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Published on August 26, 2020

How to Stay on Task And Be Laser Focused

How to Stay on Task And Be Laser Focused

Focus is one of the most critical tools in your productivity arsenal. Remaining focused throughout the day will increase your likelihood of staying committed to your priorities. It will reduce the amount of time you waste on distractions and unnecessary priorities. And it will increase your efficiency when working on a task because you’re committing your full cognitive resources to it. The question is, how can you intentionally stay on task with so many distractions in the workplace?

It’s hard to increase your focus through willpower alone, so consider using these habits and strategies to make it easier to focus regularly:

1. Turn Off Notifications

Notifications are stealing your focus — at least, that’s an excellent way to think about them. Whenever you receive a notification, you’re going to look up from your work, even if it’s just for a moment. When this happens, your focus breaks, and it takes time for you to build it back up. In some situations, notifications may pull you entirely away from your work, causing you to shift priorities inefficiently.

You’re better off without them in most contexts, so turn off notifications wherever you can and minimize them wherever you can’t.

2. Disable Access to Distracting Websites

If you’re like most people, there are at least a handful of websites responsible for hours of your time wasted every week. These are probably social media sites, forums, or other sources of content that pull you away from more important projects.

Consider downloading a browser extension or an app that allows you to selectively block these websites or put a limit on the amount of time you can use them. Eventually, you’ll develop much more responsible habits.

3. Delete Your Biggest Time-Wasting Apps

Similarly, you should know which apps on your phone are responsible for your biggest distractions and time waste. Again, these are probably social media sites, games, or other sources of entertaining information, so consider deleting them altogether.

If you truly miss the apps, you can always reinstall them later. Otherwise, you can hide them in a different part of your phone’s interface. This way, you’re less likely to open the app unconsciously.

4. Stop People From Interrupting You

How long do you go without being interrupted? The average knowledge worker spends only 11 minutes on a given project before facing an interruption from another person.[1] This is incredibly frustrating if you’re trying to focus on a heads-down project.

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There are a few ways you can stop people from interrupting you. For example, you can create a physical barrier (e.g., closing a door) or notify them that you’re going to be unavailable to deter them from talking to you. If not, you can completely unplug from the internet to cut down digital conversational requests, albeit temporarily.

5. Get More Sleep

Sleep has a significant impact on your ability to focus. If you miss even one night of good sleep, it’s going to impact your ability to concentrate the next day and possibly for several days to follow. Adults are recommended to get 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night.[2] If you’re struggling to achieve it, consider scheduling sleep as you’d do with any other important activity.

You can also try different tactics like buying a new mattress, keeping your room cooler, and improving your overall lifestyle (meaning, eating healthily and exercising).

6. Consume Caffeine (in Moderation)

Anyone who drinks coffee regularly can tell you that even a small amount of caffeine can make it easier to focus, especially if you’re feeling tired). Try grabbing a mug of coffee or a cup of tea whenever you feel the need for a focus boost.

Just make sure you’re not overindulging, or you can wind up with adverse side effects, such as excessive anxiety or insomnia.

7. Try the ABC Method

One article from the Harvard Business Review suggests using the ABC method, which stands for “Aware, Breathe, and Choose.”[3] The basic idea is to catch yourself when your focus is broken (the “aware” step). Once you do this, take a moment to breathe. Don’t judge yourself, and give yourself a minute to clear your mind.

From there, make a conscious, deliberate decision on what to do next. Do you want to continue being distracted? Or do you want to return to work?

8. Practice Mindfulness Meditation

You can accomplish something similar by practicing mindfulness meditation. This branch of meditation encourages users to spend time improving their awareness of the present moment regularly. You must allow your thoughts to come and go naturally, often with the help of a focal point like a deep breathing exercise or a mantra.

The first several times you do this, you may struggle to notice the results. But over time, you’ll get better at it until you realize that mindfulness meditation is an excellent tool for decluttering your mind and improving your focus.

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9. Stop Multitasking

Too many people falsely believe that they’re the exception to the concept that multitasking doesn’t work. One study found that multitasking makes you 40% less productive.[4] It’s tempting to do some light reading during a boring meeting or try to answer two different employee requests simultaneously. But whenever you try to split your focus between two or more tasks, you end up doing all of them inefficiently.

You’re much better off focusing on one thing at a time, even if it feels less productive at the moment. Plus, the more you do this, the easier it will be to focus on singular tasks.

10. Turn Up the Thermostat

One study found that people were almost twice as productive in a room of 77 degrees as they were in a place with a room temperature of 68 degrees.[5] There are a few possible explanations for this, including the idea that we are simply more comfortable in 77-degree air than 68-degree air. It can also be that people are more active in the former temperature.

But whatever the case is, this effect seems to be scientifically valid.

Just take it with a grain of salt. Different people have different climate preferences, so you may end up focusing better in other conditions, too.

