What a challenging, enjoyable, wonderful time to be alive. Distractions constantly bombard us. We are living through a global pandemic, a European war, and economic uncertainty and have a constant overload of technology, social media, and the daily grind. It is so easy for us to be reactive always – to drift from one thing to another. In my experience, and in that of my coachees, this can lead to a feeling of dissatisfaction, of being out of control. So what can we do to address this? We can be intentional in our actions, thoughts and decisions.
What does it mean to be intentional? It starts with being present, which can be challenging at the best of times but is essential when things go sideways. It is easy for us to think about something that has yet to happen while dealing with something that is going on now. For example, instead of focusing on my writing, I could be thinking about a bill I have to pay (I may or may not be doing that now). Or, I could be conducting someone’s year-end review with them and start thinking about the next one I have to do; short-changing both the person whose review I am conducting and letting myself down.
Intentionality also has elements of prioritisation about it. According to Greg McKeown, until the 1900s, the word “priority” was singular – which makes a lot of sense when you think about the root of the word. Priority came into use in English in the 1400s, originating from the Latin word “prior”, meaning first. It was only in the 1900s that the term priority became plural, and it doesn’t make sense to me to have multiple priorities. There is only one. I recently came across a lovely little acronym describing this – “WIN” or “What’s Important Now” – neatly reflecting a singular priority. The critical thing about focusing on a single priority is that we have to deliberately decide not to do something else. Not to be distracted or attempt to multitask. Not to be thinking about what we “should” also be doing while working on that one priority. Marcus Aurelius puts it like this in Meditations – “Ask yourself at every moment – ‘Is this necessary?'”
When it comes to decision-making, being transparent and honest with ourselves about why we’re making a decision and then accepting the consequences of it are a part of the puzzle as well. Not making a definitive decision is a decision itself and should also be intentional.
We need to be deliberate about how we consume information. Napoleon provides an interesting example in a world of overwhelming information. He instructed his secretary not to open his mail until three weeks after it had been delivered. By then, many of the supposedly urgent problems within had resolved themselves. I’ve seen this approach put to good effect in my career – one of my peers, who is far less reactive than I am, consistently spent less energy on problems which ultimately resolved themselves because he was willing to wait. By contrast, I often felt the need to react immediately to the presented issue and wasted energy doing it.
As with many other areas of our lives, intentionality requires practice. We must be aware of when we mindlessly consume information or react rather than think. We need to acknowledge to ourselves when our responses are emotional rather than intentional. As a parent, I’ve made my most memorable mistakes when I’ve reacted rather than being present and intentional. And, by communicating our intent to others, we can make it clear why we’re doing what we’re doing (and maybe not doing something else). This clarity in our thinking and action, driven by intent, makes it more likely that we will fulfil the stated purpose of our lives.