Getting Focused is the key to getting things done
I don’t know about you, but I do struggle at times to feel in control when my “to-do-list” is over the page. Unfortunately while mindlessly reacting, I’ve developed an almost comic strip routine. A little like starting a new healthy eating regime, it only lasts a few days of getting focused and then old habits usually take over. The routine goes like this. I draw up a new to-do-list. I prioritise it and start working through it. What usually happens is an emergency occurs. Or something unexpected becomes the priority of the day, and my carefully planned focused prioritisation goes out of the window. I spend a day or two trying to get through some bulk volume work. Spend unplanned evenings catching up and then the whole cycle starts again.
My 16-year-old son has just started into 6th form, for a lad who simply hates homework, at least 16 hours of it each week is a big stretch. It’s a whole new paradigm shift for him. One which already into the 2nd week has become a source of stress. Of course, he has to build habits which are going to help him to avoid being stressed. As I was giving him some advice about how to get focused, I realised it was about time to take my own advice.
So here I am writing this blog (on time) because yesterday, I began the process of practising what I preached. I began getting focused. I have heard many times that you learn best what you teach, so I thought in that spirit, I would share my advice with you. If you are ultra organised and good at getting focused to boot and can add to the list, please do share. Any advice will help me I’m sure.
Ten ways to help to get focused
1. Turn off the technology
With an array of teenage social media such as Snap chat, Instagram, Facebook and IM. My son’s phone pretty much pings constantly. For me, my guilty time waster is to open emails when they ping into my inbox on my desk or laptop. This idea is as old as the first installed workplace computer. We all know we have to do it, but it takes some discipline and determination to ignore our ever increasing online communications.
2. Do one thing at a time
I know it’s not rocket science, but I do flit about from project to project at times. My son started some Psychology homework and got stuck. Instead of getting over the “difficult hurdle” he put it down and started something else. Doing one thing at a time means to do it from start to finish, without being distracted with something else. To do this takes determination and concentration. But it is well worth it as even difficult tasks get ticked off.
3. Diarise non-urgent tasks a month ahead
If you have a million things to do and half of them are routine. If they are definitely not going to be urgent in the next week or so, then diarise them a month in the future. I know it doesn’t get them off your list. It gets them off your list for now. It is like a breath of fresh air to know you don’t have to give those routine items a priority. If you do happen to get up to date, you can always reach forward and get those things done and feel even more virtuous!
4. Chunk down daunting tasks
My son had his first 1000 word essay to do. He was daunted, to say the least. If you are daunted by the size of the task, then chunk it down into manageable tasks. Put each smaller task into a series of priorities and complete each one in order. It is easier to concentrate on a task if you know it’s only going to take an hour or so than when you know it’s going to take a couple of days.
5. Have a purpose
When I have a mundane, but a priority task to do. I need a good purpose to help me get focused. So for example, when I got my tax return done earlier this month, I had to remind myself that if I got it done, not only would it not be hovering over me, like the ghost of Christmas Past, but I would be able to completely get focused on tasks I really love and enjoy. My son had to remind himself that he wanted to spend some of his weekend playing football and going out with friends. Not to have to do homework instead. Having big picture purposes can help too. Although these tend not to be so effective as small ones. At the moment, my son has a vision for his future. He needs to remind himself that by focusing now, it will help him achieve his goals.
6. Don’t do it
Get rid of unnecessary or habitual tasks to help you focus on the important and necessary tasks. If you can’t find a good reason to do it, then stop.
7. Be in the right environment
We are lucky because we have a spare bedroom which my son is now using as his study. It means he can shut the door and escape from the hubbub of the rest of the house. If you are in a busy office and can’t concentrate on interruptions and activity around you, go somewhere else to allow getting focused. I managed a busy office with over 80 employees on site. As my door was wide open, I had a constant queue of people coming to see me.
During one particular crisis we encountered, I was struggling to pull together an urgent report. One of my dear team members marched over, popped her head around the door and said, “excuse me, but this is for your own good”. She shut the door and taped a “Do not disturb” sign on my door. Yes, I should have done it myself of course, but being in reactive mode can sometimes be a lifelong habit.
8. Take a break
If you get to a point where you are finding it hard to get focused, take a break. Taking a break does not mean checking your phone or emails. It is going to get a coffee, getting some fresh air or even practising a five-minute meditation. It is about quieting your mind. This gives you space for getting focused, not populating it with fresh information.
9. Establish a routine
If you are a morning person then getting through your priority tasks should be done as soon as you get to your desk, or as soon as you can. You know what times of the day you are most productive, don’t waste those times on routine non-urgent tasks, reserve them for the things you really need to do to make a difference. Once you’ve established your time zone, then stick to it and make it a habit as prevalent as brushing your teeth.
10. Borrow tips
My tenth tip is borrowed from a great mentor of mine, the eminently successful Peter Thomson, who is the UK’s most prolific Information Product Creator. Hi simple method of prioritising the three most important “to do” entries on a recurring basis is inspirational.