Updated: Jun 27, 2020
If and when we want to get things done, our attention and ability to focus are the most precious resources we can leverage. No matter what your job is, in what discipline you are or what you are trying to get done, a disciplined and focused mind is key for success.
Today I want to share with you the 12 strategies that I follow to help me stay focused and get things done.
1. I'm going to start with a practice I have shared before in a different context, that certainly has made a big difference in helping me stay focused and get things done. That is, visualize your day. How do I do this? This is actually the first things I do in the morning when I get to the office. I write down on a post-it note the 3 things I want to accomplish that day. I call these my non-negotiables. That post-it note remains in-front of me all day as a reminder. I reconnect with it several times through the day and definitely before I take off to go pick up my kids from school.
2. Set appointments with yourself. The things you want to get done are not getting done by themselves, and most likely are going to take some time to get them done. So, if you want to get them done, you need to make the time to get them done. If your calendar looks anything like me, that can be mission impossible. That is why I make appointments with myself. I block time to get things done. Not only I block the time, but I plan ahead how I am going to use the time, and what is that I want to accomplish in that block of time. Listen to episode 16 of the Leading Yourself Podcast for some concrete examples on how this works.
3. Find your peak hours. Some of us are more productive in early in the morning, others are more productive later in the day. Is during our peak hours that our minds have the ability to focus best and when we reach our maximum productivity. The secret is to schedule time to work on our most important priorities and the things that require more focus during those peak hours. You might be asking yourself, how can I find out when are my peak hours. Listen to episode 16 of the Leading Yourself Podcast to learn how, and access the assessment tool that comes with the episode here.
4. Every day, as you start your day, ask yourself what is something you can do today that will make you feel proud of yourself at the end of the day. This simple questions and self-reflection will help you be more intentional, mindful and focused throughout your day.
5. Schedule and take breaks throughout the day. I've found out I can stay focused on a task for a certain period of time, but after that my productivity starts to decline. At that point I start to give into distractions, or even actively and intentionally look for them. For me that happens after 50 minutes in average. Depending on the nature of the task can happen before or after that time, but in average I am able to stay focused on one task for 50 min straight. I call this time my focus time. If you want to find our how to determine what is your focus time Listen to episode 16 of the Leading Yourself Podcast to learn how, and access the assessment tool that comes with the episode here. Why it's important and helpful to know this? Well, just imagine if you could reset that time over and over again. You would be able to maximize your focus and productivity and get more things done. How? For me that looks like scheduling breaks every 50-60 minutes. I know you might be thinking that does not sound very productive. My breaks are 2-3 minutes long. In the eyes of others that might seem imperceptible, but for me, those 2-3-minute breaks make a world of the difference. Once again, learn more about how I manage these breaks to boost my focus and productive in episode 16 of the Leading Yourself Podcast .
6. Set intentions for the next block of time. This is one of the things I do during my 2-3-minute breaks. I look at my calendar to see what is happening next, maybe I am attending a meeting, or maybe I have more time block to work on a different topic, or maybe I need to leave to pick up my kids from school. During my breaks I try to visualize my next block and time and answer the following questions; what do I want to accomplish? What impact do I want to make? How do I want to present myself? What do I need to be mindful of?
7. Eliminate or at least minimize your distractions. Not much to be added here. We live in a world and a time where our attention and focus are constantly under attack. Technology and especially smart phones are imposing a new lifestyle in which distractions are a constant. Emails, text, notifications, social media, they all are constantly competing for our attention, this is making it harder and harder to stay focused. We are more and more used to jump from one task to the next, and it creates a negative impact to our productivity, our creativity and even our relationships.
8. Treat your focus as a muscle. What do you do when you are trying to build muscles? you exercise! and not just once or occasionally but regularly and consistently. The same way you can train your muscles, you can also train your attention and focus. How? very easy. Every time you seat down to work and you are tempted to respond to a distraction, push yourself to continue to work for another 5 minutes. Then stop and take care of that distraction. Another way is to slowly build your attention. Try seating down for 10 minutes to focus on something follow by a 5-minute break. Slowly build 5 more minutes to your focused time, keeping 5-minute breaks in between focused time slots.
9. Avoid multitasking. There are multiple stories that support that multitasking has a negative impact to our ability to stay focused. I do believe there are instances where multitasking can be good and helpful but when we are trying to work on things that require focus, studies have shown that multitasking can reduce our productivity for up to 40%. When we are "multitasking" we are actually just quickly shifting form one task to another. As a result, our productivity dips. Listen to a few of my tips to reduce and avoid multitasking in episode 16 of the Leading Yourself Podcast.
10. Leverage your habits. If you have listened to my podcast or read my blog post you know I am all about habits, so I couldn't left them out. As we know, when certain practices become habits, they require less of our attention and focus to get them done. It's like we are automating certain activities or actions. If you build empowering habits, you will no longer need to use your motivation and will power to become focused. To learn more about building empowering habits, don't miss episode 6 and episode 13 of the Leading Yourself Podcast.
11. Practice Mindfulness. Mindfulness is a concept that has gained popularity lately. Some people might thing mindfulness is cheesy. Mindfulness basically implies self-awareness. It's nothing more than focusing your full attention in the present moment; your thoughts, your feelings, and your surroundings. Mindfulness is not something we can develop overnight, it might take some exercising you build that muscle. Those who practice mindfulness are able to stay focused for longer periods of time.
12. Take care of yourself. I have talked about this many time before, but once again it comes up. That is because taking care of ourselves is one of those foundation practices. Eat healthy, move your body every day, drink plenty of water and get a good night sleep. Focusing on these things will help you with your focus and attention. You will find yourself having higher levels of energy throughout the day and feeling you are more productive.
As always, if you want to learn more about this topic, make sure you listen to Episode 16 of the Leading Yourself Podcast.
Don't forget to visit the Leading Yourself web page for more blog post, tools are resources.