Most people at some point, if not semi-regularly, struggle to stay focused and on task with their work. Not just work directly associated with their paid, day-to-day profession, but also tasks, pursuits and personal work outside of the nine-to-five. There’s no magic bullet to staying focused and productive, but there certainly are some basic techniques, truths of sorts, that can help everyone, from CEOs to students. Most have been regaled in countless business books, and none that I’ll share here are particularly original, but all have had a powerful impact on how I work.
At the end of the day the most important factor to getting things done and being productive is your personal mindset and forcing yourself to put in the hard time. A great quote from American comedian and director Woody Allen sums it up pretty well, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” For the most part it really is that simple. Steven Pressfield’s wonderful book, The War of Art, does a pretty good job of walking through the constant battle we all have finding our muse and being productive. Again, no magic bullets within its pages, but the messages are powerful, and the journey of reading it is fun, relaxed and easy.
An article on Thought Catalog got me thinking and prompted this blog. It looks at how successful people overcome boredom and remain highly focused, ultimately being the optimum performers in their respective arenas. Being passionate and finding a way to make the day-to-day commitment of attaining big goals fun is the trick. It’s well worth a read.
Here are a few techniques I’ve discovered, employed over the years and continue to motivate and keep me on track:
- Check emails at set times: perhaps first thing in the morning, after lunch and at the end of the day. Hitting emails as they come in continually distracts, inhibiting your ability to stay focused and completing good chunks of work in a single session
- Make Facebook and visiting other social sites a scheduled reward. In today’s connected world there’s no shortage of fun distractions, where there’s always an update or new piece of news to catch up on. Pick a time of day when you spend a few minutes on such things, ideally in between knocking-off big chunks of work.
- If there are things you enjoy doing online, such as reading news or catching-up on gossip, establish a time, and time limit for it, and stick to it. For example, read the news over your first coffee of the morning, or catch-up on technology trends midway through the afternoon for five minutes, or between big chunks of work (2-3 hours). It’s all about establishing and managing small rewards.
- Don’t be signed in to chat rooms while working. It takes 15 minutes to get focused and into the groove of doing what you’re trying to do. Each time you’re distracted by a ‘quick message’, you’re back to step one, resetting your productivity clock back 15 minutes.
- Before starting work on a big task, think about it: what needs to be done in total, what can you complete today and what are you hoping to complete right now? Then quickly map out how long will it take to do what you want to achieve right now and think about what you’ll need to do to get there. Then do it. At least you’ve thought through the route and made a mental commitment to the process and yourself.
- When you’re stuck, keep doing something. Write some free verse, list crazy out-of-the-box ideas that likely won’t work, write on paper, walk around the room and talk out loud about your impasse. Most importantly, keep thinking and moving forward, not giving in to the devil on your shoulder that’s telling you to stop working and check your Facebook account for a few minutes.
- Vary your routine. Go somewhere different for lunch, work for a few hours at another spot in the office or enjoy a coffee break with a new person. This helps keep things fresh and your brain from falling in to a predictable, repetitive rut.