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Last Updated on October 2, 2018

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.

Now, if you’d like to dive deeper into perfecting your Focus Flow by learning how to set clear milestones and feasible/realistic action tasks on your roadmap, then subscribe to our newsletter today. Start on a journey that will help you get to your intended destination twice as fast!

Featured photo credit: Paul Skorupskas via unsplash.com

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Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Published on January 16, 2019

How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

We’re all busy, but sometimes we go through periods where the work piles up and it seems like it might never end.

You might have such a heavy workload that it feels too intimidating to even start.

You may have said yes to some or too many projects, and now you’re afraid you won’t be able to deliver.

That’s when you need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and start looking at what’s working and what’s not working.

Here’re 13 strategies you can use to get out from under your overwhelming workload:

1. Acknowledge You Can’t Do It All

Many of us have a tendency to think we can do more than we actually can. We take on more and more projects and responsibility and wear numerous hats.

We all have the opportunity to have and take on more work than we can reasonably expect to get done. Unfortunately, our workload is not static. Even now, while you are reading this article, I’m guessing that your inbox is filling up with fresh new tasks.

To make real, effective progress, you have to have both the courage and resourcefulness to say, “This is not working”. Acknowledge that you can’t do it all and look for better solutions.

At any given time in your life, there are likely many things that aren’t going according to plan. You have to be willing to be honest with yourself and those around you about what’s not working for you, both personally and professionally.

The more you exercise your ability to tell the truth about what’s working and what’s not working, the faster you’ll make progress.

2. Focus on Your Unique Strengths

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a leader or working as part of a team, every individual has unique strengths they can bring to the table.

The challenge is that many people end up doing things that they’re simply not very good at.

In the pursuit of reaching your goals or delivering a project, people end up doing everything themselves or taking on things that don’t play to their unique strengths. This can result in frustration, overwhelm and overwork.

It can mean projects taking a lot longer to complete because of knowledge gaps, or simply not utilizing the unique strengths of other people you work with.

It is often not about how to complete this project more effectively but who can help deliver this project.

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So, what are your unique strengths that will ensure your workload is delivered more effectively? Here’re some questions to help you reflect:

  • Are you a great strategist?
  • Are you an effective planner?
  • Is Project Management your strength?
  • Is communication and bringing people together your strength?
  • Are you the ideas person?
  • Is Implementation your strength?

Think about how you can bring the biggest value to your work and the projects you undertake.

3. Use the Strengths of Your Team

One of the simplest ways to manage your workload effectively is to free up your time so you bring your highest level of energy, focus and strengths to each project.

Delegation or better teamwork is the solution.

Everyone has unique strengths. It’s essential to think teamwork rather than working in isolation to ensure projects can be completed effectively. Besides, every time you give away a task or project that doesn’t play to your unique strengths, you open up an opportunity to do something you’re more talented at. This will empower both yourself and those around you.

Rather than taking on all the responsibilities yourself, look at who you can work with to deliver the best results possible.

4. Take Time for Planning

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”. – Abraham Lincoln

One hour of effective planning could save hours of time. Rather than just rushing in and getting started on projects, take the time to map everything in.

You can take the time to think about:

  • What’s the purpose of the project?
  • How Important is it?
  • When does it need to be delivered by?
  • What is the best result and worst result for this project?
  • What are the KPIs?
  • What does the project plan and key milestones look like?
  • Who is working on this project?
  • What is everyone’s responsibilities?
  • What tolerances can I add in?
  • What are the review stages?
  • What are the challenges we may face and the solutions for these challenges?

Having absolute clarity on the project, the project deliverables and the result you want can save a lot of time. It also gets you clear on the priorities and timelines, so you can block out the required amount of time to focus and concentrate.

5. Focus on Priorities

Not everything is a priority, although it can often feel, in the moment, that it is.

Whatever you’re working on, there is always the Most Urgent, Important or Most Valuable projects or tasks.

One tool you can use to maximize your productivity and focus on your biggest priorities is to use the Eisenhower Matrix. This strategic tool for taking action on the things that matter most is simple. You separate your actions based on four possibilities:

  1. Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately).
  2. Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later).
  3. Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else).
  4. Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate).

James Clear has a great description on how to use the Eisenhower Matrix: How to be More Productive By Using the Eisenhower Box

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    The method I use with my coaching clients is to ask them to lay out their Top Five priorities for the day. Then to start with the most important priority first. At the end of the day, you review performance against these priorities.

    If you didn’t get everything accomplished, start the next day with your number one priority.

    If you are given additional task/projects during the day, then you will need to gauge their importance V the other priorities.

    6. Take Time Out

    To stay on top of a heavy workload, it’s important to take time out to rest and recuperate.

    If your energy levels are high and your mind and body is refreshed and alert, you are in more of a peak state to handle a heavy workload.