11. Invest in Better Lighting

Almost universally, people find it easier to focus when they’re surrounded by bright, high-quality light. The best option here is to allow more natural sunlight into your workspace. However, if this isn’t possible, invest in high-quality LEDs that can replicate sunlight.

You’ll feel less tired when surrounded by this light, and you’ll find it easier to concentrate on the papers and screens in front of you.

12. Work and Relax in Different Areas

If you’re working from home or have any flexibility in where you work, make sure you work and relax in different areas. Our minds tend to acclimate to different environments based on their purpose. Thus, if you use your bed for general lounging throughout the day, you may not associate it with sleep (and may have difficulty sleeping as a result).

If you enjoy movies and video games on your living room couch, and you try to work on that same couch with a laptop, you’re naturally going to feel distracted. Improve your focus by setting up a specific workstation.

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13. Stare at Something Red

This is a strange tip, but consider staring at something red when you’re feeling distracted. One study found that after staring at the color red, workers were more likely to stay focused on tasks and showed improvements in memory, performance, and even attention to detail.[6]

These results were not found in participants who stared at the color blue. So, there’s no harm in keeping a red flag or sheet of paper nearby in case you need a quick concentration boost.

14. Exercise Every Day

Make time every day to exercise, even if you can’t fit in a full-body workout. The physical exertion releases endorphins and dopamine, giving you a burst of energy and helping you focus throughout the day. It’s also a great way to relieve stress, so there’s no reason not to try it.[7]

The next time you find your focus drifting, go for a brisk walk, or do some pushups and sit-ups near your desk. You might be surprised at how much easier it is to focus afterward.

15. Break Things Down

When a task seems intimidating or complicated, people tend to have difficulty focusing. You can make everything more manageable and easier to focus on by breaking these monster tasks down. Split each major project into several smaller pieces.

Instead of scheduling hours of your day continuously, block off time in 15-minute intervals. It’s much easier to stay focused for 15 minutes at a time than to try and focus for two hours straight.

16. Take a Break

Taking a break is the only real way to “recharge” in the middle of a heavy work session.[8] It’s a way for you to declutter your mind and an opportunity to reevaluate your priorities and your approach to work.

Try to take a break for at least a few minutes every hour or two and walk away from the screen if you can. When you return, you’ll likely find it much easier to focus on your tasks.

17. Establish Visual Reminders

When our focus falters, it doesn’t usually happen all at once. Instead, it starts to drift without us being aware of it. Before we realize what’s happening, we’re already paying attention to something entirely new.

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You can fight back against this by establishing visual reminders for yourself. For example, writing the phrase “Are you focused?” on a brightly colored sticky note and sticking it next to your screen can force you to challenge your current attention levels.

Whenever your attention drifts away from your main project, you’ll see this phrase and ask yourself the question. Hopefully, it will return your attention to where it belongs. Just make sure to change these visuals from time to time so that you don’t get used to them.

18. Turn on a White Noise Machine

If you’re the type of person who’s consistently distracted by environmental noise, consider finding a way to introduce gentle background noise to your environment. If you play low-volume ambient music or turn on a white noise machine, you’ll likely drown out whatever micro-noises that usually distract you (e.g., footsteps, chitchat, or construction sounds). Experiment with different types of noise to see what helps you focus best.

19. Stay Focused in Other Areas of Your Life

Focus is like a muscle. The more you exercise it, the stronger it’s going to become. If you’re not focused in any areas of your life, you’re not going to become and remain focused at work. For example, if you can’t get through watching a movie without looking at your smartphone 20 times, it’s a sign you have a bigger focus problem.

Work on keeping your focus as much as possible in other areas of your life — not just at work. You’ll notice a significant difference in as little as a few weeks.

Making Iterative Improvements

If you struggle to stay on task, you may be disappointed to learn that no shortcut can make you instantly and permanently more attentive. However, you shouldn’t be discouraged. Make iterative improvements, gradually tweaking your habits and approaches so that you can evolve.

Rotate through the strategies we’ve listed above, and figure out a combination of approaches that works for you!

More Tips to Help You Stay Focused

Featured photo credit: Zan via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Jayson DeMers

Entrepreneur and Productivity Expert

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Last Updated on September 18, 2020

How to Be More Self-Assured and Get More Done During the Week

How to Be More Self-Assured and Get More Done During the Week

Time is a great leveler isn’t it? We all have the same 24 hours in a day. Even if you’re self-assured, the day may never feel quite long enough.

Why is it that some people can be so much more productive and achieve so much more in a typical day, while others struggle to achieve anything apart from feeling time crunched and overwhelmed?

Everyone I know and work with wants to make the best use of their time. They want to learn how to be more self-assured, happier, and work less—all while growing in their career.

How effectively we use our time—and how we actually work in our business—can make a huge difference to the amount we accomplish in a day or week. It can also make us more focused and more confident.

