How do you stay focused? When I did some research for this post, I found a great deal of articles and products to help you. I’m sure some of them work really well for some of the people out there but before you go investing in this or that shiny new app, let’s take a minute or two just to look at where you might be coming from.
Focus On Work
One of my biggest challenges to focus at work is email. I do know many people struggle with this as well as with social media. By default many of our social media apps turn on notifications by default, and thanks to some of the new features of web browsers, you can even get notifications from a website you aren’t even on. These can be VERY distracting of course.
For email, I turn off alerts and set a reminder to check my email twice a day. The way I handle this is to check email first thing in the morning and adjust my daily task list, taking into account any emergencies I need to handle. The two reminders happen at 11 AM and 4 PM. Right before lunch, and right before the end of the day. If something can’t wait that long, then I’m sure they’ll call.
I’ve seen others handle this by setting up an auto-reply to senders that says you only answer messages twice a day and something more urgent will need a phone call. The way you handle it is really going to depend on the folks who are contacting you.
For social media notifications, my advice is to turn them off. Set aside a time on your schedule to check social media on your own time. At the scheduled time, check the notifications first then browse your feed, check up on loved ones, or see what your crush is up to.
Don’t become a slave to these notifications. You can better stay focused when you are in control of that focus. Deny those notifications and assert your control.
Focus On Health
I found this one particularly difficult for a long time. Tell me if this sounds familiar (I like to know I’m not alone); you’re on your diet, and you’ve been good all week. It’s Thursday and a sudden, stressful event had you on the road over lunch. Now you’re on your way back. It’s 2 PM and you realize you have plenty of work waiting for you. Taking that lunch you brought to the office and fixing your salad or whatnot has become very unappealing.
As you pull up to the light, you see a burger joint or other fast food on the corner. You’re so hungry and you could just drive up and get a big old burger and fries (or your particular form of bad eating), but you remind yourself of that commitment. The commitment that denies you this quick, simple respite. I’ll tell you that would actually make me mad. I’d angry-drive all the way back to the office (unless I succumbed of course).
This can happen with going to the gym on a rainy day, struggling to pick a salad over a steak at an obligatory restaurant visit, or getting home late and choosing between a Hamburger Helper and homemade fajitas.
It took me a long time to get over this and a lot of trial and error. The trials were trying what others suggest and the errors were realizing they didn’t work for me. What did work for me? Measuring my success in my health program. That means checking my weight, measuring my food and noticing when I met my nutrition goals, and activity targets. Recognizing and journaling about how I felt, how much easier it was to be alive, and getting kudos from the doctor of course.
After doing all that, I do not get mad when I’m faced with having to choose from the “right” path or the “wrong” path. I love my path and I know that it works for me. That’s what I needed to be staying focused.
Just Plain Focus
Do you get distracted easily? I’m not talking about work or health necessarily but just like when you’re thinking and thoughts come up that take you off course. Maybe when you are telling someone a story and you keep going off on tangents, and it’s clear you aren’t staying focused?
These might take a bit of introspection to find, and really, what’s wrong with it? Flitting around from thought to thought might actually be kind of fun! Well it is until you really need to work through a challenge and you have a limited amount of time. Those random thoughts and stories might mean lost opportunities.
The fact is, the mind is kind of it’s own animal sometimes. It is the intuition that brings you great ideas out of nowhere, and spurs you to action with imagination. Seeing yourself in some exciting new place which motivates you to work harder or eagerly take on more challenges. It is this same mind that presents some of these things when you least need to think about them.
In the Personal Retreat, focus is incredibly important and one of the things I describe, and teach in some small degree is a habit of meditation. This is a way of training the mind to be quiet. It’s not mastery, in fact it’s really nothing more than a practice, but this practice can yield results. You can find some peace in that mind when you have trained it to be your idea machine when you need it and to sit idly by when you have to stay focused.
Need More Help?
Focus mastery doesn’t come easy. It takes a lot of work, time, and measurement of success. I don’t have any shortcuts to this but I can tell you a few more things that might ease the burdens of saying focused.
Accountability Partner: When you have to check in with someone on your tasks and goals, you start to cultivate some extra motivation to stay focused. I should say this isn’t going to be someone who beats you up for going off the rails. In fact it’s purely a supportive role, and more so, it’s a trade since you are accountable for yourself WITH your partner. Not TO. You can only be accountable to yourself, so you have a partner who supports you and when you fall short of your goals, they can help you come up with new ideas to reach them.
Accountability Group: Now we take the above example and amplify it. You can have a group of people who are your support network. Cheerlead each other together and when you do need to brainstorm new solutions to stay focused – many heads are better than two. Obviously these are more difficult to share more private goals so it might not be the right group for everyone.
Goal Check in & Scheduling: This is something you can do on your own. It’s a process I use to be more accountable to myself and this plan is self-encouraging since I can easily measure where I’m at and where I’m going.
Step 1: Write down a few goals you want to accomplish in the next few weeks. 3 months or less.
Step 2: For each, write down the individual tasks you need to do which SIGNIFICANTLY move you toward that goal. The key is significant tasks. We don’t want to get into the little steps, because then the later steps become harder.
Step 3: Get out your calendar and place these task due dates in there. The day you start the task with adequate time to complete it. Fill in for each goal and over the course of the duration you set aside. So to plant a garden in 3 months, you might dig it out, buy mulch, spread mulch, set up water, buy starts, plant starts, and check watering. Then the goal is complete. So week 1 is digging the garden out. You order the mulch after that, and spread it the next weekend. Add all those tasks to the calendar.
Step 4: Each week do the tasks you set for yourself. Mark them off your list for the goal.
Step 5: At the end of each week, look at your Goal and see how many tasks you’ve marked off. If you missed any tasks, figure out how best to overcome the challenge of getting them done, and reschedule.
Step 6: Return to Step 4 until your goal is complete.
Sometimes it might take longer to get a goal done than the time allotted. Especially the first few times you try this method, but in time you’ll understand yourself a lot better in how you accomplish goals and of course, how to stay focused.