    Take time out of your day to go for a walk or get some exercise in. Leave early when possible and spend time with people who give you a lot of energy.

    In the background, it’s essential to get a good night’s sleep and eat healthily to sharpen the mind.

    Take a look at this article learn about The Importance of Scheduling Downtime.

    7. Maintain a Healthy Work-Life Balance

    Maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be tough. The balance we all crave is very different from one another.

    I’ve written before about 13 Work Life Balance Tips for a Happy and Productive Life. Working longer and harder doesn’t mean achieving more, especially if you have no time to spend with the people that matter most. The quality of who you are as a person, the relationships you have, the time you spend in work, deciding on what matters most is completely within your control.

    Work-life balance is about finding peace within yourself to be fully present, wherever you are, whether that be in the office or at home, right now. It’s about choosing what matters most and creating your own balanced life.

    If you feel there is not enough balance, then it may be time to make a change.

    8. Stop Multitasking

    Multi-tasking is a myth. Your brain simply can’t work effectively by doing more than one thing at a time—at least more than one thing that requires focused attention.

    So get your list of priorities (see earlier point), do the most important thing first, then move to the next item and work down your list.

    When you split your focus over a multitude of different areas, you can’t consistently deliver a high performance. You won’t be fully present on the one task or project at hand.

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    If you allocate blocked time and create firm boundaries for specific activities and commitments, you won’t feel so overwhelmed or overworked with everything you have to do.

    9. Work in Blocks of Time

    To keep your energy up to produce your best results it’s essential to take regular breaks.

    I use the 60-60-30 method myself and teach it to my coaching clients.

    Work on a project for a sustained period of 50 minutes.

    Then take a 10-minute break. This could be taking a walk, having a healthy snack or just having a conversation with someone.

    Then continue to work on the project for a further 50 minutes.

    Then take another 10-minute break.

    Then take a complete 30-minute break to unplug from the work. This could be time for a proper lunch, a quick bit of exercise, reading or having a walk.

    By simply taking some time out, your energy levels stay up, the quality of your work improves and you reduce the risk of becoming burned out.

    10. Get Rid of Distractions

    Make an estimation on how many times you are distracted during an average working day. Now take that number and multiply it by 25. According to Gloria Mark in her study on The Cost of Interrupted Work, it takes us an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to the original task after interruption.[1]

    “Our research has shown that attention distraction can lead to higher stress, a bad mood and lower productivity.”

    Distractions don’t just take up your time during the distraction, they can derail your mental progress and focus for almost 25 minutes. So, if you are distracted 5 times per day, you could be losing almost 2 hours every day of productive work and almost 10 hours every week.

    If you have an important project to work on, find a space where you won’t be distracted, or try doing this.

    11. Commit Focused Time to Smaller Tasks

    You know sometimes, you need to simply tackle these tasks and take action on them. But there’s always something more pressing.

    Small tasks can often get in the way of your most important projects. They sit there on your daily To Do list but are often forgotten about because of more important priorities or because they hold no interest for you. But they take up mental energy. They clutter your mind.

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    Commit to spending a specific period of time completing all the small tasks you have on your To Do list. It will give you peace of mind and the space to focus more on your bigger priorities.

    12. Take a Time Audit

    Do you know exactly where your time is going each day? Are you spending too long on certain projects and tasks to the detriment of bigger opportunities?

    Spend a bit of time to analyze where you are spending your time. This insight will amaze you and give you the clarity to start adjusting where you focus your time and on what projects.

    You can start by taking a piece of paper and creating three columns:

    Column A is Priority Work. Column B is Good Work. Column C is low value work or stuff.

    Each day, write down the project or task and the time spent on each. Allocate that time to one of the columns.

    At the end of the week, record the total time spent in each column.

    If you are spending far too much time on certain types of work, look to change things so your focused time is in Column B and C.

    13. Protect Your Confidence

    It is essential to protect our confidence to ensure we don’t get overwhelmed, stressed and lose belief.

    When you have confidence as a daily resource, you are in a better position to problem solve, learn quicker, respond to anything, adjust to anything, and achieve your biggest opportunities.

    Confidence gives you the ability to transform fear into focused and relaxed thinking, communication, and action. This is key to put your mind into a productive state.

    When confidence is high, you can clearly see the possibilities at hand and create strategies to take advantage of them, or to solve the challenges you face each day.

    Final Words

    A heavy workload can be tough to deal with and can cause stress, burnout and ongoing frustration.

    The key is to tackle it head on, rather than let it go on and compound the long-term effects. Hopefully, you can take action on at least one of these tips.

    If it gets too much, and negatively affects your physical and mental health, it may be time to talk to someone. Instead of dealing with it alone and staying unhappier, resentful and getting to a point where you simply can’t cope, you have to make a change for your own sanity.

    Featured photo credit: Hannah Wei via unsplash.com

    Reference

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