Do you want to have more thinking and creative time? Do you want to spend more time working on your business rather than working at or in your business? In this article, we’ll show you how.

Get More Done by Gaining Confidence

What if you had a strategy for making the best use of your time that brings you more joy and allows you to focus on the biggest activities and opportunities in your business? You may find the following outline below to be helpful:

1. Create an Exciting Vision

If you don’t know where you’re going, how do you know when you get there?

You want to be more productive and spend more time getting the right stuff done. Well, you need to create a compelling and exciting vision of your future.

What does this future look like? How will you feel when you get there?

Creating a new vision, especially one that is a lot bigger than where you are right now, has a way of igniting your passion. It may be something that feels hard to achieve, but every step you take towards that bigger vision will certainly build your confidence.

Create a vision board to feel more self-assured.

    Commitment to this vision, and accomplishing continual daily progress depends on your ability to look at any situation you’re faced with or currently in, feel self-assured, and see something bigger ahead.

    Also, when you know where you’re headed, you will instinctively start to see all the new opportunities and connections that will get you there.

    Make a vision map to get you started on the path to better productivity. This doesn’t have to be fully actualized, but you should know at least what direction you are heading.

    2. Build a Strategic Plan

    Once you have your future vision mapped out, the next step is to build a strategic plan to get you there.

    Your future vision may be for 3 years or 5 years, or you may choose a longer time frame. Any timeframe over 3 years may feel like a long way away.

    You may wonder how you are ever going to feel confident and motivated on this bigger future years from now when you feel as though you have so much to accomplish today.

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    The first step is to decide on some specific goals for the next 12 months. Don’t list too many or you may begin to feel overwhelmed.

    The magic number for me and my clients is usually five annual goals.

    These are big goals that will create massive change in your business and life and bridge your current situation to your bigger future; accomplishing these goals one by one will help to increase your confidence on a daily basis.

    3. Get on Goal Planning

    Get yourself a piece of blank paper and a pen and divide the paper into 4 columns: A, B, C, and D.

    Ask yourself the question: What is great in my business and life right now? Write these things down in Column A. This might be a couple of things, five things, ten things, whatever feels right to you.

    Then ask yourself: What things are happening right now that I don’t want in my future? Write these things down in Column B.

    This is your opportunity to take a step back and look at the things that are simply not working. You may list people that are bringing you down or projects that you don’t want to work on any more. Maybe you’ll include a service offering that’s going nowhere. It could be the people you’re working with, or it could be your pricing.

    Now, let’s look at your personal strengths. Write down everything that you’re great at in Column C.

    These could be things that you’re doing right now and having success with. It could also be things you know you’re awesome at but you’re not spending enough time on.

    Column D is for your biggest opportunities. Is there a new service/product you could offer your ideal customers? Is there a new innovation you could bring to market? Just take some time out and really think and list these things in Column D.

    Once you’ve analyzed everything you’ve written down, take some time to really think about what goals you want to set for your business and life in the next 12 months.

    4. Set Outcomes to Build Confidence

    You now have your goals, and you’ll feel self-assured and raring to go. They are written down and you’re committed to achieving them. You feel self-assured and motivated.

    But how do you ensure that you stay on the correct course to achieve these goals?

    Managing and juggling day-to-day projects can get in the way. Dealing with problems can get in the way. Staying on top of orders, managing cash flow, and handling day-to-day stuff can move your ship off course.

    You want to be productive and achieve your goals, but you also need to ensure the day and week runs smoothly.

    One way to ensure this happens is to set 90 Day Outcome Goals; within those Outcome Goals, put some specific process goals that need to be undertaken.

    Let’s say you want to get 10 more speaking jobs in the next 90 days, and you know that you typically convert 50% of opportunities.

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    Therefore, your process goal needs to be to have 20 conversations in the next 90 Days to deliver the 10 new pieces of work. You will then work out who you can have those conversations with.

    It’s smart to overshoot, so you will more easily hit your target. This is a clear plan to work through because with every win, your confidence will grow.

    5. Completely Commit to Your Success

    If you are not truly committed to achieving your goals, then chances are that you won’t reach them.

    Motivation can only take you so far. It is the intentional commitment[1] and emotional investment in your future success that will move you forward.

    Think back to any time that you really committed to achieving something. There must have been a reason you actually achieved what you set out to achieve. What motivated you?

    Were you fully invested? Why did it matter? Did you have to be really courageous to achieve it?

    How did it feel when you achieved it? What difference did it make?

    When have you felt truly self-assured? When you are committed to something, then you are propelled into action. Your mindset is focused, and your body follows; you want to get it done.

    And, when you do get it done, your confidence goes through the roof. You feel a level of certainty in achieving the goal you set out to accomplish.

