, in the full understanding that you have the ability to execute those plans in ways that will reap real benefits. That’s a great place to be because the inevitable bumps along the road seem much less threatening when you can see the progress that you’ve planned to make and are making.

Achieving personal and professional success is a process, and quality-oriented people who look at it as such will have a much easier time reaching goals without getting bogged down with distractions. By focusing on the important issues—utilizing tools of mindfulness, pruning, and planning—one can get beyond the day-to-day frustrations and realities of daily life and get to a place of long-term, sustainable excellence. All it takes is the right state of mind and the desire to make positive changes that last.


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Mike Richman