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. 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.
There are some important things to bear in mind if you try this to focus on goals:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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. 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:
I assessed the same thing with report writing:
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:
- I am self-employed and can work flexible hours
- 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
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
- 9 Ways To Focus and Be Super Productive At Work
- How to Plan Your Life Goals and Actually Achieve Them
- How Does Setting Goals Lead to Success?
Featured photo credit: Tamarcus Brown via unsplash.com
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