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Stay Focused At Work With These 10 Tips

Stay Focused At Work With These 10 Tips

Staying focused at work is a constant challenge. If it’s not a coworker wanting to chat, your phone beeping at you, or a hundred emails filling up your inbox, it’s your own mind’s tendency to wander. Here are ten tips to help you deal with distractions and stay focused on your work.

1. Be honest.

Revolutionary, I know.

But maybe you should try it, as long as you can remember that being honest doesn’t mean being rude. It means simply telling people the truth, in a courteous way. For example, try being honest when the chatty coworker stops by and says, “Got a minute?” Or when you get a text from your drama-loving friend. Or when your mom sends an email wanting your help “real quick!” with booking a hotel for her next visit. To all these requests, you need to speak the truth: “I can’t right now. I’m working.”

Feel free to follow up with an alternative:

  • Try asking so-and-so.
  • Check with me after work.
  • I’ll do this at my next break.
  • Remind me on the weekend.
  • Let’s talk about it next time I see you.

2. Put a mind map right in front of you.

Not any mind map. One that shows a visual progression of you staying focused at work and how that leads to your goals.

What are your goals at work?

To be the mediocre employee who does a half-hearted job? I think not.

Even if this job isn’t your dream job, doing your best at it will open up more opportunities for you, gain you more skills, and lead you to better places. So map it out and then put that map where you can see it and remind yourself that, yes, staying focused really does matter.

3. Make a bet.

Surely some of your co-workers or friends also struggle with staying focused and being productive.

It’s time to make it matter where it hurts: in the wallet.

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Make a friendly bet over who can accomplish more in the day or week. Of course, you don’t even have to bet money. You can bet on who has to clean out the office fridge or be the designated driver next weekend.

4. Wear headphones.

Even if you don’t listen to anything, putting headphones on signals to other people that you are not available.

So bring a pair of those giant headphones, put them on, and get to work. Take them off during breaks or when you’re free for a chat. If you can do your work while listening to music or podcasts, do it. It will help you ignore the ambient noise and background conversations which can so easily break your concentration.

5. Use a timer.

Go to the nearest dollar store and get a cheap kitchen timer. Sure, I know; you could use the one on your phone or computer. But the point is to stay focused, and opening up another app or tab is just going to give you an opportunity to check Facebook real quick, or answer that text, or look up that one thing…

You know where that goes.

Instead, buy a timer that does one thing and one thing only: times you as you work. Put it in front of you at your workspace, set it for 15 minutes, and ask yourself to focus on your work until the timer goes off.

When the timer goes off, you can either take a 2-minute breather, or you can keep plugging away.

Every day, increase your “focus time” by a couple of minutes until you work your way up to focusing for 45 or 50 minutes at a time. Be sure to take a 5-minute break after your longer focus time so your brain can recharge and be ready to go again.

6. Be stupid-simple about what you’re doing.

Here’s where most of us get hung up on focusing at work: we ask ourselves to do some big, hairy, enormous task. Our brains freak out and want to run away, which we do by playing Candy Crush or answering pointless emails.

Your brain needs specific tasks to accomplish, not big, huge, vague, intimidating mountains to climb.

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Start telling yourself what you’re doing in the simplest of terms. Dumb it down until you feel a little silly about it.

  • “I’m going choose one color for this design scheme.”
  • “I’m going to write two sentences of this blog post.”
  • “I’m going to file one paper.”

What this does is give your brain a specific, understandable, and easy starting point.

And once you get started, you can keep going.

7. Use the 5-10-40 rule.

Okay, this isn’t really a rule. It’s just a thing I made up that works.

Feel free to steal and use.

Here’s how it works.

You need that timer. Remember, the one you bought? Right. Set it for five minutes. Now spend five minutes figuring out what it is you need to focus on next.

Next, set the timer for 10 minutes, and spend 10 minutes figuring out exactly what needs to be done in that area you need to focus on. Make a list, brainstorm, create a mind map, check your research or project emails, do whatever you need to and create a guideline of the specific (stupid-simple) tasks that need to be accomplished and in what order.

Next, set your timer for 40 minutes and start working your way through those actions, one at a time. If you only get one accomplished in 40 minutes, that’s okay. Scratch it off, take a five-minute break, and then come back and tackle the next one.

8. Write a single sentence about your day.

For this to work, it’s best to do it at the beginning of the day.

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That’s right. You’re not writing a progress report or a log of your work day. You’re simply taking a couple of minutes, at the beginning of the day, to write a single sentence.

And that single sentence should say exactly what your day will have looked like if you stay focused.

  • “Today I wrote 3,000 words and researched two new articles.”
  • “Today I finished that report and turned it in.”
  • “Today I created a great design mock-up for my biggest client.”
  • “Today I landed two new customers.”

