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Can’t Focus? Why You’ve Been Doing It Wrong and How to Focus Better

Can’t Focus? Why You’ve Been Doing It Wrong and How to Focus Better

What comes to mind when you think of the word focus?

The attention or concentration it takes to complete a task? The amount of will power needed to finish writing a report without touching your phone? Or, is it having to sit in complete silence and away from distractions so that you can study for an important exam or prepare for an interview?

I’m sure many of you can relate to the above statements and agree that the ability to focus is about staying on task for a period of time. Breaking that concentration would mean that you’ve lost your focus; and you’re either doing something else, or trying to gain back that focus to finish up the intended task.

With an ever increasing amount of information–that is easily accessible online and offline–we’re faced with a lot more opportunities and avenues to create possibilities to experience things on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, that can make it a lot harder for us to make progress or get things done, because we’re either easily distracted or overwhelmed by the constant influx of information.

That is why many of us end up having problems ‘concentrating’ or ‘focusing’ in life–whether it be on a smaller scale like completing a task on time, or something much bigger like staying on track in your career and climbing the ladder of success. We’ve all found ourselves in situations where we blame our failures due to a lack of focus.

So, how does one focus better?

Focus Is Not About Paying Attention

What if I tell you that you’ve been doing it all wrong this whole time?

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Focus isn’t just the attention span of giving 20 minutes to a task. It actually goes way beyond that.

The real reason why we focus is because we need to do something that exceeds our existing capability. We need to devote large amounts of time and energy to move the needle in life, to make that progress and positive change.

And why do we want to do that? Because we want to become a better version of ourselves! Isn’t that true?

At the end of the day, the reason why we stay focused on any task, project, or goal is because we want to succeed. And with that success comes progress in our lives, which means we eventually become better than what we were a month ago, or even a year ago.

Let me give you an example:

Say you’ve been tasked to manage a project by your boss. You have targets to meet and favorable outcomes to achieve. Your focus and attention has to be on this project. Once the project has been completed, your boss is happy with the results and your hard work. He rewards you with praise, a promotion, or maybe even a juicy year end bonus.

That’s your success right there, and you feel good about your achievements. So looking back at who you were before and after the completion of this project, wouldn’t you say you’ve become a better version of your previous self?

Focus Is a Flow

This is what focus is and how focus works! It’s not a one-off task by task mode that you jump into whenever needed. Rather, focus is a flow.

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Focus is the way in which you deliberately target your energy to push progress in something you care about. And because focus takes energy, time and effort, whatever it is that you need to focus on should be something meaningful to you.

So why is it that we sometimes find it so hard to focus?

Usually, it’s because we’re missing two major elements. Either we don’t know where we want to go–in that we don’t have a clear goal–or we do have a goal, but we don’t have a clear roadmap.  

Trying to improve your focus without these two things is like driving to get somewhere in a foreign country with no road map. You end up wasting a lot of gas but you don’t really know if you’re getting anywhere.

Let’s go back to the example of your boss assigning you a project to manage. The company is opening a new office. Your boss wants you to oversee the renovations and moving-in process of this new location. Now, if you didn’t have a clear goal or end result of how the new office should look, you could be busy arranging for contractors, interior designers or movers etc to come, but have no clue what to assign or brief them on.

The second scenario is that you know exactly how the new office should look and when it should be up and running. But, because you don’t have a clear roadmap to get to that end result, you end up working all over the place; one moment you’re arranging for the contractors to start renovations, the next moment you’ve got furniture coming in when the space isn’t ready. What do you focus on first?

The Focus Flow

Without a clear goal and road map, things can turn out frantic and frustrating, with wrong turns; and you also end up expending a lot more mental energy than needed. But, having a Focus Flow can help.

So let me show you how the Focus Flow works.

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  1. It starts from a clear objective.
  2. This becomes a clear roadmap.
  3. Then it manifests into a state of targeted attention and effort.
  4. This results in pushing your progress towards your ultimate destination.

Setting a Focus Objective

To start off, you need to set an effective focus objective. If you don’t have an objective, how can you decide on what things are worth focusing on? You can’t focus on everything at the same time, so you have to make a choice.

Like driving a car, you need a destination.  

In this case, you don’t want to drive around aimlessly. You want to arrive at your destination before you run out of gas.

A good focus objective therefore needs to be concrete. This means that it should be something you can visualize. Such as determining how the new office is going to look after you’ve completed the renovation and moving in project. If you can visualize it, that means you have a clear enough picture to know what’s needed to achieve it.

Setting a Focus Roadmap

The second step is to lay out a practical Focus Roadmap. Once you have your ideas, setting an objective is easy. The most difficult part is determining how you’re going to achieve your objective.

There are lots of things you can do to work towards your goal. But, what comes first? What’s more valuable? How long will it take?  

That’s where having a roadmap helps you answer these questions. Like driving, you need to at least have a rough idea of which major roads to drive on, and the order in which you need to drive them.

Yet, creating a roadmap can get tricky because you have absolute freedom on how you’re going to achieve your objective.

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So to create a good road map, you should include major milestones. These are targets you need to hit in order to achieve success. Your road map should also include feasible and realistic actions that you can achieve.

Power Up Your Productivity

I hope you now have a better understanding of how focus truly works. By harnessing your focus using the Focus Flow, you’ll be able to work on a task more productively not because you’re able to ‘concentrate’, but rather because you know exactly what your end goal is, and you have a game plan in place to make that happen.

Once there is clarity, I can assure you that you’ll be less likely to get distracted or ‘lose’ focus on your tasks at hand.

You may think it’s going to take you extra time writing out an objective and setting out a road map. You may believe that you are better off getting right down to the actual work.

