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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.

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      Last Updated on April 14, 2021

      What Are SMART Goals (and How to Use Them to Be Successful)

      What Are SMART Goals (and How to Use Them to Be Successful)

      As a track and field runner in school, every year I would sit down with my coach and set a series of goals for the season. Once we had set my goals for the year, we would create a training plan so I could achieve those targets. This helped me answer the main question here: “What are SMART goals?”

      Before I got a coach, I used to run aimlessly with no plan, no target races. More often than not, I would end up injured and find my season ending after achieving very little.

      Once I got a coach, though, I started winning races that mattered and began enjoying my sport. This annual process taught me from a very early age that goals are important if I want to achieve the things that are important to me.

      So what exactly are SMART goals? This article will talk about why goals matter, how to use SMART goals effectively with your time and resources, and how these goals give you a clear, specific plan that works time and time again.

      Why Do People Fail to Reach Their Goals?

      Setting SMART goals and achieving them

      is not easy, and many people fail. A study by Scranton University found that only 8% of those who set New Year goals actually achieve them, meaning 92% who set new year goals fail[1].

      The problem is that many people see goals, such as New Year resolutions, as hopes and wishes. They hope they will lose some weight, they wish to start their own business, or they hope to get a better job. The problem with “hoping” and “wishing” for something is that there is no plan, no purpose, and no time frame set for achieving the goals.

      Once these hopes and wishes come face-to-face with the realities of daily life, they soon dissolve into lost hopes and wishful thinking.

      Therefore, in order to really achieve something, you need a concrete goal: a SMART goal.

      What Are SMART Goals?

      The foundation of all successfully accomplished goals is the SMART goal.

      Originally conceived by George T. Doran in a 1981 paper[2], this formula has been used in various forms ever since.

      SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based. It has been used by corporations and individuals to achieve their goals and objectives and is a formula that, on the whole, works well.

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      Use SMART goals to help you achieve more.

        The strength of SMART goals is that they set a clear path to achieving goals, and they have a clear time frame in which to achieve them. Let’s look at the SMART criteria in a little more detail:

        Specific

        For a goal to be achievable, it needs to have a very clear outcome. What you are asking is, “What exactly do I want to achieve?” The clearer the goal, the more likely it is you will achieve it.

        For example, if you just say “I want to lose weight,” then technically you could achieve your goal just by not eating dinner for one day—you would lose weight that way, even if it were temporary.

        You need to have a more specific goal: “I want to lose twenty-pounds by the end of July this year.”

        Measurable

        To achieve anything, it’s important to have measurable goals. T

        ake the example above: “I want to lose twenty-pounds by the end of July this year.”

        It’s measurable, as all you need do is weigh yourself on 1 January, then deduct twenty-pounds from that and set that weight as the target for 31 July. Then, each week you weigh yourself to measure progress.

        Attainable

        Being attainable means that SMART goals are realistic and that you have what you need in order to achieve them.

        In our example of losing weight, 20 pounds in six months is certainly doable. Your resources could include a gym membership, some at-home weights, or simply motivation to get outside and run everyday.

        If motivation is an area where you struggle, you can check out Lifehack’s Ultimate Worksheet for Instant Motivation Boost.

        Relevant

        For any goal to be achieved, you need to set relevant goals for your unique life.

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        If losing weight is doable with the lifestyle you have, and if you believe it will lead to a happier, healthier life, then it is certainly relevant to you. It’s even more relevant if your doctor has pointed out that you need to lose weight to prevent health issues.

        Time-based

        Finally, you need a timeline. All your goals need to have an end date because it creates a sense of urgency and gives you a deadline.

        In our example of losing twenty-pounds, a timeline of six months would be specific, measurable, relevant, and would have a timeline. Furthermore, as you have what you need to achieve that goal, it is attainable—all elements of the formula for SMART goals are included.

        How to Reach a SMART Goal

        The problem I have always found with the SMART goal formula is it does not take into account the human factor. We need motivation and a reason for achieving these goals.

