Staying focused is one of the most valuable skills that we can have. Problem is the fact that we can be so easily distracted or have other mental barriers prohibiting us from becoming focused and staying focused.
I can definitely speak from experience on that front as I’ve had times where I procrastinate. Not to mention feel lazy and don’t want to do much work.
But because of those kinds of events, I believe that developing focus is a balance between motivation and having a strategy.
Motivation is a rather simple aspect on paper. It’s a matter of finding something that can get you motivated and to stay motivated. Some examples of sources of motivation can be:
- Environmental – Being in a new spot, or a spot where you know you get a lot of work done. Could also entail certain actions taken like turning off your phone while you’re in your office.
- External – Good example of this is listening to music while you work. Studies show listening to instrumental music help you stay focused but it can be inspiring as well.
- Internal – The first thing that comes to mind for me is entering a flow state. A state of mind where you let your body run on auto pilot. To get to this state, I feel you need to grow internally and may need a combination of external or environmental motivators.
The tougher part of this is having a solid strategy. Fortunately for you, I’ve got some tools and strategies that I’d like to cover. While I haven’t tried them all, I do know they are effective. Of course, this is based on my understanding of productivity and trying all kinds of methods in the past to stay productive and boost my focus.
Have A Good Chair Plus Table
I recall my time working in an office space at the Canada Revenue Agency for this one. While the work itself wasn’t incredibly demanding, every day I left the building sore and exhausted.
It’s a clear sign that sitting in a chair is just as brutal as standing up or walking around.
But this exhaustiveness was so draining for me that I didn’t want to do anything else for the rest of the day. My focus after I left work was gone. But looking back at it now, part of that boils down to not the work itself but where I was working in.
I’ll admit that the chairs weren’t the most comfortable chairs in the world. Furthermore, the desk was massive and bolted.
Overall how you set up your desk and what your desk is like can make a huge difference. It’s probably why these days the chair I work in now and the desk I’m at is good enough that I can work for hours.
Anyway, the key here is finding a comfy chair for you as well as a desk. Naturally, they should be well-structured and be comfortable to work with.
Having An Organized Work Station
Keyword here is organized not clean. My desk is a touch messy, but it is organized. What I mean by this is that certain items have certain places. And these places matter.
For example, if you want to remove distractions, place your phone – a powerful distracting device – away from your desk. That or put it the further point away from your desk. This way if you get notifications, you’re going to have to stop what you’re doing, get out of your chair, walk over and pick up your phone.
And let’s face it, you’re too lazy to do that and don’t have time for that.
Organization also means having the things that do matter within arm’s length. For example, I have a pen, a series of post it notes and a stack of them in arm’s length on my desk. Why? Because I love writing important stuff down. It also helps me stay on track of my work.
Post it notes are a key part of my staying focused system so I make an effort to keep them close.
Another thing within arm’s length for me is my water bottle. There are times where I forget to stay hydrated and that can be costly for my work as well.
Because what normally helps me stay focused – or get back to work – is often through drinking water. But drinking water is more valuable than that as well. It’s primarily important because it can push back fatigue and hunger.
Fatigue and hunger obviously curb your focus. You’re too tired to concentrate or you’re too hungry. You need something to recharge and your body is telling you all kinds of things you need. The reality is if you instead opt for water, it’s healthier, but rejuvenates you and pushes those aspects back.
So stay hydrated.
Prioritize Your Tasks
The first hour you spend working is your best work. It’s that way because you haven’t spent any energy at all until then. As such, you want to be using that time to be tackling the toughest work.
Don’t have a really challenging task? Then use that time to get into a good working rhythm. Use that time to make a huge dent in your overall workload. This is the sort of approach I use so even if I don’t manage to do much after that, I still have the satisfaction of finishing something big.
Getting into that routine is incredibly easy and can yield some massive results over time. For one it removes undue stress at the end of a workday.
