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Published on December 15, 2020

How to Focus on Goals and Get Rid of Distractions

How to Focus on Goals and Get Rid of Distractions

Have you ever had one of those days where you’re sitting at a screen trying to just tick something off your to do list and finding yourself completely unable to just focus on the task at hand? Maybe you’re on Facebook or falling down the rabbit hole of news, social media, and the countless other distractions the Internet presents instead of trying to focus on goals for the day.

You’re not alone. More than 84% of us are plagued by procrastination at least sometimes[1]. For me, procrastination is the leading reason I used to so frequently get to the end of the week without having achieved what I wanted to. That ultimately meant putting in more hours on the weekends and evenings when I’d rather be spending time with my family or working out and investing in my physical and mental health.

That was the core motivator for me investing two years in experimenting with different tools and tactics to improve my focus.

Today, I have three young sons, and I don’t miss a bedtime or a weekend day trip. I’m working fewer hours and getting more done, and here are some of the techniques I’ve applied to achieve it.

1. Use the Pomodoro Technique on More Laborious Tasks

The Pomodoro Technique is a method for improving productivity. It was devised by Francesco Cirillo and is named after the Pomodoro shaped timer that he used.

It’s a simple premise. You switch off all distractions and work non-stop with complete focus for 25 minutes. Then, you take a 5 minute break. You repeat this process for 115 minutes, after which which you will have worked for 100 minutes and had 15 minutes of breaks.

You can adjust the timings or the number of repetitions you do as you become more familiar with how you work best.

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There are some important things to bear in mind if you try this to focus on goals:

  1. During the 25 minutes, you need to be free of all distractions. Shut your social media down, hide your phone in a drawer, and make sure nobody hassles you. Focus is key.
  2. It doesn’t work for every task. This is not a technique for collaborative tasks. I tend to use it most effectively for report writing, copywriting, and desk research led tasks.
  3. Don’t expect to see results immediately. I found it took me a few days before I noticed any significant changes to my speed of work, but within 2 weeks I was completing reports in around half the time I would normally expect it to take.

2. Write Your Goals Down

Writing things down is something of a superpower we all have. It comes down to psychology. In his book, Influence, Robert Cialdini notes the findings of a study that found a medical center was able to reduce missed appointments by 18% simply by getting patients to write their own appointment time down.

Writing things down appears to make us, as humans, more committed to them.

I start every day now by writing down a list of things I need to complete that day. It’s a small change, takes no more than a minute, and really helps to keep me focused.

There are few things as satisfying as marking something off with a huge tick! Clicking a button doesn’t have the same effect.

It’s an easy tip to try and takes very little time out of your day, so one well worth trying for yourself.

3. Work During Your Most Productive Hours

The two tactics above are things you could try out today and work out quickly if they help you focus on goals. What I’m about to suggest is a luxury I know a lot of people do not have.

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However, if you’re one of the lucky ones who can, then try to build your day around your most productive hours.

A human being is thought to be productive for less than 3 hours each day[2]. Yet, we traditionally build our working day to last from 9 to 5 with little time away from our screens.

Therefore, it stands to reason that if you work those hours, you’ll find yourself feeling like at least half your day is wasted.

I spent a month or so measuring how productive I was at different times of the day. Over that month, on some days I worked mornings, some days afternoons, and some days evenings. On other days, I worked the whole day, though (freelance life!). I measured my output and noted how I was feeling. This is what I found.

When I was writing copy (where I’d already carried out the research), my most productive hours in terms of word count were these:

Words of copy produced

    I assessed the same thing with report writing:

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    Reports completed

      What became clear to me is that I work very well early in the morning and reasonably well in the evening. And I am, frankly, pretty useless in the middle of the afternoon.

      So why was I trying to make myself do these tasks that need focus at a time when I’m clearly not naturally very focused?

      This was something of a revelation to me regarding how to focus on goals. I began adapting my working day wherever possible. I started working earlier in the morning and again in the evening if need be. I structure my day so that, if possible, I can get out for a walk or do something active in the afternoon. And if that isn’t possible, I take calls and have meetings.

      Wherever possible, I don’t produce documentation in the afternoon.

