As my to-do list grows, I notice that I tend to jump from project to project. Instead of focusing on finishing one task at a time, I switch tasks thinking I’m getting more done. When in fact, I’m giving less effort to each task I switch to. Can anyone else relate? There are certain things you can do to channel your focus more effectively. This will allow you to get more done, be more productive, and feel more accomplished.
Who doesn’t want to be more productive? Procrastination is another negative side effect of an overloaded to-do list. Let’s get back on track! I’m going to walk you through a few ways to channel your focus more effectively. These are habits that I am implementing as well, so you are not alone in your efforts of becoming more efficient.
#1 Understand Where Your Focus Should Be
One of the biggest reasons we can’t focus the way we’d like is because we don’t really understand what should be focused on. If you read Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, one of the habits is “Begin with the end in mind.” It basically means to visualize your desired result first. Once you know what you want to achieve, you can start doing things that help you get there, and ultimately say no to the things that won’t help you get there.
When you understand where your focus should be, you should break it down into timeframes. What do you need to accomplish in the next year, month, week, or day? Things that will take longer to achieve shouldn’t be the center of your daily focus, but everything you do each day should help you reach that long-term goal. You must be able to identify things that are taking away from where your focus should be, even if you think those things may be important.
#2 Prioritize Tasks
Once you understand where your focus should be, you can start prioritizing your tasks. Some people prefer writing out their to-do lists. I’ve done this in the past, but I’ve recently come to love Asana for helping me stay organized with my tasks. Asana has a functionality to assign due dates to tasks. All of my tasks for the year are laid out and given due dates. I can filter by tasks coming soon and put my focus on those things. This still keeps my other priorities front and center, just helps give me a direction for the day.
It’s great to “begin with the end in mind”, but the results to get where you want to go come from your daily activities. Get rid of any daily activity that isn’t getting you closer to the results you want. Focusing on the things that are going to yield the results you want should be top of the list.
#3 Get Rid of the Distractions
Now it’s time to get to work. Just like any other muscle in your body, your brain can be trained. If you are used to perusing social media every 15 minutes, you will have to train your mind and body out of that habit. The same applies to responding to distractions. If you are focused on a task, but an email notification pops up, are you going to read it? The second your eyes see a snippet of the email, your mind wanders away from what you’re working on.
Don’t give your mind a reason to be distracted. When you are ready to get to work and focus on the results-driven priorities, get rid of distractions. Turn off any email or social notifications. Put your phone on silent. Grab your water or cup of coffee before you get started. Put yourself in a position to succeed by getting rid of things that can take your focus away.
#4 Take Breaks
According to a study from the University of Illinois, Psychologist Alejandro Lleras found that participants who were given short breaks during a 50-minute task performed better than those who worked straight through. The study basically showed that taken short breaks in between long tasks allowed the brain to reenergize itself.
This makes sense. If we are so focused on an important task for hours and hours, it could get to the point where small mistakes start popping up. Because we haven’t given our brain the opportunity to take a break and recharge, we could miss things we normally wouldn’t. The next time your focus is required for a long task, find a stopping point in between to take a quick break. Grab a sip of water, run to the bathroom or go outside and breathe in some fresh air. Come back and be ready to focus again!
#5 Batch Emailing
I read this tidbit on Live Your Legend, and it hit home: “Batch your emailing to two times a day MAX. Maybe 30 min before lunch and 30 min late afternoon. If you need an email for your core task, do not go to your inbox. Go straight to the search feature and find it. If you need to write an email as a core task (which should very rarely be the case), write it offline in a simple program like notepad. Save reactionary items for after you get the important done.”
Like most people, I can be very reactionary to emails. I’m always checking my inbox throughout the day. This alone takes my focus away from the things I really should be working on. This is something that will take a lot of conscious effort on my part to follow, but I will be better off for it once I’ve mastered it!
#6 Become Mindful
The past few years, I’ve really focused on becoming mindful, aware and present. Mindful about what I’m feeling, aware of where I am and what I’m doing, and present in whatever activity I am participating in. Since I’ve become more mindful, I’ve been able to pinpoint that I don’t focus as effectively as I should. I am very aware when I lose focus. I think this is a huge step to fixing any problem one may have – being able to actually recognize that a problem exists.
Being mindful of your feelings, your actions, and your presence will allow you pick up on areas that need improvement. Start incorporating short sessions of mindfulness throughout your day. Over time, it will strengthen and expand your attention span, which will come in handy down the line. Eventually, you will be able to bring yourself back to whatever you are doing, through the act of being mindful.
#7 Read More Books
Nowadays, most reading is done on the computer, tablet, or smart phone. There has been a gradual decline in the number of actual books people have read over the years. In fact, in 2006, 25% of Americans didn’t read a single book. Reading physical books can help you practice focusing on one thing at a time. Not too mention, reading books is great for checking out after a long work day.
The ability to channel your focus more effectively is a skill that can and should be mastered. It’s been said that 20% of your efforts yield 80% of your results, so let’s test this theory! Do you have any tips for staying focused on important tasks? How do you prioritize your day? Share what works for you by posting a comment below!