Become Unreachable Or Invisible
This strategy works for entrepreneurs and employees alike and that’s unplugging yourself and not being in contact with anyone. There is a tonne of external distractions. From phone calls, spam calls, to social media.
Being able to unplug and be away for a few hours is something that can work for some people. Especially in situations where your phone and/or social media isn’t the most crucial aspect of your work.
This strategy is also similar to sites like ColdTurkey, where you can’t log into certain sites during certain hours. This curbs distractions as you won’t hear sounds or be tempted to visit other sites. You know for a fact you can’t get access to them until later.
Try Some Nifty Apps To Help You Focus
I stumbled on a post on Medium from 2017 listing off some productivity apps. There’s 15 of them that are mentioned, but I’d like to highlight some key ones.
- One Big Thing – It’s similar to the tip on prioritizing your tasks. If you can get one big task done and find satisfaction, the rest of your work is a bonus. This app is nifty in that it helps you to focus in on the one big objective you have that day.
What’s also cool is you can add other tasks as well.
In the end, it’s an app that’s treated like an actual to-do list. The real good ones and what to-do lists were meant to be.
- Headspace – Meditation is a powerful tool and headspace is an app I’ve heard about before. I’ve tried similar apps in the past so I know that this strategy does work.
- Forest – I like this concept as well due to it being similar to the Pomodoro technique. The only difference is instead of 20 minutes, it’s 30 minutes. For this app, if you want to focus on a chunk of time you “plant a tree”. It’ll take 30 minutes for it to grow. The catch is that if you ever leave the app at any point, the tree dies.
The incentive here is to use the app and build up a forest, showing off just how much you can stay focused on all manner of things. It’s a cute incentive and some people clearly use it to great effectiveness.
Staying Focused: Focus Booster
Speaking of Pomodoro technique, one app that I’ll recommend that’s not on the list is focus booster. This app is essentially the same as Forest, though it uses the Pomodoro technique.
You work for 20 minutes on a specific task and then take a short break to do a non-strenuous task.
While you’d think this is exactly like Forest, there are some key things that distinguish it. One such feature is that it has a tracking system. Every Pomodoro session you do is automatically recorded. This gives you more concrete numbers to show your productivity. It’s more focused compared to Forest.
The numbers are especially important because it shows precisely how much time you are spending on your goals. This is key because you can use it to determine whether the amount of time you’re putting in is worth it. It allows you to make adjustments to your strategies.
Keeping A Daily Work Journal For A Week/Month
This sounds like an odd one, but it’s actually what got me to discover that I work better when listening to music. Because of this, I stand by this strategy and its one that goes a little deeper.
Or at least as deep as you want it to be.
The idea behind this strategy is for you to record your work sessions and to record how you feel throughout the day. You can record this over a block of time or at the end of a work session.
You also want to be recording what sort of factors put you into that state. For example, people who drink coffee will be highly energized in the morning before slowing down mentally and internally by the end of the day.
The idea behind the work journal is to find the causes and effects that put you into those states of mind. This helps you to determine what sort of work conditions are ideal for you.
But this journal also works double duty in that you can find connections and make changes to experiment. For example, there was a time where I drank coffee but now I don’t. I didn’t discover it through a work journal, but I paid attention to how my body reacted.
For me, I was jittery all day from a single cup of coffee. By the afternoon, my energy tanked and I didn’t want to do anything.
If you want to not be like that, I’d suggest either to cut coffee off gradually, or consider one of the previous strategy’s and drink some more water during the day.
Staying Focused Is A Challenge
There are a lot of distractions around us that create a lot of noise. As workers, it’s important for us to prioritize strategies that will benefit us and that will keep us on track.
No doubt as you can tell from this list, many people obtain focus through a combination of methods or maybe only one. Whatever the case is, I highly encourage you to try these strategies out. I find that finding a strategy to keep you focused is a work in process.
However once you find it and can leverage it seamlessly, you’ll get so much done.
To your growth!
Eric S Burdon