    6. Focus on Your Strengths

    To feel self-assured and build up the confidence needed to achieve our biggest goals, we need to focus on our strengths.

    What are you best at? What are your unique skills? You want to spend as much time as you can working in the areas that you’re great at.

    Multiply your strengths. These areas are where you add the biggest value. They often bring you the biggest amount of joy, and you feel more and more confident when you are using your unique skills.

    If you think there is a specific capability you need to learn or be better at, spend more focused time in that area.

    Many of us want to do it all. We want to be good at everything. We want to offer a lot of services. But, in reality, there are some very specific things we are great at; nobody is good at everything!

    Spending more time adding value in the areas where you excel can create breakthrough results and boost confidence.

    7. Embrace the Present

    Sometimes we spend so much time thinking about the future or worrying about the past that we forget the present moment[2].

    Are you spending most of your day reacting to things, or have you taken the time to think about what your perfect day looks like?

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    We all have the opportunity to create rather than react, to decide what we do with our day. All of our future success can be created in the present moment if we just take a step back and take action.

    Sometimes, doing it now is more important than doing it perfectly. There are hidden opportunities in every moment. We need to make sure we don’t miss them if we want to feel self-assured.

    8. Calm the Whirlwind

    The day-to-day life in business and life can be hard, which leads us to feel less self-assured.

    Your mind may be full to bursting with all of the things you feel you have to do. The phrase “I don’t have time” has almost become an instant reaction by so many people when new opportunities are presented.

    There is a whirlwind happening inside our minds.

    Appointments, notifications, tasks, phone calls, errands, cash flow, staffing issues, networking, marketing all can clutter up our timeline. The sheer volume of things we feel we should do creates procrastination, stopping us from pursuing the projects and people that matter.

    Many of us feel we have to do everything within our business.

    Rather than simplifying things and doing less, we do more. We work longer, which creates a lack of energy and focus. Because of this, we lose clarity on our biggest opportunities. If you feel this way, take some well-deserved time off.

    Look at where you’re spending your time. How much of your time is being spent moving your ideas forward?

    In the next 90 days, if you could delegate or outsource more daily tasks and spend more time focusing on where you add the biggest value, what difference would it make?

    Calm the whirlwind by slowing down and doing less.

    Focus on areas that you add the biggest amount of value. By doing this, your energy levels will increase, your confidence will grow and you will have more success.

    9. Take More Time off

    This may seem counterintuitive, but taking more time off to recharge and refocus can pay huge dividends.

    If you are constantly fighting fires and caught up in the myriad of different activities that you have to do each day, then how can you move your business forward?

    You may be being pulled in difference directions without any focused time on your biggest projects. If that’s the case, then it’s almost impossible to gain any real momentum in moving your business forward and hitting your goals.

    The best way to get off that treadmill is to take more creative time out of the business.

    Could you realistically take one day off per month to work on your business? If you could, what would you do with this time?

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    Just imagine no distractions, only focused time on the strategic development and growth of your business.

    Every day off per month could have a different focus: New product innovation; Thinking about your biggest clients; Improving operations.

    Add to this a quarterly review to check in with your goals progress, and this could have a dramatic effect on where you spend your valuable time.

    10. Celebrate Wins

    Sometimes you just want to get through the day, right?

    You have so much to do. There are so many things on your task list that you just complete what you can and then start another day. But what would happen if, at the end of each day, you took some time out to look at what you’ve accomplished?

    Celebrating success keeps you motivated and helps you become more self-assured. It is not just another day. It’s a day that included things that should be celebrated.

    If you’re struggling to feel motivated, try celebrating a couple of wins each day.

    Celebrating success combined with the gratitude you have for achieving those wins will boost your confidence and inspire you for the next day.

    11. Give Yourself More Space

    When was the last time you gave yourself time to think?

    Within the hustle and bustle, it can be difficult to give yourself a little bit of space and time to just think[3].

    Imagine giving yourself just an hour a day to just let your mind wander or think about a specific thing.

    If you think about it, we can all free up an hour a day for something without really losing any efficiency or really impacting our business.

    In fact, that hour could be transformational for your business and life.

    A new idea for a product could form, or an idea for adding value to your existing clients could materialize. Perhaps you could do a check in to your ideal future and your goals. You could decide that you want to take your business in a new direction.

    Try this: Just sit alone for an hour with a notebook and let it be your creative thinking time. See what happens.

    Final Thoughts

    Ultimately, being self-assured happens when you have a clear direction.

    This, coupled with having clear goals and working in your unique skill-set, gives you the biggest opportunity to be more productive and get more of the right things done.

    The old mantra that “less is more” is right on the money. By giving yourself more time to work on your goals, you will inevitably increase your confidence; at this point, your ideal future can be anything you want it to be.

    More on How to Be Self-Assured

    Featured photo credit: Nathan Dumlao via unsplash.com

    Reference

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