What does your day look like, how much do you accomplish, when you stay focused?

Remind yourself of that possibility at the beginning of the day, and you’re much more likely to do it.

9. Keep a progress meter.

You know those poster board signs with the badly drawn graphics people use when they’re fundraising for some worthy cause?

Make one of those.

It doesn’t have to be on poster board, of course. You can use a Post-It. An index card. The back of your hand. The sketchpad on your phone or tablet. A document in your computer.

Whatever.

Break down your current big project into steps. Then draw that representation of a ladder or gauge or arrow, mark different spots for each step, and fill it in as you accomplish those steps.

There’s something really powerful about seeing your progress toward a goal in a simple, visual way.

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10. Use the index card method.

Sometimes we have so much to do that we simply get too overwhelmed to start.

To help yourself focus on a few important tasks, get an index card. Look at your long, long list and your calendar, and choose three things. The most important three things, the highest priority out of all the stuff you really need to do.

Write them down on your index card.

Now flip the card over, and on that side, write down at least one of the following:

  • a reward of some kind (gourmet coffee, chat with a friend)
  • a work task you really like to do
  • a task which you really feel good about accomplishing, but which isn’t one of the top priorities

Your top three tasks are your focus for the day.

If you do them, you get to flip the card over and get/do whatever is on the other side. (So be sure it’s something you like.)

Here’s the final trick to making this method awesome: save your index cards. That’s right. Don’t throw them away.

Stick them in a drawer, and when you’re feeling distracted or discouraged, pull them out and look at all those scratched-off items. You did that. You. You focused on a few important things, accomplished them, and reaped the rewards.

And you can do it again.

Featured photo credit: hang_in_there via flickr.com

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Last Updated on April 22, 2021

How to Work Hard the Smart Way: 4 Daily Rituals to Follow

How to Work Hard the Smart Way: 4 Daily Rituals to Follow

Habits are what sets an average leader apart from a great leader. We can argue that talent is the biggest factor; we may debate how the amount of charisma sets the two apart. Yet, if you were to show me what you believed to be a great leader, I can show you the habits that made her/him great. Great leaders have great habits and know how to work hard the smart way.

Developing Great Habits Is Hard Work

In my early college days, I had spent a lot of time learning how to play the trumpet. Playing the trumpet took time and discipline. I had some natural talent, but not enough to hide my lack of ability. My trumpet teacher was a man of discipline, and there was no doubt he had talent. What stood to me was his work ethic. He had to be one of the hardest working mentors that I had the privilege of working with.

One afternoon, I was in his office getting ready for my weekly trumpet lesson. As I was preparing, my eyes scanned the room and saw that there were quotes all over his office. My eyes rested on one quote that forever changed my thinking about my playing. It was a quote from my high school basketball coach Tim Notke that would become popular through professional athletes Kevin Durant and Tim Tebow:

“Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.”

Hard work trumps talent. The key to success is not found in your talent or ability. Talent and ability are necessary, but they are not the primary factors. They are supporting roles in the story you are writing.

Ultimately, hard work is the key to your success. A good work ethic creates the momentum that propels you forward towards your goals.

Motivation Is Not the Answer

How many times have you seen someone go to a conference, get inspired, and then come home and do nothing?

If motivation were the answer, the world would have transformed hundreds of times over. Yet, when we look out our doors or turn on the news, we do not see a utopian society.

We have thousands of people who become inspired but lack the work ethic to apply anything they have learned. Time and time again frustration creeps in. We are so motivated and inspired by what we see but fail to put in place the things that would change our lives.

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Frustration happens when the gap between what you expect to be true and what is true gets bigger. Motivation tends to create an expectation that is not rooted in reality. We want to take on the world but cannot get off Netflix long enough to do so.

Motivation is not the answer, but working hard is. Good habits and routines that produce success are the byproducts of a strong work ethic. The habits and routines we create and follow are the foundation on which we build a winning life.

How to Work Hard by Working Smarter

Here are 4 routines that will help you learn how to work hard and achieve your short term and long term goals.

1. Define What a Win Looks Like

In football, a player that crosses into the end zone gain points. In soccer, a player kicks the ball into the net to score. Hockey, lacrosse, and basketball are all the same. The player takes the object and moves it into the designated area to gain points. The team with the most points wins the game.

Why is it that we can define what a win looks like in sports, but we fail to do so in our leadership, our businesses, or our homes?

Learning how to work hard without setting a target is futile. It is insanity to work hard without having a clear direction to place your energy. I would argue that defining a win is one of the most important routines that a leader can have. Defining a win separates superficial activity from meaningful activity.