      This made significant improvements to my productivity and enabled me to consistently have completed my to-do list for the week by the weekend, making it possible for me to spend more time with my family.

      Two things enabled me to do this:

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      1. I am self-employed and can work flexible hours
      2. My husband also works in the business, so we can divide the childcare in such a way that enables me to build my working day like this

      If you’re employed, rather than self-employed, it might be worth a conversation with your management. Putting a business case forward about how they can get the best out of your paid time could be sufficient to encourage them to give you flexibility in how you build your day.

      If you’re not able to build your day like that, then even changing which activities and tasks you carry out at certain times (documentation at your most productive hours, conversations at your least) could help to keep you focused.

      4. Use Browser Extensions to Keep you Focused

      If you’re one of those people who finds themselves distracted by social media or the news, then there are tools to help you.

      • Stayfocusd: A Chrome extension that lets you block certain websites altogether
      • Deprocrastination: A Chrome extension that enables you to track when you’re most productive, track what websites steal your time, and block accordingly.

      If you’re looking for more tools to help you stay productive, here’re some nice options: 15 Productivity Chrome Extensions To Boost Productivity in 2020

      Work Smarter

      Investing in experimenting with techniques to make me more productive is enabling me to spend more time doing the things I love without compromising my work or ability to improve income.

      Small changes made the biggest difference for me, and I hope they’ll make a big difference for you as you focus on goals and get things done.

      More on How to Focus and Achieve Your Goals

      Featured photo credit: Tamarcus Brown via unsplash.com

      Reference

      More by this author

      Stacey MacNaught

      Small business owner, public speaker and marketing expert obsessed with working smarter.

      How to Focus on Goals and Get Rid of Distractions

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      Last Updated on January 21, 2021

      30 Goals To Set For Yourself Before Turning Into 40s

      30 Goals To Set For Yourself Before Turning Into 40s

      Some people believe that once they’ve passed the age of 30, they’re too old to do something new and exciting; that it’s time for them to settle down.

      If you have found your dream job, and are clear about your purpose of life, then go ahead and live your best life! However, it’s never too late to dream a new dream and set some new goals.

      The vast majority of the people focus on their careers and how much they need to earn, but there are certain things you should do to create unforgettable memories and make yourself proud of what you managed to accomplish.

      Whereas there are countless ideas which vary on your attitude and lifestyle, the following list is full of things anyone should try.

      1. Visit a new continent.

      New continent means a whole new experience, different culture and tons of interesting people to meet. Everyone should visit another continent at least once in a lifetime, it’s a priceless experience.

      2. Travel to at least 20 countries.

      Each new country you visit is an original life lesson and unique memories. The more countries you travel to, the better you can compare them and draw conclusions from people’s behavior, culture, and rituals. By spending time in different environments, we can learn a lot about ourselves.

      3. Make at least one friend in every country you visit.

      Traveling somewhere without making a new friend there is a huge loss. By interacting with local people, you may have a chance to learn about the secret facts of that very location and explore some mysterious places. What’s more, creating a bond with the locals creates an opportunity to revisit the country cheaper by being hosted by the people you’ve met.

      4. Take a spontaneous trip.

      Without planning every single detail, pack all the necessary stuff and set off into the unknown. You don’t even have to leave your country, the key is to make it impromptu, face what life throws at you and see how you can deal with that. Once the trip is over, you’ll learn some incredible lessons that you wouldn’t have by booking an all-inclusive vacation.

      Catching a last-minute flight to a random destination might be a starting point for a serious adventure.

      5. Learn a new language.

      Do you know what’s the Bill Gates’ most regretted thing is? It’s not learning a second language. During your travel, it’s a great opportunity to practice your language skills with locals. While you are at home, you can learn the basics using books, attending a course or through online programs. And then, once you have a chance to speak with native speakers, this will be the moment when you learn the most. During just a few months of attending a German high school, I learned far more than spending two years of practice with books (though it was a good preparation).

      6. Go Bungee Jumping.

      This idea may seem crazy to you, but it’s just a warm up comparing to the next one. Bungee jumping is an insane way to face your fears and do something against common sense. As for me, it’s a valuable lesson which emphasizes the fact that even the scariest things turn out to be tolerable once you go through them.

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      7. Skydive.

