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5 Proven Techniques to Stay Focused & Kill Distractions

5 Proven Techniques to Stay Focused & Kill Distractions

Ever experienced this? You get to the office, have a cup of coffee, and get ready to start your day. But from the minute your colleagues start, that’s it, somehow, all you had planned goes out of the door – your attention gets hijacked by a steady stream of ad hoc requests and petty issues.

It’s not until everyone leaves again that you can go back to the working on the important things. The only problem is, it becomes tough to leave the office on time. It’s little wonder that a recent study by Deloitte showed that two thirds of corporate workers feel “overwhelmed”, and 80% wanted to do fewer hours.

My own study, with 390 working professionals, showed similar results. Many said it was difficult to stay focused because of ongoing distractions. And that’s why I wrote this article. What follows are five key strategies to improve your focus and reduce distraction.

1. Clarify Your End Goal

There many places you could put your attention. But how do you know what’s best? Imagine a military commander getting ready for battle. If he’s good, before any fighting happens, he rallies his troops and he details a thorough strategy for dealing with the enemy.

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By giving his troops this clarity, he drastically improves their chances of being victorious. Similarly, setting well defined goals clarifies what you’re shooting for. It puts your efforts in context. It keeps you on track. It gives you indications of where to start. The first step in improving your focus is defining your goals. There are various ways to do that, but for the sake of brevity, let’s keep this simple.

  • Take a few minutes to brainstorm a list of things that you desire in your career and your life. When coming up with ideas, don’t judge yourself or limit your desires. Simply write down whatever excites you, however big or small they are. Nobody else needs to see this. You’re simply exploring different possibilities.
  • Give your goals some concreteness. Be specific. Provide details about what defines successful outcomes, and when you realistically expect to achieve results.
  • Once you’ve got several ideas going, rank them in order of their importance. The top few items on that list should motivate you. (If they don’t, you need to keep at it until you have a list of things that get you excited.)

2. Know Where to Focus

Out of your list of goals, choose one on which to place most your focus. The one goal you select, when completed, should help you achieve many of your other goals. It’s like killing five birds with one stone. This might sound counter intuitive, but you’ll achieve more when you focus on one thing for extended periods of time, than if you multitask.

Next, break your goal down into smaller pieces. Doing so will give you clarity about the specific steps you need to take. It will also give you motivation, because a series of small efforts are far easier to imagine than a single big one.

Try to sequence your efforts to give yourself the biggest advantage upfront. The faster you benefit from your efforts, the better.
Once you have prioritized your steps, you’ll have confidence your focus is on the right thing. You’ll also feel like you’re being responsible towards the other people you work with.

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3. Access Maximum Willpower

As you tackle your goals, you may struggle. And maintaining focus amid difficulties takes willpower. In the 1960s, researcher Walter Mischel performed a famous study The Marshmallow Experiment with preschoolers. Experimenters offered the kids a single marshmallow, and were told that if they could wait until the attendant returned, they’d receive an additional one. Certain kids found ways to resist the urge to eat the marshmallow, while others didn’t.

Years later, in a follow up study, Mischel found that those with higher levels of self control experienced more positive outcomes, compared to the other subjects. Developing this idea further, in 1998, studies by Roy Baumeister demonstrated how willpower behaves like a muscle. For example, willpower becomes weaker with exertion, but when rested, it recovers again. When you use willpower on one task, you have less for subsequent ones.

Even seemingly harmless things like seeing an email notification, or hearing a phone alert, depletes your reserves. Hence, when working on your day’s main focus, you must reserve enough willpower so you can get it done. That’s why I recommend you work on your key task first, before email or meetings – because that’s when you still you have plenty of ‘juice left in the tank’.

4. Shield Yourself From Distractions

Distractions like email alerts, social media updates, surfing the web, playing games, phone calls, and work colleagues asking “Have you got a moment?”, will break your focused flow. If you allow them to happen, distractions will rob you of the opportunity to complete important tasks.

