by Carthage Buckley, Stress and Performance Coach
Unless you’re perfect, you encounter distractions from time to time that minimise your effectiveness in getting your work done. The reason that most people struggle to achieve their objectives is not that they lack the knowledge or skills; it is more common that they lack the ability to stay focused on their work for long enough to see tasks to completion. Even where tasks are completed, they are often so late that it has a knock on affect on everything else that needs to be done. It can be easy to rush to the conclusion that you require more training or education but before you rush down that path, take a moment to consider that you might just need to improve your focus. When you improve your focus, you find it easier to identify the tasks which require your attention and, you complete them more effectively, allowing you to get more of the important stuff done while eliminating tasks which contribute little, or nothing, to the bottom line.
The internet and computers were supposed to make things easier but they have actually made things more disrupting with email messages, status updates, and more. Distractions are not just restricted to computers and technology though, they also include co-workers, family, and our own wandering minds. Most distractions don’t seem like such a big deal and you might think that it is relatively harmless to succumb to one of these distractions for just 5 minutes. The problem is that these 5 minute chunks add up to a whole lot more and before long, you find that you have dawdled large periods of time away, leaving you behind in the activities that matter most. That’s why it is so important to improve your focus.
3 Simple tips to improve your focus
The big question is how to defeat distractions and eliminate them from your life; allowing you to focus on your most important tasks. There are many different methods that can be used to eliminate distractions while working. This article just focuses some key strategies for eliminating distractions while working on computers, however, these strategies can be adapted and used offline too.
Try turning these strategies into daily habits that help you become more effective:
1. Use time limits
When you set a time limit, you are forced to improve your focus. It almost becomes a game of ‘beat the clock’. You will need to use a little trial and error to identify the appropriate time limits for you but you might start with the following:
Use a timer and limit your work periods to around 25 or 50 minutes – with a 5 minute break in between tasks. If a task is going to take longer than 50 minutes, break it down into smaller chunks which will allow you to experience a sense of accomplishment upon completion of each chunk. Using time limits will also improve your focus in the following ways:
- You are forced to do the most important parts of any work e.g. if you only assign an hour, you’re going to have to decide what’s most important. This is a more effective approach than simply picking a task and working on it until completion. Decide on the length of time that you are going to assign to a task, set your timer and, get working.
- Using a timer enables you to improve your focus and keep your attention on only one task. When you do this, time flies and you complete a lot more work. Controlling your focus and attention like this has major benefits in the fight against stress. As you are only thinking about one task, you eliminate any unnecessary worry caused by the countless other tasks that you could be working on.
I have found the following schedule to be most effective with my coaching clients. Give it try and, if you feel the need to make any adjustments, that will be fine:
- 50 minutes of work
- 10 minute break
- 50 more minutes of work
- 30 minute break
2. If it is not being used, remove it
Everything on your computer that isn’t necessary for the task at hand should be closed down. I have had a bad habit of having the internet browser open, along with my email account when I am only typing a document. If these things are open, sooner or later, you will switch to them and take a look. You may promise yourself that you are just taking a quick look at your email but a quick look soon turns into 5-30 minutes. This is time that you will never get back. Remember that although it is called time management, you cannot actually manage time; you can only manage your use of time.
Therefore, if you do not need something to complete a task, get rid of it (if possible). That includes all your email, notifications, games, and blogs. Close your door and unplug the phone, if possible. If you do not need your mobile (cell) phone, put it somewhere that it cannot distract you. This may all sound a little anal but once you have tried it, you will soon see the benefits it brings as it will improve your focus in record time.
Remember that nothing is going anywhere, including you. If you don’t see anybody for a few hours, it is not a big deal. If they cannot reach you for a few hours, it is not a big deal. If you don’t respond to a message on Facebook for a few hours, you guessed it; it is not a big deal.
3. Pause for thought
In order for a distraction to occur, you have to be doing something useful in the first place. The key to avoiding the distraction is to realise that you are doing what you actually need to do, before you make a change. Once you have made the change in what you are doing and become distracted, it is much more difficult to get back on track. When you first implement new habits to eliminate distractions, you will find that you have stronger urges to do the thing that you are trying to eliminate e.g. check email, Facebook, chat with colleagues etc. This is a natural resistance to change.
Before you succumb to the urge, take 10 seconds and pause. Take a long, deep breath and ask yourself ‘˜what is the most important thing that I could be working on right now’ Be honest with yourself and you will usually find that the distraction is unimportant and best avoided. When you determine the most important task, commit yourself to working on it. It is the simplest way to improve your focus.
If you want to complete the most important tasks and get the results you desire, from life and work, you need to be able to stay focused. The ability to focus has been largely lost for many of us. If your results are not as good as you would like them to be, it is likely that there is room for you to improve your focus. The habits outlined above will not solve all of your problems but they will enable you to make significant progress and improve your focus greatly. It’s likely to be challenging at first, but you can do it. You can get more done, in less time, by learning to improve your focus and avoiding the things that waste your precious time.
The sooner you implement these habits; the sooner you will see improved results.
About the author
Carthage Buckley is a Stress and Performance Coach who helps entrepreneurs, management and driven professionals to identify and eliminate the sources of stress while developing and implementing strategies to realise their objectives and create a happy, healthy and successful life.
The principle philosophy of Carthage’s coaching is that the individual can shape their own world, rather than waiting for their world to shape them. Working from the inside out, it is perfectly possible for each person to create their own life, allowing them to fulfil their personal desires while living in harmony with the world around them.Carthage has lived and worked in 5 countries and continues to work with clients all around the world, both in person and via the Internet.