        If you decide to lose twenty-pounds, for example, you are going to spend many months feeling hungry, and unless you possess superhuman mental strength, you are going to give in to the food temptations.

        All SMART goals can be distilled down to three words:

        • What do you want to achieve?
        • Why do you want to achieve it?
        • How are you going to achieve it?

        When you simplify your goal in this way, achieving it becomes much easier.

        1. Visualize What You Want

        One way to make your goals achievable is to visualize the end result. When you write out your mission statement, you should be imagining what it will be like once you have achieved the goal.

        In our weight loss example, you would close your eyes and imagine walking down from your hotel room in Ibiza in July with your towel, sunscreen, sunglasses, and swimwear on. You would imagine walking past all the other sunbathers and the feeling you have, the pride in the way you look and feel.

        Try to invoke as many of the five senses as you possibly can[3].

        2. Identify Your “Why”

        If you take losing twenty-pounds as an example, once you have made the decision that you want to do this, the next question to ask yourself is, “Why?” The more personal your why, the better.

        Your why could be, “Because I want to look and feel fantastic by the pool in Ibiza this summer.” That is a strong why.

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        If your why is, “Because my doctor told me to lose some weight,” that is not a good why because it’s your doctor’s, not yours.

        One way to identify your “why” is to write your mission statement.

        To help with setting achievable SMART goals, when working with my clients, I always ask them to complete the following mission statement:

        I will [STATE GOAL CLEARLY] by [DATE YOU WANT TO COMPLETE THE GOAL] because [YOUR WHY].

        If you want to write a SMART goal for the weight loss example, your mission statement would be written: “I will lose twenty-pounds by the end of July this year because I want to look and feel fantastic by the pool in Ibiza.”

        Never write a mission statement that is full of vague words. The words you use should be simple, direct, and clear.

        3. Figure out Your “How”

        Before you can begin achieving your goal, you need to create a list of steps you can take to make it happen.

        Write down everything you can think of that will help achieve your goal. It doesn’t matter what order you write these tasks down; what matters is that you write down as many action steps you can think of.

        I always aim for around one hundred small steps. This makes it much easier to assign tasks for each day that not only moves you forward on your goal, but also keeps you focused every day on achieving it.

        Once you have your list, you can create a to-do list for the goal and allocate the steps to different days so you create momentum towards a successful outcome.

        You can learn more about how to use SMART goals to achieve success and lasting change in this video:

        Bonus: Make a PACT

        There is one more part needed to really make sure you achieve the SMART goals you set for yourself, and that is something I call PACT. PACT is another acronym meaning Patience, Action, Consistency, and Time. You need all four of these to achieve goals.

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        Patience

        Without patience, you will give up. To achieve anything worthwhile requires patience. Success does not happen overnight. Be patient and enjoy the process of stepping a little closer towards achieving your goal each day.

        Action

        If you do not take action on any goal, then even SMART goals won’t be achieved. You need to make sure you remind yourself of your goal and why you want to achieve it each day. Read your mission statement, make an action plan, and then take the necessary action to make sure you move a step closer each day.

        Consistency

        The action you take each day towards achieving your goal needs to be consistent. You can’t follow your diet program for a week and then have three weeks off. Jim Rohn said it perfectly when he said:

        “Success is a few simple disciplines practised every day.”

        Time

        Of course, you need to allow enough time between where you are today and where you want to be in the future. Be realistic about time, and don’t get disheartened if you miss your deadline. Readjust your timeline if necessary.

        The Bottom Line

        The key to success is to put everything together. When you connect all of these elements, you create an environment where achieving SMART goals becomes much more attainable.

        Whether it’s personal or business goals, when you have a strong personal “why” for your goal, your motivation to keep going stays strong.

        Start with your “why,” and then get started on the action steps that will take you all the way to the end.

        More Tips on Reaching Your Goals

        Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

        Reference

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