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Now, while you can’t eliminate all distractions, it’s certainly possible to minimize most. Here’s how:

  • Clear your desk and office of clutter. Only have things on your desk that you need for the task at hand.
  • During focused work periods, hang a “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door.
  • Close all applications and browser windows that you’re not immediately using for the task at hand. Mute all phone, email, social media, and Internet notifications. (Set aside a window of time during the day when you can batch process these types of activities in one go.)

5. Take Frequent Breaks

Like a muscle, your willpower somewhat recovers when you rest, making it easier to maintain focus throughout the entire day. That’s why you should get into the habit of taking short, frequent breaks. Some people find it difficult stop what they’re doing. To handle this, I find it’s best to use an alarm or egg timer. When the alarm goes off, that reminds you to take a break.

This is how to use a timer to manage your work periods:

  • Set the timer to between 25 – 50 minutes. If you find yourself craving to do something distracting like reading email, social media, or web surfing, experiment with shortening the work duration.
  • Focus intensely on the task at hand. Do not allow yourself to deviate.
  • When the timer goes off, immediately stop. Take 5 minutes to physically get up, walk around, drink a glass of water, get some air, or do some stretches.

Bringing It All Together

While we live in a frantic world, it doesn’t mean that you have to be. When you are clear about your goals, the steps for getting there, how to leverage your willpower, and how to stay focused, you will make steady progress.

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The 5 strategies I’ve shared here will help you toward that end. At first, they might might seem tricky. But over time, with practice, you’ll become more and more proficient. If I’ve provoked your thoughts on this subject, I’d love to hear them in the comments below.

Featured photo credit: Depositphotos via depositphotos.com

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Last Updated on April 9, 2020

10 Things High Achievers Do to Attain Greatness

10 Things High Achievers Do to Attain Greatness

Do you ever secretly wish that you could achieve more with your time? You are not alone. Most people want more from their lives but simply don’t know where to start.

The good news is that learning to accomplish greatness in your life is totally possible if you learn to study other successful high achievers.

Find out what sparkling new patterns you want to implement in your own life by studying what real high achievers do in the round up below.

1. They Know What They Want.

That seems pretty obvious, but if you don’t have a clear goal, dream or desire in mind, how will you know when you’ve gotten where you wanted to be?

Successful people have clear goals and a clear vision for how to get there.

For example, Albert Einstein remained obsessed with the big questions and problems of physics, and he knew exactly what he wanted to do: he wanted to answer the questions and solve the problems that no one else had been able to. And guess what? He did just that.

High achievers dream specific, plan smart, and confidently strive toward success.

2. They Focus on Their Goals.

Once achievers know what they want, they are tenacious and focused on forward progress toward their goals. They don’t run over people or deliberately hurt people to get what they want, but they do stay focused on the end goal in all their interactions and daily tasks.

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Elon Musk, with a net worth of $21.2 billion, is considered revolutionary.[1] Some might have seen his plans to totally reinvent transportation methods, including fantasy-like transportation methods in outer space, a little silly. But Musk proved them all wrong by staying focused on his goals with hawk-like attention to detail. He spends hours and hours at the office focusing on his goals in order to achieve them.

Learn How to Stay Focused on Your Goals in a Distracting World.

3. They Are Passionate.

It’s very helpful when reaching for a big goal to not just get excited by it, but to truly be passionate about it.

High achievers often talk about how much fun they are having, or say that they would do what they do even if they weren’t getting paid (and in the beginning, they probably weren’t). That’s the kind of passion and positive outlook you need to achieve your highest goals.

Bill Gates, creator of Microsoft, began his successful career early in life by simply being excited about things like video games and computers. You can be like Gates too. Identify your passions and pursue them in your career.

4. They Don’t Procrastinate.

Some of the things we have to do to meet our goals or achieve our dreams are not very easy, but high achievers are able to focus on what needs to get done and actually do it instead of living in a world of dreams. They have a plan and they can follow it starting right now.

Even though you may not be into arts, you must have heard of Vincent van Gogh, one of the most influential artists of all time. He is a perfect example of someone who not only dared to dream, but also dared to act.

Instead of procrastinating or staying in a rut, he made a choice to pursue art and dove in head-first. Although he only worked for about ten years due to a tragically short life, van Gogh produced an estimated 900 paintings and more than 1,000 drawings.[2]

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If you want to get more out of your life, then stop dreaming and start taking actions today, not tomorrow: How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators

5. They Create Their Own Opportunities.

True achievers know that they don’t have to be stuck in a box – they can create their own story through hard work.

