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Do you have the feeling that life is getting busier by the day?
I certainly do. In the last 12 months, I started my first senior management role, became a dad again, started a blog, a business, and investing. Busy year!
But what is crystal clear is that to achieve more, you need to sharpen your focus at work.
This is especially true when your already full plate is competing against the constant distractions our “digital” generation has to deal with.
In this post, I’m sharing 10 tips for better focus I use every single day. They’re all simple to implement and will have a HUGE impact on your ability to focus at work.
One of the main reasons why we’re not doing what we set out to do is internal resistance. Or put simply, that “can’t be bothered” feeling.
It happens to me constantly.
We tend to seek immediate rewards. It’s much easier to put things off to later and do what gives us satisfaction now. Hello, procrastination!
To fight this, calendar blocking is super useful.
Calendar blocking is where motivation (or lack thereof) meets discipline.
All you need to do is block time in your calendar and plan exactly what you’re going to do. Once you get there, commit to doing whatever it is you planned – no excuses.
I usually do this daily, the night before, but you could also block entire weeks if you’re working on projects or have too much going on (and who doesn’t…).
The secret, however, is commitment.
Don’t question what you need to do when the time comes, just do it. Because the YOU who’s looking out for your long-term goals, has already made that decision.
10 Minute Rule
Picture this: you’re trying to finish writing up a report at work, but all of a sudden, you feel an urge to check your Facebook feed. You need the hit, the escape.
Instead of giving in, agree with yourself to delay by 10-minutes.
In 10 minutes, you can do what you want to do. But in the meantime, you’re going to carry-on with what you’re doing.
9 times out of 10, the urge will pass.
Nir Eyal calls it “surfing the urge” in his book Indistractable because of that feeling you get that the urge will last forever. But, in reality, it vanishes if you just wait a few minutes.
How many people tell you they’re great at multitasking? Are you one of them? I think multitasking is a myth, something we came up with because we love feeling busy.
Still, to this day, I sometimes think I can get away with it.
Last week, I was attending a presentation, and decided to very briefly check my emails. All under control… It wasn’t!
I completely lost track of the presentation and spent the rest of the session playing catch-up. Checking my emails also stressed me out and I was unable to do anything about it!
By trying to do too many things at once, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
Don’t do it. Be strict with yourself and focus on ONE thing at a time.
Get Rid of the Noise
We’ve all been working from home a lot recently. What I’ve realised, to my own surprise, is that spending the odd day back in the office was boosting my energy levels for days!
Social interactions and the general buzz of the office was actually a welcome change to days of focused remote working.
But guess what – when I’m in the office now, I achieve very little.
The constant distraction from colleagues, phone calls, chatter etc… are making me utterly inefficient and unable to finish anything I start!
When you need to focus at work, acknowledge the potential distractions around you and eliminate them.
Try putting on your headphones in the office. Even when you don’t listen to anything, it often stops people from disturbing you. Yes, a little antisocial, but needs must. I’ve even seen people putting “Do Not Interrupt” signs on their desks. Why not!
For definite focus at work and getting into that state of flow, try productivity music playlists like Focus@Will (one of my favourite productivity tool…).
Know Your Priorities
What will you commit to achieving today?
You need to be able to answer this question Every. Single. Day!
Knowing what your priorities are each day will not only help you achieve them, but also fire your willpower when faced with internal and external distraction triggers.
I recommend writing down, the night before, the 3 Most Valuable Tasks (MVTs) of the day.
Think of it as a subconscious overnight warmup.
This will create “traction” and will pull you away from the inevitable “distractions” of life.
RELATED: 9 Ways To Be Happy At Work
Break Down Your Tasks
When I started writing posts, it would take me days, sometimes weeks to come up with something ready to publish.
I was looking at the task as a whole, from nothing to a finished blog post. And it took tremendous effort for me to get into the writing mindset.
What I’m doing now is breaking down each post into separate subtasks. For example: brainstorming ideas, doing research, mapping subheadings, writing content, designing images etc…
These tasks can work independently, and taken individually are MUCH easier to complete.
Try looking at the big tasks and projects in your life that you are struggling to start. Then break them down into subtasks. Still too much? Break them down even further!
Have A System
Even with the best intentions, there’s no denying that you’ll face distractions today.
Having a system to deal with those distractions is what separates achievement from unfulfillment.
My favourite system to deal with the constant influx of information is the Getting Things Done framework from David Allen.
Put simply, GTD is about systemising how you deal with inputs like emails, requests, information, distractions etc…
Here’s a (highly) simplified version:
- Is it actionable?
- No: archive or delete
- Yes: Can it be done in less than 2 minutes?
- Yes: Do it now!
- No: Delegate or schedule time to do it
It’s an easy framework to keep in mind but very powerful to fight off the endless stream of information we all deal with nowadays…
Turn Off Your Inbox
This one is, by far, the most uncomfortable tip to implement. But simple and extremely powerful.
According to this article, we receive on average 121 emails a day at work. That’s one new email every 4 minutes! No wonder we’re unable to focus at work for long periods of time…
So, like everything else, why not simply schedule time to check emails?
It’s uncomfortable because the general expectation at work is that you read your emails as they pop up. “Have you seen the email I’ve just sent?”. Sounds familiar?
But guess what: if it’s that urgent, they’ll call you!
That’s my motto anyway, and it’s worked out well for me so far.
It also helps manage expectations: if you email me, I will 100% get back to you, but only when I’ve cleared the decks.
Oh, and obviously, apply the GTD system when you get to your scheduled email reading time…
Make A Commitment
I’ve wanted to put forward a proposal at work to change an old process for a while. I made good progress but wanted to keep it to myself until I was ready to present it. Fast-forward 2 years and this proposal was still a work in progress!
But this year, I finally completed it.
The ONE thing that made me finish this laborious and tedious process was commitment. I was getting frustrated and lacked motivation so I stepped outside my comfort zone. I approached the Board and asked them to add my proposal to their agenda the following month.
Have you ever tried telling a group of senior executives that you’re “not quite ready yet”? I suggest you don’t…
Openly committing to something has a huge benefit: it makes you accountable towards others to deliver on your commitment. And because you have no other choice, you will fight off resistance and focus on the project at hand!
In today’s world of incessant distractions, the ability to focus at work no matter the environment is a great skill to have. It will help you achieve more, faster.
And more importantly: it will make you appreciate downtime when you get to it, because you’ve deserved it!
I hope these tips are useful. I have found they made a big difference to my ability to get things done.
Tell me: what helps your focus at work? What hinders it?
Please comment below and share this post if you found it useful!