You sit down at your computer, ready to get started on your work for the day when you decide to check your Facebook, then you really want to see what’s happening on Reddit. Next thing you know, the day is half gone and you haven’t even started working yet. Admit it, this happens more than you’d like to admit. If only you could force yourself to stay focused…
But what does staying focused actually mean?
When you come around the term “Stay Focused,” it would mean to keep yourself occupied with the task you have at hand rather than getting distracted by something that would affect your productivity. Focus is considered at the heart of everything necessary, such as perception, memory, learning, reasoning, problem-solving, and decision making.
Mark Cuban had stated the importance of focus exceptionally well when he said,
“What I’ve learned in these 11 years is you just got to stay focused and believe in yourself and trust your own ability and judgment.”
Without focus, you lose your ability to think effectively, as attention to detail is necessary to get work done. Every second you spend with your mind wandering off is a second lost, which could have been productively spent on work.
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How Do You Stay Focused?
There are a few things you can do to help keep your mind from getting distracted:
1. Find Out When You Are the Most Focused
According to research, brilliantly documented by Daniel Pink in his latest book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, our brains have a limited capacity to stay focused each day.
From the moment we wake up to the time we turn in for the day, we are using up our brain’s limited energy resources and, depending on the time of day, we will be moving between strong concentration and low concentration.
This means that for most people, their optimum time for sustained concentration and focus will be soon after they wake up. For others, it could be later in the evening—a kind of second wind—but that is rare.
Once you understand this, you can take time to learn when you are at your best and to protect that time on your calendar as much as possible. If you can, block it off and use that time for the work you need to do that requires the most concentration each day.
2. Plan Your Day the Night Before
One of the inevitabilities of life is there is always a plan for the day. The choice is whether the plan you have is a plan of your own making or not. If you don’t have a plan, then the day will take control of you. Other people’s priorities, urgencies and dramas will fill your day. As the late Jim Rohn said:
“Either you run the day or the day runs you.”
If you take control and make it a habit to plan out what you want to accomplish the next day before you go to bed, you will find yourself staying more focused on your work and be less likely disturbed.
Now when I say plan your day the night before, I do not mean you need to spend an hour or so planning and mapping out every minute of the day. Planning your day should only take you around 10 to 15 minutes and you only need to decide what 10 things you want to complete — 2 “must do” objective tasks and 8 “would like to do” tasks. What I call the 2+8 Prioritisation Technique:
Do not be tempted to go beyond 10 tasks for the day. When you do that, you do not have enough flexibility in your day to handle crises and other unknown issues that will pop up throughout the day.
When you do not build in flexibility, you will soon stop planning your day. Only plan tasks that will have the biggest positive impact on your work and projects.
3. Get Comfortable Using ‘Do Not Disturb’ Mode
We have the ability to switch our electronic devices to do not disturb mode. Where all notifications are off and your phone or computer will not alert you to a new email or message.
Now after testing this function for a number of years, I can happily report that it does work.
When I sat down to write this article, I put all my electronic devices to do not disturb, closed down my email and began writing. I am safe in the knowledge that until this article is written, and I turn do not disturb off, there will be no interruptions or distractions.
Of course, it is not really about whether do not disturb works or not, it is whether you are willing to turn it on or not.
Most people believe they have to be constantly available for their boss or customers. This is not true at all. What has happened is because of your always available status, you have conditioned these people to turn to you first whenever they have a problem.
You are not actually helping them at all. You are preventing them from having to think for themselves and develop the skill of problem-solving. By not being so readily available, you help them a lot more.
What it comes down to is your boss and customers are going to be far more positive with you, if you deliver your work to the highest quality and on time than you being available 24/7. Trust me on that. I also tested that one.
4. Learn to Say “No”
I am sure you’ve been told this before. We are wired to please and this results in us wanting to say yes to every opportunity that comes our way. The problem is we cannot do everything and every time you say “yes” to one opportunity, you are saying “no” to another opportunity. You cannot be in two places at the same time.
Jay Shetty shared an inspiring video on JOMO “Joy Of Missing Out”. Here’s the video:
Rather than allowing ourselves to be succumbed by FOMO (the Fear Of Missing Out), we should replace that ‘fear’ with the “joy” of missing out. Because of our need to please, we say yes to things we really don’t want to do; yet when we do that, we miss out on doing things that bring us joy—creating something special, spending time educating ourselves and just having some quiet alone time with ourselves.
