The holiday season is well upon us and the new year beckons us. It is imperative that we draw the line on the things that are not valuable to us and focus all our thoughts and energy on the things that will make a difference in our lives. This is not easy but imperative to make sure our lives don’t get too complicated. It is also a good time to plan for next year. As someone said minimalism is the ultimate sophistication.

Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic is short hand for giving importance to trivial things instead of the main thing. This is because the last thing you should do when a ship is sinking is to rearrange the deck chairs. As Stephen Covey said the main thing is to make the main thing the most important. The race we are in is the war against distraction and living our best lives requires us to focus on the wildly important. Here are some ideas on how we maintain our focus in this digital age of massive distraction.

Decide on your main objectives – The best way not to allow the trivial things to take over our lives is to be clear on what we want out of our lives. One of the best methods to achieve this is to first define a mission statement for your life. This is something which is deeply personal and need not be shared with anyone else unless you want to. Once you have clearly defined your mission you can then define the clear objectives and goals which can help you on the path to the mission. It is this clarity that promotes greater self-awareness and self-awareness is the greatest weapon of all great leaders. Getting to know what you truly want and why you want it will put you firmly in control of your life.

Focus on the Wildly important – Once you have written down what you want out of your life you can then take the items on your life and decide which is the most important one. In hospitals patients are treated not in terms of arrivals but in terms of severity of the illness. Similarly, the objectives must be broken down into the most important vs the least important. Focus on the most important item on your list. As Warren Buffet said write down top 25 priorities, then choose the top five, and finally ignore all the other 20 till these get done. It is the same for goals.

Remove notifications – I think the one thing that does create confusion is a lot of apps in our phone. If there are so many apps and so many notifications of course it does eat our bandwidth. The way to get more control over our emotional and mental bandwidth is to remove notifications from all our apps and only when we open that app we can see the new notifications. This will reduce the number of times you view something,

Remove Apps from the phone– The other step towards greater self-control is to look at all the apps in your phone and then remove all the ones which are not needed. For example, I don’t have the Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn app. I must log in through the browser which means I would not be inclined to check it that often and sometimes won’t even check for a couple of days or even a week. Removing the apps that are not needed gives a greater sense of control.

Avoid information overload – The amount of information overload in this era is truly mind blogging. I have been bitten by this when we try to consume a lot of information from various sources. However, the more I reviewed what I was doing I understood that while some of it is pure intellectual curiosity a lot of it is not going to add much value to me personally or my work. So, I have resolved to consume lesser information and ignore things that do not help me personally.

Make fewer choices and decisions – This is the key to willpower. We have read a lot about Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs or Barack Obama wearing the same type of outfit daily or eating the same breakfast daily. The key is to make all the decisions automatic and use your mind only for big decision making. So the small things that occupy our lives should be automated to free us up to think real big. You can check out my article on forgetting resolutions and installing habits instead. Forget Resolutions Install these 13 Habits

Say No to the unimportant – Saying no is one of the keys to a happy fulfilled life. Again, saying no frees us to do something more important. Everything is an opportunity cost. There is a good example in the book Decisive. Let’s say you want to buy a music player for 500 dollars you can rephrase that question by saying Don’t spend 500 dollars on the music player keep it for savings or other expenses. The basic point is to reinterpret our choices and say no to the unimportant.

Focus on the future – Irrespective of how badly we have used or not used our time in the past we have a new day every day. As it is often said today is the first day of the rest of your life. The Olympics starts today. The key thing is we have all done things in the past which we are not happy about but the one thing that can never be changed is our past. The truly successful thriving people focus on the future by taking present day action. The best way to predict the future is to create it. You can ignore your past and focus on the future where all your happiest moments lie.

Measure Progress – Finally you won’t know if all this works unless you take the time to reflect and see if it is making a difference in your life. Of course, the best way to measure progress is by recording your daily or weekly activities in a journal. Once you have it in a journal you can then measure how you are doing vs where you want to be. This will ensure we can keep making incremental progress towards our best lives.

I hope you find some of these ideas useful in getting greater control over your time and life. Let’s ensure we are never rearranging the deck chairs on a sinking Titanic. Of course, it is only a metaphor, but it is a good one.

The views expressed here are my own and do not represent my organization.