Stay Focused

I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that I am easily distracted.  I’ll boot up the computer to do some work for my business, but open up my emails first… just to have a look.  An email comes up from Amazon saying they have a great deal on GPS running watches, and I just so happen to be training for a half marathon.  Before I know it I’m on a running forum writing to strangers about stretching techniques.  Absolutely none of that relates to my business.  This same thing happens to me at my day job.  I’ll open up a spreadsheet to work on our budgets, when the phone rings and I’m asked to do something.  I say I’ll do it, but while I’m working on that someone comes up to my desk and asks where ‘such and such’ file is.  I get up to help them find it.  This happens repeatedly to me at work, where I start 10 different tasks but finish none.  The problem is staying focused.  If you can stay focused on the single task at hand, and are comfortable telling work colleagues 'not now', then you will accomplish more tasks in half of the time.  I am not a good at multitasking and I do not intend to be.  Below are some tricks I use to keep me focused and productive. 

  • A Constant Reminder

You need to define exactly what you are trying to accomplish.  For instance, if you are running a business and launching a new product, you are going to need to inform your audience.  Now there are many ways to do this, and I’ve spent many hours thoughtlessly going from one website to another to find helpful tips/tricks.  What I didn’t do is define what I need to do specifically enough.  I just knew I wanted people to know about my product. After looking at all the tasks involved in spreading the word, I decided on one specific task: I needed to write a blurb about my product and why it is awesome.  I sat down at the computer and wrote my summary in 30 minutes without distractions.  I reassess after each step is finished.  The daunting task of creating a buzz about my product seemed much more manageable when broken down.  When you focus purely on your current task, it is far easier to see what steps you need to take to reach your goal.  To this day I still find myself surfing the internet, largely wasting time, so I gave myself a constant reminder.  I taped a strip of paper to the base of my computer screen that says:

“What are you trying to do right now?” 

Every time I read that it reminds me to be specific in what I'm doing.  If I cannot answer it clearly, then I need to go back to define my goal.  

  • Do Things in Bulk

This is the idea of the production line at work in your everyday life.  If you have to do something that has 10 steps, 20 different times, you are better off doing each step in bulk (do step 1, 20 times; then do step 2, 20 times etc…).  You will gradually become faster at that step as you work through it and your brain does not have to switch topics regularly.  This also applies to checking email.  If you check your email throughout the day, but are not in a place to respond at that time, then do not check your emails.  You will only be distracted from what you are working on.  I answer my emails in bulk at two specific times of the day.  I find that fewer emails go unanswered and I am able to reply to emails better and more efficiently.  This applies to checking your personal email as well.  Just for fun, take a day and count how many times you check your email.  If you have a smart phone I expect your number will be fairly high. 

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  • Be Organized

Sticky NotesCredit:,_2010-10-26.jpgThis is obvious, but harder to execute than one might think.  I had to experiment with different organizational systems before I settled on one that worked for me.  For me, before I start any tasks or check any emails I make a list of things I want to accomplish that day.  This can relate to work or home.  Next, I set time frames for each activity.  It is having this deadline that really motivates me and ensures that I work quickly.  I check back on my list throughout the day to make sure I’m on schedule.  I am a nerd who genuinely enjoys striking things off of my 'To-do List'.  Now I know plenty of people who do not like this system.  They like to call themselves ‘spontaneous’.  I do not care what method you use, but figure out what works for you best and stick to it.  It might be automatic reminders on your smart phone or you could be that person who is single-handedly keeping Sticky Notes in business.    

  • Set Deadlines

Clock(133888)Credit: mentioned above, I set time frames, or deadlines, for all of my tasks.  People will typically use up all their allocated time to finish a task.  Just watch Masterchef to see what I mean.  They are given two hours to put up a dish, and, without a doubt, everyone will be scrambling in the final seconds to plate up.  If they instead gave them an hour, they would have still accomplished their goal.  Challenge yourself: if you think it will take an hour to do something, try to do it in half that time.  Creating urgency makes you focus on only what is necessary to get the job done and eliminates the distracting and unnecessary features.  You will find yourself accomplishing more work in less time.  Your co-workers will be wondering how you are so far ahead and in such a good mood.  

  • What Will You Do?

Whatever it is you are trying to carry out, these steps will help you get there faster.  How are you going to use your new-found free time?  If you are looking for ideas, I’m learning piano, starting a business, running a blog, playing golf and traveling!  This is all outside of my day job as well.  These steps may not all work for you, but take the time to find ones that do.  If you found this helpful, let me know by writing in the comments below.