Brené Brown is a respected social researcher and increasingly popular speaker and author. She has been hosted on Oprah. She has written and published a slew of popular self-help books, and she has one of the most-watched TEDx talks in history.

Interestingly, Brown didn’t start her story in a glamorous way. In fact, many social sciences professionals scoffed at her unusual methods of research and her passion for the topic of vulnerability and shame. Brown, however, continued forging her own path until she reached her destination: greatness.

Brown is a striking example of a person who knew what she wanted and paved her way into her own story of success with dedication. High achievers know that nothing good comes without hard work. They are willing to create their own opportunities and don’t expect to be handed cookie-cutter dreams in life.

6. They Have Positive Attitudes.

Studies of high-performing students find that the happiest students are those who excel most academically.[3] The same holds true for adults in business and in life.

If you have a good attitude, enjoy what you’re doing and remember that setbacks are temporary, it’s a lot easier to be successful. Without negativity, there’s nothing to hold you back from achieving whatever it is you want to achieve.

A positive attitude also helps people to think of what they are doing as important, which is a great way to stay motivated and working toward a goal.

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Jim Carey, the famous comedian and actor, began looking for gigs as a teenager. At age fifteen, he performed onstage and completely disappointed the crowd with a less-than-successful first performance. Carey ultimately succeeded, though, by maintaining a positive outlook. He is known for visualizing success, staying positive, and continuing to work hard.

7. They Have a Team They Can Count On.

High achievers know they can’t do everything themselves. There’s a time very early on when you can go it alone, but even the smallest startups need help. It’s actually easier for a company‒or a dream‒to grow more quickly if there are more people engaged in making it work.

Your team could even be one or two trusted individuals who have your back when things get hard. Stephen King, an iconic author, submitted one of his first novels, “Carrie”, to more than 30 publishers. He received rejection after rejection and even threw his manuscript in the trash. His wife was his team; she pulled the manuscript out of the trash and asked him to try again. “Carrie” was a hit and became a springboard to a successful writing career spanning more than 50 bestsellers.

High achievers are able to foster great relationships and build teams that can help them achieve what they want even faster. They tend to have an eye for talent and are good at attracting the right people to their teams.

If you want to be a better leader, these tips can help: How to Master Your Management Skills and Build a Strong Team

8. They Take Time for Themselves.

Amid all this hard work, multitasking and big dreaming, high achievers know they need to take care of themselves too. Getting sick in the middle of a major launch isn’t good for anyone.

So a lot of stories you read about people who’ve had a lot of success will note that they eat well, exercise regularly, try to get enough sleep and even occasionally take time away from the office to refuel.

Emma Stone, a highly esteemed actress, is open with the media about her struggle with anxiety and stress.[4] She reportedly practices self-compassion, meditation, and self-kindness to take care of herself.

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Successful people know that sacrifice is often required for success, but they understand what they need to do to keep their bodies and minds performing well.

9. They Don’t Bad-Mouth Others.

High achievers know better than to burn bridges. They practice the advice that you shouldn’t say bad things about others, and they usually listen more than they speak.

They also tend not to compare themselves to others or get envious. They’re so focused on what they want to do that they don’t stop to look around at what others are doing.

10. They Never Quit.

Tyler Perry, an accomplished director, writer, and performer, faced early failures in both his personal life and professional life. Perry pushed through these personal challenges and dealt with failure after failure with his first production. Finally, his production gained momentum, and he is now successful because he never gave up.

High achievers are tenacious, sticking to their plans and goals as long as they need to in order to get where they want to be. If they didn’t stick with it, they wouldn’t achieve anything.

Final Thoughts

Success and achievement are not just for the people mentioned above — they are for you, too!

Unlock your future by finding your passions and goals, and working hard. Pay attention to what other high achievers around you are doing, and follow suit.

Before you know it, you will be creating your own famous success story.

More Tips About Achieving Success

Featured photo credit: Fabrizio Verrecchia via unsplash.com

Reference

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