How often do you hit the pillow wondering what you’ve got to show for the day? It’s a widespread problem. Busy does not always equal productivity, which explains why we can end the day with a to-do list barely touched.
So what’s the alternative? How can you set yourself up to Win The Day so that you can feel accomplished?
The answer is to sharpen your focus - something these seven tips will help you do.
“I don’t care how much power, brilliance or energy you have, if you don’t harness it and focus it on a specific target, and hold it there you’re never going to accomplish as much as your ability warrants.”
1. Set the right goals
Focus is all about directing your thinking, your attention, and your energy in one place - instead of taking a scattergun approach.
The benefit of focus is that it allows your brain [and your being] to concentrate on one thing at a time. In turn, your thinking isn’t fragmented. Your mind isn’t spread out over a million different things, which allows you to be more creative, think deeper, and solve bigger problems.
One of the most powerful ways to direct your focus is to set your goals.
When you know the direction you want to go, it’s a lot easier to push off the opportunities and asks that risk stealing your attention and pushing you off course.
When you have a clear goal, you have a barometer that allows you to check if your decisions are in alignment with where you say you want to go.
2. Focus on what you CAN do, not what you can’t
When a task feels difficult, or something goes wrong, it’s easy to get stuck in a ‘poor me’ mindset. But focusing on the problem can keep you stuck and cause you to go around in circles.
There’s a better way to invest your focus...
Instead of focusing on what’s wrong, concentrate on what you want to create:
- What CAN you do now?
- What do you want to experience?
- What are the possibilities open to you right now?
This solution-based focus will empower you to come up with new answers and ideas. When you can see a new direction, you’ll also feel energized to get going.
In the words of Anthony J. D’Angelo, “Focus 90% of your time on solutions and only 10% of your time on problems.”
In turn, you’ll inspire yourself to get more done.
3. Eliminate distractions
Be honest; you knew this tip would be on the list, right?! We all know that distractions divert our attention down threads of thinking that keep us from the task at hand. Unfortunately, the odds are stacked against us. Social media and entertainment options are all designed to keep us tapped in.
When it comes to your focus, distractions are deadly.
Not only does a quick look at social steal your time, but it disrupts your thinking too. Plus, when you turn back to the task at hand, it will take you a while to get back into your flow.
If you want to get more done, switch off your notifications, turn off your phone, and put a ‘do not disturb’ sign on your door. Do what you need to do to protect your focus so you can finish your tasks and create the possibility of deeper work.
“One look at an email can rob you of 15 minutes of focus. One call on your cell phone, one tweet, one instant message can destroy your schedule, forcing you to move meetings, or blow off really important things, like love, and friendship.”- Jacqueline Leo
4. Put constraints on your time
Deadlines can be potent motivators. When the pressure is on, it can be easier to get stuff done - because you have zero choices but to make it happen!
You can leverage the power of deadlines through zero-hours scheduling.
Instead of giving tasks an open window for completion, allocate a specific timescale for completion. Commit to this timeslot by scheduling tasks into your planner [in the same way you do with your meetings and appointments]. Make yourself accountable to timeslots and allow that deadline to sharpen your focus.
When you have more tasks than time, it’s easy to feel stressed and anxious. You worry about who you’re going to let down, what others might think about you, and what ‘sacrifices’ you’ll have to make to feel back in control.
Here’s the thing…
Worrying doesn’t help you check through your to-do list. In fact, worrying steals your creative energy and your bandwidth, making it even harder to accomplish what you want to do.
It’s as the author Jodi Picoult says, “anxiety is like a rocking chair, It gives you something to do but it doesn’t get you very far.”
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, the best thing you can do is just get started.
And to minimize the fallout that you find yourself worrying over, prioritize your tasks.
- Which task is the frog?
- Which tasks are dependent on you completing something else first?
- Which tasks can you delegate?
- Which tasks can you streamline?
Direct your focus towards the tasks that will make the biggest dent and start there.
With those tasks out of the way, not only will you feel a million times better, but you’ll re-energize yourself for tackling everything that’s left.
6. Give yourself breaks
Deep focus can get tiring! It takes a lot of mental energy to solve problems, imagine new ideas, and check through tasks and projects.
Keep yourself fresh by taking breaks.
Work in 30-minute Pomodoros, take a walk in nature or stretch your body with some yoga.
Give yourself space away from your work station so your brain can relax and recharge.
What’s more, when the pressure is off, you may find that some of your best ideas bubble up.
7. Use external brains
Your brain is an incredibly creative tool and problem solver.
Your brain can conjure up the most imaginative ideas - and one of those ideas could change your world.
What your brain isn’t quite so good at is remembering stuff. It takes a lot of mental energy to remember things; valuable energy you could use more productively and effectively.
While working hard on an essay, you're also conscious about remembering your 2 pm coffee date. Imagine how much of a distraction that date creates.
External brains allow you to extract the details and information that you want to remember and store them elsewhere.
In turn, nothing is stealing your focus - helping you to get more done.
Here are some examples of external brains that help to sharpen your focus by freeing up bandwidth:
- Your daily planner - for managing and scheduling your workload
- Your calendar - your keeping tabs of your appointments, meetings, and dates
- Your notebook - for capturing thoughts and ideas that you don’t want to lose
- Your to-do list [or Weekly Action Pad] - for keeping track of your weekly tasks
- Your Project Action Plan - for project management
Focus is one of your most powerful assets - because where your place your energy is where momentum grows.
If you can sharpen your focus in an increasingly fragmented world, you’ll give yourself a substantial competitive edge.