When I define a win, I know the goal line I have to cross[1]. Knowing where the goal line is informs me of the activity I have to engage in to cross it. Without a clear direction, I am spinning my wheels hoping that I will get to a destination I haven’t defined. It is like asking a GPS for directions but failing to input the destination.

4 Steps to Define a Win
  • Know the outcome you desire.
  • Declare the outcome in specific, meaningful terms.
  • Write the outcome down.
  • Set your activity list to only do that which will complete your goals.

Let me give you an example. 15 years ago, I started speaking professionally. As a young and naïve speaker, I thought winning meant that I had to get a reaction from the audience. If they cheered, smiled, or cried, I considered myself a winner. The problem was my lack of understanding of what a win looked like. As a seasoned speaker, my wins look different.

As of today, when I speak, I am not looking for any emotional reactions from the audience. I win if, and only if, I clearly communicated my point so that anyone hearing the talk can take it and apply it to their lives that day. That is how I define a win when I speak now.

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Create a habit of declaring a win. When you do, you will see your productivity soar and your encouragement increase. Pairing a hard work ethic with wise decisions creates victory. Stop being a mouse on a wheel that goes nowhere, and start being the captain of your fleet.

2. Evaluate Your Activity

Not all activity is equal. There are things you must do, things you need to do, and things we can either give away or delete. The greatest challenge of a leader is understanding the difference. Understanding what activity is busywork and what activity is mission work is pivotal.

Not only do we need to learn how to evaluate our activity, but we must make this a core routine in our arsenal of success. Stop working so hard on everything and start learning how to work hard on the right things.

Not every activity will move the needle forward for you. In fact, you were never meant to do everything yourself! Once we stop trying to be a martyr in our leadership, we can start looking at how to take things off our plates through delegation.

Based on the Eisenhower box, there are 4 things that we look at when deciding on which activities are important:

  • Do now
  • Plan to do it later
  • Delegate to someone else
  • Delete it

Powerful questions are the way you discover if the activity is right or not:

  • Does this activity move me towards or away from my goals?
  • Do I have to do this activity or can I give this activity away to someone else?
  • Does this activity have to be now right now or can it be scheduled for later dates?
  • Does this activity have to be done at all?

Evaluating the type of activity you engage in should be a routine that you do daily. Learning how to work hard should create progress. Having a system of evaluation and a routine to do it will help.

3. Prioritize Your Calendar

If you were to show me your calendar, I could show you why you are not further along. When you lack the routine of placing things on your calendar, two things happen.

First, what does not make it on your calendar does not get done.

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It is a simple truth that is often overlooked. Your calendar contains the power to change your life. Yet, we don’t use our calendars to their fullest potential.

“You will never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” -John C. Maxwell

Also, if you don’t mark you activities on your calendar, you are leaving it open to other’s priorities.

“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” -Stephen Covey

Having a routine in your life where you place things on your calendar is pivotal to your success. This is not a routine one should overlook.

It’s time to take your leadership and business to the next level. It’s time to start putting your daily routines on your calendar, along with your priorities.

4. Reflect on Your Day and Plan the Next

We are all about the morning routine. Whatever that looks like for you, there should be a routine in the morning that sets you up for success.

Hard work starts when your feet hit the ground in the morning. Creating the habit of winning starts with the first thing you accomplish that morning. If you win your morning, you will win your day.

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Best Morning Routine to Prepare to Work Hard

    But how often have you heard people talk about an evening routine? Tomorrow is won the day before it happens. When you fail to plan your day, you may put your effort toward in the wrong things. Route replaces routine. Indecision replaces decisiveness. Losses replace wins. The discouragement will deflate your momentum and increases the chances of procrastination. That is why we set our schedule the night before.

    “Every battle is won or lost before it is ever fought.” -Sun Tzu

    Working hard doesn’t have to be hard work. It shouldn’t take much out of you learn how to work hard as long as you work smart. Having a time where you reflect on the day and set your priorities is the difference-maker.

    Use these questions to reflect on your day:

    • What went well?
    • What didn’t go well?
    • What can I change?
    • What do I need to start doing?
    • What do I need to stop doing?

    The Bottom Line

    Navigating through life is hard work. Yet, the work doesn’t have to be hard when you work smarter. When you create routines that support your mission, you create wins. Working hard, the smart way will tip the balance in our favor.

    Boxing legend Joe Frazier said:

    “Champions aren’t made in the ring; they are merely recognized there.”

    Champions put in the hard work behind the scenes. The world recognized them as a champion when they saw the results of the hard work. Right now, you are doing the work of creating a champion in yourself.

    That work is setting your routines in order because you now know that success flows from your daily routines. If you are not experiencing the success you desire, then it is time to change things up.

    More on Creating Healthy Routines

    Featured photo credit: Zan via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] The Balance Careers: Interview Question: “How Do You Define Success?”

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