      As I promised, this one is hardcore. Experience the unstoppable power of gravitation and see the world from a different perspective. Though I didn’t skydive yet, doing it at least once is definitely on my bucket list.

      8. Face your worst fear.

      Whatever you fear, most probably it’s a mental issue and not a real danger. There’re countless phobias people suffer from. I don’t know what’s yours, but I dare you to test your limits and see how far you can go.

      9. Stand on top of a mountain.

      And get there going on a foot. The view from the top is invaluable and unique. You literally feel the power of nature and see how small we actually are comparing to the natural forces.

      10. Boost your financial stability.

      Before you turning into 40, becoming financially independent is almost mandatory. To avoid getting lost in debt and make the money work for you and not vice versa, you should devote some time to learning finances. This 14-day plan is a great way to start.

      11. Create your personal emergency fund.

      Saving money regularly is a life-saving habit once you are in financial troubles. Most experts suggest your emergency fund should allow yourself to cover at least 3 months of living expenses. While you are busy making your dreams come true and doing crazy things, be aware that accidents do happen, so having a financial security is definitely helpful while you’ll be figuring out the alternative plan to solve your problems.

      12. Create an online business on the side.

      Nowadays, there are endless ways to make some extra money online. A legit method almost anyone can try out is monetizing your skills through creating an online course or ebook. It’s a great way to cover additional expenses and learn a bit of entrepreneurship from real life experience. Maybe you’ll even be able to leave your 9–5 and create your dream lifestyle making money from any place in the world like digital nomads do.

      To learn more, check out these 24 easy ways to make money on the internet.

      13. Develop a habit of daily exercising.

      The older you are, the more likely you are to lead a sedentary lifestyle which is a horrible tendency. To avoid it, focus on creating healthy habits. There’s no excuse for not finding at least 20 minutes a day to train. You can try out bodyweight workouts or go for a quick run.

      Your body will be incredibly grateful and serve you well for longer.

      Although he has one of the most exacting jobs you can imagine, Barrack Obama works out for 45-minute every day. It’s a habit everyone should borrow.

      14. Start eating healthy.

      Diet-related problems are a huge concern in today’s world. More than one-third U.S. adults are obese. Mostly, because of unhealthy diet and a sedentary lifestyle. Taking care of your eating patterns is mandatory if you keep your health. The more you put it off, there more likely you are to never get started.

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      In a nutshell, choose unprocessed, whole products and avoid junk food with huge amounts of sugar, salt, and fat.

      15. Get in the best shape of your life.

      There are some living miracles like C.T. Fletcher who achieved the best shape during his 50s. However, now is always the perfect moment to do that. Educate yourself about nutrition, maybe invest in a personal coach and commit to fully transform your body. There are countless 1-year transformations on Youtube which serve as a great source of inspiration.

      Once you are in your life’s best shape, go on a photo session so you can proudly show your grandchildren how shredded you once were.

      16. Become a disciplined person.

      Self-discipline is an enormously useful skill when it comes to making your dreams become a reality. Without discipline, you can’t stick to your commitments and work toward your goals. Becoming a person with rules will have a positive impact on your future self.

      The fact is, you can either control yourself or let yourself control you. If you dream of a meaningful life, you’ll definitely aim for the first option.

      This free self-discipline book is a good resource to begin with.

      17. Become a morning person.

      The majority of the most successful people swear by the power of being an early riser. Whether it’s CEOs, world’s best athletes or other outstanding individuals, most of them have a morning routine which highly contributes to their success.

      Morning ritual empowers your day and gives you an advantage over the rest of the world which still sleeps while you work to become a better self.

      18. Read at leat 100 books.

      Whatever your problem is, there is at least one decent book offering a solution. Books hide incredible value and knowledge. The sad fact is, however, more and more people prefer TV shows or video games.

      Once I became a regular reader, I realized how much you miss out if you refuse to read. The impact books have made (and still make) on my life is gigantic.

      Start to finish reading at least one book a month, and you will have completed 12 book a year!

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      If you don’t know which books to choose, check out this post.

      19. Write a book.

      81% of the population feels they could write a book, but only the minority takes action and starts writing. The truth is, once you begin to write, you are a writer. Finishing a book is challenging but the sense of satisfaction afterward is definitely worth it.

