How to Keep Focused and Productive
Definition of FOCUS – the centre of interest or activity (noun)
Keeping focused is the most critical ingredient for achieving goals, especially today when there is a myriad of distractions. The energy of the mind is attention, so where you place your focus determines where you expend your energy. Are you a master of avoiding distraction or do you succumb to the interesting yet non-urgent tasks that pull you further away from accomplishing your goals? Discovering the importance of and exactly how to keep focused is critical to our future success and achievement.
We live in a digitally driven world where notifications come swooshing across our screens; pings interrupt our train of thought as they signal a message, another email, tweet or an ‘irresistible’, limited time offer. Then there are exciting apps on our mobile gadgets, sometimes intended to help us get more done. Yet, in reality often setting ourselves for more distractions.
You can even wear a watch which functions like a phone and mini-computer. This further ensures you become a willing hostage to checking your latest updates, interrupting your focus and getting distracted.
We have an attention span of around eight seconds
While mobile phones and devices have significant benefits, especially helpful when running a business or needing to contact someone, it is all too easy to use phones as an excuse or diversion from those seemingly hard tasks. Soon, checking phones and spending time on non-essential past-times becomes a poor habit. The problem here is that habits can be hard to break.
Furthermore recent and ongoing research has highlighted the dangers of being too plugged into gadgets. Many people are becoming addicted to their phones, and there is even a name for this phone addiction – Nomophobia. Your brain is motivated towards pleasure and away from pain. What this means is the perceived anticipation of what a ping or notification might mean for you, pulls you towards checking. Then your brain starts craving more. In anticipation, it released a shot of dopamine which creates an urge to recheck your phone or mobile device. Again, and again until a hard to break habit is formed.
How to keep focused is a crucial question we need to keep at the forefront of our minds on a daily basis.
Apart from the obvious – removing your phone from your workplace, leaving them at home when you go out with friends or have dinner with your families, here are four quick tips. When you follow them and use them consistently you will create new habits. Habits that will help you keep on task and get stuff done.
How to Keep Focused
- Take five minutes to plan your day. Yes, you say, that is obvious. While it is obvious, most people don’t do this first. Write down 1 – 3 tasks that are important to do today. You can even make one or two non-negotiable items. Put this piece of paper where you can see it, remove all distractions (yes, turn your phone off or put it out of sight and sound) and commit to getting going. Write down this question. ‘Am I focusing on what is important right now – or what is interesting?’ Place it where you can see it and read it frequently. By sighting it often will help you keep your mind and your attention on what matters most.
- Set a clear intention before you start work on that critical project. The energy of the mind is attention and where you focus is where you are placing your attention, your energy. And what you focus on grows. When you steer your mind toward what you want, you are in charge. Take a moment to imagine yourself having completed this task and feel how great you will feel. Tapping into how you feel helps your brain create chemicals that match a positive and momentum fuelling feeling. Do this often, and you create a positive internal state that acts as insulation to today’s distraction and stressful world. You also have learned one step on how to keep focused.
- Chunk your time and manage your time around the task you are doing. I create thirty-minute blocks and like an athlete, have a warm-up, race and cool down. I spend two minutes getting preparing what I need, ensuring I remove distractions; twenty-five minutes entirely focused on doing the task – like race mode and lastly, a couple of minutes to cool down. I stop and breathe, drink water and re-focus. I use the Pomodoro technique. (Hint. You can download a chrome extension rather than using your phone as a timer!) Brilliant.
- Lastly, at the end of the day ask yourself ‘Did I do my best to keep focused on what was important today?‘ Give yourself a score out of ten and keep a tally every day. If you didn’t get a high score, review and reflect what happened. Ask yourself what you can do differently tomorrow to ensure you do keep on track, make a plan and act on it. Oh, and now you can reward yourself with a few minutes connecting with your mobile device. Using it as a reward is a great way to keep your usage in check and preventing wasting time and focus on non-essential things!