Often I hear my clients say things like
“I just can’t seem to be productive”,
“I am so busy but don’t really seem to be moving forward”, “
I don’t seem to be able to get the things done that I want to”,
“I seem to run out of time”.
If this sounds like you, then read on as you may need help with focusing.
The good news is that being focused is a skill, and as such can be learnt. I believe that there are 4 main steps to being able to focus.
1. Define a vision
In order to work with focus, we first need to know what we want to focus on. We need to know our priorities and what is important to us. To do this we have to have a clear vision of how we want things to be, what we want to do, what our short and long-term goals are and how we are going to achieve them. When we have this vision in our mind, it is much easier to see which tasks align with that vision and can be actioned, versus those that don’t and should be dropped/delegate/out-sourced.
2. Define Boundaries
Next we need to define our boundaries. As we have seen above, having clear boundaries helps us to avoid contaminated time i.e. times when our tasks/priorities merge together. For example, when you are desperately trying to write that work email on your mobile while your toddler is tugging at your leg wanting to play football. It is a lose-lose situation. There is guilt for having to work when you “should” be playing with your toddler and guilt for playing with your toddler because you “need” to work.
If our boundaries are clear, we know that we work purposefully during certain times and we play wholeheartedly during others. We find a work/life mix that works for us and our families. We need to, as Brigid Schulte suggests in her book (Overwhelmed: work, love and play when no-one has the time), look at what we have been asked to do and ask ourselves how does this tie in with our goals, values, beliefs, so that my obligations can be reduced and my tasks align with my goals. And most importantly of all, we need to learn to say no to the rest of what is asked of us. This is true of both our personal and professional goals and aspirations.
3. Plan and Organise
The third stage, links back to stage 1 and is planning and organisation. Cari Williams Yost, CEO and founder of the Flex+Strategy Group and Work+Life Fit inc has stated “Careful planning and better organisation can go a long way toward improving parents’ stressful lives”. It is not just about simple prioritisation of the tasks in front of you. It is important that the items in our to-do list and schedule really do reflect our vision. As Stephen Covey stated the key is not to prioritise what is in the schedule but to schedule our priorities.
4. Be fully present
Don’t prioritise your to-do list, rather schedule your priorities
(adapted from Stephen Covey’s book ‘7 Habits of Highly Successful People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change’)
One of the key aspects of being focused is being present in the here and now – fully engaged with the task at hand. We need to minimise distractions.
To aid us here we can make use of mindfulness strategies, which have been shown to lower stress hormones, increasing the body’s immune response, enabling us to have better memories and focus, which in turn frees up space for creativity and increase productivity. Mindfulness is a skill in and of itself and can be readily combined with some simple strategies including:
- Minimising distractions and give yourself no excuses
- turn off the email and check only 3 times per day
- use app extensions to block notifications from Facebook or LinkedIn
- find a quiet place to work
- put your mobile or other devices not relevant to your task out of arm’s reach
- make sure you have everything you need to hand e.g. coffee, biscuits, pens, paper etc
- work in a tidy environment
- Dedicate specific time slots to specific tasks
- Make use of timers to set yourself time limits
- Inform your colleagues that you are uncontactable for a period of time
- Force yourself to focus by taking your laptop to a coffee shop to work without the battery pack
- Use mindfulness apps like “focus@will” or “HeadSpace” to help calm you during or before working
- Use affirmations such as “I am not busy – I am focused on achieving my goal”
- Allow yourself time to rest and take regular breaks – get up and stretch your legs
- Do one task at a time – achieve it and then move onto the next one.