      Pick a topic and devote 30 minutes a day to writing. In a year or even sooner, you’ll not only drastically improve your language skills but also finish your first book.

      Nowadays, when self-publishing becomes more and more popular, you can release your work avoiding the middlemen and maybe even discover that your calling turns out to be a writer. You don’t know until you try…

      20. Write a letter to your future self.

      Make sure to include your dreams, expectations and plans. Decide how much time needs to go by until you open your letter. Once you do it, it will be the moment of truth and a chance to see whether you became who you wanted to be.

      If you prefer modern technology, you can write an email to your future self using free services like futureme.org.

      21. Go offline for a whole month.

      Imagine no Facebook, Internet, Reddit or Lifehack for the whole month. This 30-day challenge tests your ability to entertain yourself in the world ruled by technology, avoiding the Internet and computers completely. To make it even more spicy, cut off the television.

      It’s a great opportunity to spend more time with your friends and family, focus on your passions and read more books.

      22. Take a picture every day for a whole year.

      I doubt there are many mementos better than this. Once the year is over, you create a time-lapse which shows portrait by portrait how you changed during the 365 days.

      Watching it 20 years later will probably make you cry.

      23. Make a list of things that truly make you happy.

      And make sure to do these activities as often as possible. You can have all the money in the world and a career that society considers the most successful, yet you can feel miserable. It’s because the real happiness comes from experiences, self-realization, and contribution. While you discover the world checking off the things from this list, try to find out which environment makes you the happiest person in the world.

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      Whenever you face a hard moment, take out your happiness-list and start doing one of the things from it. As a result, the bad emotion fades away much quicker.

      24. Complete the integrity challenge.

      Integrity challenge is an idea from I borrowed from Joel Runyon. Oftentimes our actions don’t represent our thoughts and commitments. This weird phenomenon is most visible when a new year begins and most of the people fail to stick to their resolutions. The way it works is simple. Choose one thing, ideally an uncomfortable task like daily jogging for 30 minutes, determine the timeframe (e.g. 90 days) and then just do your thing every single day without failing even once until you arrive at the finish line.

      This test points out your weaknesses and questions your willpower. However, once you accomplish it successfully, it gives you a huge motivation boost to pursue more complex goals which every 20-something should aim at.

      25. Help a homeless person to get back to a normal life.

      Our life isn’t only about ourselves but also about the people around us. There are many folks who really need help but are ignored by the majority of the society. Imagine supporting a homeless person with the goal in mind to make them a self-sufficient member of the community again.

      If you feel miserable, be aware that giving back is one of the fastest methods to make yourself incredibly happy.

      26. Donate to a local foundation.

      The amount of your donation doesn’t matter, the fact of doing it does. Imagine if everyone (who’s financially independent) donated a dollar a month to a foundation of choice. It seems small but once you add up all the donations, the sum can make a huge difference in other people’s lives.

      27. Stop looking for other people’s approval.

      This is an especially useful yet rare skill. We definitely care way too much about how others perceive us which in result lowers your self-esteem and confidence as well as makes you overthink the simple choices. Abandoning the validation completely is tough, but it’s worth working toward it.

      Once you accept the inevitable disapproval, you can become your true and authentic self. To get started, have a look at this post.

      28. Learn to say no.

      Saying no at the right moment is a habit which guarantees you a better life. However, the tendency in most people is quite the opposite. They say yes way too much and end up with unnecessary commitments and responsibilities which don’t add any value to their lives.

      Now is when you should finally grasp that. There are plenty of things you don’t need to say yes to all the time.

      29. Make a DIY furniture.

      Do it yourself” movement grows in popularity and some of the ideas people come up with are seriously unbelievable. Creating your own piece of furniture boosts your creativity, tests your manual skills and saves you money. The satisfaction after putting your favorite books on a hand-made shelf beats every commercial furniture.

      30. Spend a night under the stars.

      As for me, watching the sky in the night is the best way to get the existential buzz. It’s a beautiful scenario to contemplate about your life, plans, and the future. Pitch a tent in the nature, make a bonfire, invite your loved ones and fire your imagination with the stars.

      Featured photo credit: Candice Picard via unsplash.com

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