But, as I’ve mentioned, there’s no point in rushing your efforts that lead you to nowhere or cause you additional detours. You’ll end up expending more mental energy and time than needed.

Applying one of the 7 Cornerstone Skills as covered in this article can already make a difference in your life, imagine learning the whole set of skills to live your best life! How to learn them all? We’ve got the solution at Lifehack — Find out More About Our Solution Here!

Featured photo credit: Paul Skorupskas via unsplash.com

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Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on May 22, 2020

10 Practical Ways to Improve Time Management Skills

10 Practical Ways to Improve Time Management Skills

Do you often feel stressed out with too much work or too many responsibilities? As time passes, do you feel like you have more tasks on hand than you have time to do them?

The trick is to organize your tasks and use your time effectively to get more things done each day. This can help you to lower stress levels and improve your productivity both at work and at home.

Time management skills take time to develop and will look different for each person. Finding what works best for you and your busy schedule is key here.

To get you started, here are 10 ways to improve your time management skills and increase productivity.

1. Delegate Tasks

It is common for all of us to take on more tasks than we are capable of completing. This can often result in stress and burnout.

Delegation does not mean you are running away from your responsibilities but are instead learning proper management of your tasks. Learn the art of delegating work to your subordinates as per their skills and abilities and get more done. This will not only free up time for you but will help your team members feel like an integral piece of the work puzzle.

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2. Prioritize Work

Before the start of the day, make a list of tasks that need your immediate attention. Unimportant tasks can consume much of your precious time, and we tend to offer these too much of our energy because they are easier or less stressful.

However, identifying urgent tasks that need to be completed on that day is critical to your productivity. Once you know where to put your energy, you will start to get things done in an order that works for you and your schedule.

In short, prioritize your important tasks to keep yourself focused.

3. Create a Schedule

Carry a planner or notebook with you and list all the tasks that come to your mind. Being able to check off items as you complete them will give you a sense of accomplishment and keep you motivated.

Make a simple ‘To Do’ list before the start of the day, prioritize the tasks, and focus on the essentials. Make sure that these tasks are attainable, too. If there is a big task you need to complete, make that the only thing on your list. You can push the others to the next day. 

To better manage your time management skills, you may think of making 3 lists: work, home and personal.

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4. Set up Deadlines

When you have a task at hand, set a realistic deadline and stick to it. Once you set a deadline, it may be helpful to write it on a sticky note and put it near your workspace. This will give you a visual cue to keep you on task.

Try to set a deadline a few days before the task is due so that you can complete all those tasks that may get in the way. Challenge yourself and meet the deadline; reward yourself for meeting a difficult challenge.

5. Overcome Procrastination

Procrastination is one of the things that has a negative effect on productivity. It can result in wasting essential time and energy. It could be a major problem in both your career and your personal life[1].

Avoiding procrastination can be difficult for many. We tend to procrastinate when we feel bored or overwhelmed. Try to schedule in smaller, fun activities throughout the day to break up the more difficult tasks. This may help you stay on track.

6. Deal With Stress Wisely

Stress often occurs when we accept more work than we are capable of accomplishing. The result is that our body starts feeling tired, which can affect our productivity.

Stress comes in various forms for different people, but some productive ways to deal with stress can include:

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  1. Getting outside
  2. Exercising
  3. Practicing meditation
  4. Calling up a friend
  5. Participating in your favorite hobby
  6. Listening to music or a podcast

The key is to find what works for you when it comes to lowering your stress response. If you don’t have time for anything else, try a couple of breathing techniques. These can be done in minutes and have been proven to lower stress-inducing hormones.

7. Avoid Multitasking

Most of us feel that multitasking is an efficient way of getting things done, but the truth is that we do better when we focus and concentrate on one thing. Multitasking hampers productivity and should be avoided to improve time management skills.

Make use of to-do lists and deadlines to help you stay focused! This way you can do better at what you’re doing. Wait until you finish one before starting another. You’ll be surprised by how much more you’re able to get done.

8. Start Early

Most successful people have one thing in common — they start their day early as it gives them time to sit, think, and plan their day.

When you get up early, you are more calm, creative, and clear-headed. As the day progresses, your energy levels start going down, which affects your productivity, motivation, and focus[2].

If you’re not a morning person, you can just try waking up thirty minutes earlier than your normal time. You’ll be amazed by how much you can get done in that bit of time. If you don’t want to use it to work, use it to do a bit of exercise or eat a healthy breakfast. This kind of routine will also contribute to your productivity during the day.

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9. Take Regular Breaks

Whenever you find yourself feeling tired and stressed, take a break for 10 to 15 minutes. Too much stress can take a toll on your body and affect your productivity.

And even better, schedule your break times. It helps you to relax and gets back to work with energy again later. If you know a break is coming, you’ll likely be able to overcome boredom or a lack of motivation to push through the task at hand.

Take a walk, listen to some music, or do some quick stretches. The best idea is to take a break from work completely and spend time with your friends and family.

10. Learn to Say No

Politely refuse to accept additional tasks if you think that you’re already overloaded with work. Take a look at your to do list before agreeing to take on extra work.

Many people worry that saying no will make them look selfish, but the truth is that saying no is one of the best ways to take care of yourself and your time. When you take care of this, you’ll find you have more energy to devote to the important things, which the people around you will ultimately appreciate.

Final Thoughts

When you get clear about what’s on your plate, you’ll be more focused and get more done in less time.

Good time management requires a daily practice of prioritizing tasks and organizing them in a way that can save time while achieving more. Use the above strategies for few weeks and see if they help you. You may be surprised just how much more time you seem to have.

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Featured photo credit: Brad Neathery via unsplash.com

Reference

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