You sit at your desk, ready to finally get some work done. “Okay, lets do this,” you think to yourself. You scroll over to Word (or Excel, or Office, etc.) and open up a fresh document. You have some idea of what needs to be done, but what happens next?
You write a few words down but just can’t stay focused. Then you say “Maybe I should wake myself up with something fun.” You go to Facebook, 20 minutes gone. Then comes Youtube, 60 minutes gone. Before you know it, lunchtime has come and half the day is gone.
Does this seem familiar? Do ever find yourself wasting your day? Well it doesn’t have to be this way, all you need to do is focus on finishing this article to find out how. Are you game?
Avoiding distraction is tough
You’re not alone when it comes to distractions. It’s not easy staying on task when you need to work for hours at a time, but some people are able to do it. The question is: why them and not you?
You were never taught how to focus
It’s funny how all throughout our school days we were never taught HOW to learn and be focused, even though that’s all we did. It was just assumed, and ultimately it was hit or miss on whether or not we ended up knowing how to do those things at all.
The tools to help master your ability to focus
Since we’re left to our own devices, it’s up to us to find ways to master our focus ability. That’s what these tips are for, so we can finally stay focused and on track with what we want to accomplish for ourselves.
So without further ado, let’s get started.
1. Keep your vision/goals in mind
First things first, why do you even need to focus? Do you want to become a skilled guitar player? Do you want to write a novel? Do you want to start working from home? Think about it.
Knowing why we need to stay focused can help us push through the tough and tedious parts of accomplishing our goals. That’s when our ability to focus is really tested and when it’s most needed.
2. Reduce the chaos of your day by focusing on 2-3 important tasks
If you have 20 tasks you need done everyday how effective do you think your focus ability will be? Terrible, right? You can’t expect to do those things with sophistication if you’re too scatterbrained to focus. You need to break it down to the essentials.
Focus on only doing 2-3 important tasks a day (even one is okay), but no more than that. It’s all you need to take steps towards accomplishing your goals. Slower is much better than giving up early because you took on too much, too early.
3. Do those tasks as soon as possible
In order to make sure you get those 2-3 tasks done, you need to do them early. This means as soon as you wake up, you’re already plotting how to do them. So get up, use the bathroom, eat breakfast, and do it (Yes, BEFORE work is the best time to do it).
It’s tough, but waiting to do them only invites distraction to take over. Those distractions WILL come, and they will drain your willpower. This makes working on your goals harder to do, so don’t wait do work on your goals, do them as early as possible.
4. Focus on only the smallest part of your work at a time
An easy way to kill your focus is to see a goal for the big giant accomplishment that it is. Most goals will at least take a few weeks to months to accomplish, and knowing that can make it feel like it’ll take FOREVER to do.
This’ll cause you to do one of two things:
- You become discouraged because the goal is too big
- You fantasize about what it’ll feel like to achieve the goal
Either way is terrible for your focus and always a potential problem when focusing on the big picture or using visualization.
So what should you do? Focus on doing a very small, minimum amount of work instead. For example, what seems easier?
- Writing 200 words per day
- Writing a minimum of 2 sentences per day
What about this:
- 20 pushups per day
- A minimum of 1 pushup per day
The key here is to use minimums, why? Because chances are you’ll push past them. Eventually you’re minimum will increase, and you’ll slowly improve your ability to stay focused on the bigger tasks.
5. Visualize yourself working
I briefly mentioned in tip #4 that visualization techniques can hurt you more than help you sometimes. But there is a proper way of using visualization, and it’s by visualizing yourself actually WORKING (not as if you’ve succeeded already).
Champion runners use this technique to great effect, usually by working backwards. They imagine themselves winning at first, then they act out the whole process in reverse, feeling and visualizing each step all the way to the beginning.
A quicker and more relevant way to apply this would be to imagine yourself doing a small part of the task at hand.
For instance, If you need to practice your guitar but it’s all the way across the room (let’s assume maximum laziness for the sake of this example), what should you do? First, imagine standing up (really, think of the sensation of getting up and then do it). If you really imagined it, visualized and felt the act of standing up, then acting on that feeling will be easy.
Then repeat the visualization process with each step til you have that guitar in hand and you’re playing it. The process of focusing so intently on each step distracts you from how much you don’t want to do something, and the visualizations “ready your body” for each step you need done.
All you need to do is apply this process to whatever it is you need to focus on, just start with the smallest motion you need to do.
6. Control your internal distractions
Internal distractions are one of those problems you can’t really run away from. You need to find ways to prepare your mind for work, and find simple ways to keep it from straying to non-essential thoughts as well.
A good way to prime your mind for work is to have a dedicated work station. If you always work in a specific area, then your mind will associate that area with work related thoughts. Simple enough, right? When you take breaks make sure to leave your work station, that way you’ll know when you’re “allowed” to let your thoughts roam free as well.
Deadlines are pretty useful here also (use pomodoro method for example, see tip #9). This method helps keep your mind from wandering around since you’ve got that looming deadline coming along.
Ultimately though, silencing those unwanted thoughts is all about getting some traction going. So instead of focusing on what’s happening internally, focus getting something done (anything!). Once you do that, you’ll see that all your thoughts will be about finishing your task.
7. Escape from/remove external distractions
This tip is pretty straightforward, just get away from things that distract you.
Is the television a distraction? Work in another room. Are the kids distracting you? Get up earlier and work before they wake up. Is the Internet distracting? Turn off the modem. It’s usually pretty obvious what you should do, but you still shouldn’t overlook this piece of advice.
8. Skip what you don’t know
This is a tip I don’t see often enough, if you hit a snag in your work then come back to it later. Focus your attention on what you CAN do, keep working “mindlessly” at all costs. All this means is that you should focus on the easy parts first.
Eventually you can come back to the more difficult parts, and hopefully by then it’ll have come to you or you’ll have built up enough momentum that it won’t break your focus if you work on it.
9. Improve your discipline with focus practice
There’s a few focus exercises you can do to improve your overall discipline.
The first one is meditation, which is basically the definition of focus in practice. Think about it, you’re literally just sitting there doing nothing. It’s a great method for building focus ability, de-stressing, and giving you greater control over your emotions. You should definitely give meditation a shot.
The second exercise is the pomodoro method. These are basically “focus sprints,” and each one is followed by a solid break. Like real sprints, you’ll get better and better at doing them over time. Each interval improves your ability to stay focused when it matters, so it’s more than worth your time to try this out.
10. Manage your momentum
Momentum is like a discipline lubricant‒it helps ease the process of sticking with goals. That’s why I think it’s important that we never take true breaks from our goals; we end up losing momentum and relying on discipline to get back on track (not an easy thing to do).
This means each and everyday we need to do something significant to further our goals (yes, even weekends and holidays). And when I say “significant,” I don’t necessarily mean a big task‒but rather, any task that brings us closer to our goals.
For instance, if your goal is to be a freelance writer, then write one single pitch on a weekend. If your goal is get healthy, then go for a short 5 minute walk even on Christmas day. Nothing big, nothing crazy, only stuff that is significant enough to contribute to the success of your overall goal.
Over to you
Do you have any special focus techniques? It’d be great if you shared them with me because focus is something I’m constantly trying to improve as well. :)