Learn to say “no” every time you get a notification to your phone. Ignore it. Learn to say “no” to your colleagues when they want to gossip. Learn to say “no” to volunteering when the thing you are being asked to volunteer for does not excite you. Just learn to say “no”.
By saying “no” to opportunities, distractions and interruptions, you are saying yes to better and more meaningful things. Things you do want to focus your attention on.
5. Be Intentional
The reality is, if you absolutely need to get something done then you need to be intentional. You have to have the intention of sitting down, focusing and doing the work.
There’s no magic tricks or apps that will miraculously do all your work for you. You need to intentionally set aside time for undisturbed focus work and do it. Without that intention, you can read as many of these articles as you like and you still will not get the work done.
It is only when you intentionally set yourself up to do the work, turn off all notifications and do whatever it takes to avoid distractions will the work get done.
How To Stay on Task?
Now that we know how to bring direction to our lives and have a little focus let’s take it a step further and ensure we stay focused at work. Let us look at ways you can guarantee that you won’t be distracted during work.
1. Dedicate a Working Space
When you pick one area as your workspace, you are training your mind to associate that place to work. As soon as you walk into that space, you’ll find it easier to get into “work mode” and stay focused on the task at hand.
While you’re at it, have fun with your workspace. Add designs that motivate you and make you feel good—perhaps pictures or motivational quotes, plants, and even natural light. However, be careful not to overdo the decorations, or you might be putting in more distractions.
Keep your workspace tidy and organized. A clean workspace helps reduce anxiety, minimize opportunities for procrastination, and boost your motivation.
2. Distribute Your Work Time
Planning your day and sticking to that schedule will help you avoid distractions.
Work in blocks. One smart way to plan your day is to work in 60 to 90-minute blocks. Give yourself a fixed amount of time to work, say, 70 minutes, and focus solely on that task until that time is over. Reward yourself with breaks in between; when you do, make sure that that time is spent solely for breaks!
Set deadlines. When talking about productivity, Parkinson’s Law is a famous concept that says, “Work expands to fill the time given to complete it.” To explain it in simpler words:
When you allow yourself four days to accomplish Task A, which could be done in one day, you tend to fill the remaining time with diversions. Instead of finishing Task A in one day, you might allow deviations in between: watching a YouTube video, mindlessly scrolling through your Facebook and Twitter feeds, or even cleaning your desk impulsively.
On the other hand, when you’re up against a tight deadline, you tend to develop a laser-like focus to finish on time. You will find yourself concentrated on the task until it is done—because you have no time to laze around!
3. Let People Know You’re Working
Don’t let people distract you from work by making it known that you’d be at work at the specified time of the day. You can do this by putting up a sign around your workplace, setting up your team apps status to busy, and wearing headphones if your workplace has a lot going on around you.
Putting on music while studying or working is another good way of providing yourself with focus. Studies suggest that listening to classical or instrumental music helps improve concentration. That said, feel free to explore other music choices and go with a genre that enables you to focus and work better.
4. Set Up 3 Main Objectives
To-do lists generally help us remember all the things we have to do and accomplish them on time. However, a long to-do list may be doing you more harm than good; it can make you feel tired and overwhelmed even before you start.
Counter this by giving yourself 3 main tasks to accomplish every day. No more than that.
When you limit the things you have to finish in a day to a realistic and feasible amount, you’ll have a clear idea of the tasks you have to do, and you will consequently feel good about it as you are able to check off more things.
Every morning, ask yourself: What are the three most important things to accomplish today?
All other tasks that didn’t make it to that list should go on a separate list; your priority for the day is to finish the top three tasks you previously identified.
Bonus: Apps & Tools to Help You Stay Focused
Our mobile devices are the biggest distractions we have taken up during this digital era. With access to so many applications and programs that can take up hours without end, it has gotten difficult to stay focused on the tasks at hand. However, with these productivity apps, you can cut back on apps that can potentially distract you from your work: 18 Best Time Management Apps and Tools
In addition, you can use this Chrome Extension StayFocused, to restrict the amount of time you can spend on time-wasting websites so you have to stay focused. The extension is totally flexible, allowing you to set the amount of time you can waste each day, determine which websites are time wasters and decide if you’d like to block certain sites altogether.
Rather than avoiding distractions, it’s a smarter practice to manage them. A little diversion now and then can help you recharge and freshen up, but you should learn how to control them and, ultimately, create work habits that work best for you.
Remember, you are in control of your time and what you do with it and where you spend it, never give that control away to anyone else.
Featured photo credit: Stefan Cosma via unsplash.com