Do you have problems with staying focused throughout the day? Or starting your day without a razor focus mentality?
The ability to focus is a critical component of how we live our lives. Staying focused on the task can have a significant impact on the level of our performance and the results we achieve.
Distractions are and will always entice us and distract our attention and focus elsewhere. I called these distractions “Shiny Objects” (I had heard this many times in my life but it really resonated when my business coach put it into perspective a few years ago). They are in front of us as incredible interferences that take our attention to something different and sometimes more attractive.
I’ll leave it at that for now and will expand on this later.
If you have the tendency to become easily distracted and not able to maintain a high level of focus, your work outcomes and performance will be impacted for sure. We are bombarded daily with information, messages, ideas, and opportunities having a significant effect on our ability to increase our level of focus. And don’t take the time to work on improving and developing this skill.
I became obsessed with having a laser-focused mindset and improving my productivity and becoming a high performer when I found myself not completing my To Do list - creating a smart and realistic To Do list is key - at the end of the day. This became more of a norm than an exception and it built a lot of frustration in me, especially because I tried to help my clients navigate through the same issue and here I was not able to do it for myself.
So that famous “Walk the Talk” phrase hit me in the face.
This pushed me to change my approach to getting more focused and productive on my tasks. I started establishing my own KPIs to keep myself on track with what I had promised I was going to accomplish.
I know, a little bit too much, but that is the way I push myself to the next level….I design, implement, test, evaluate, adjust (if needed) and repeat.
With this said, I wrote this article with the purpose of sharing some of what I’ve learned through the years of practising and improving my focus and productivity. I’ll share the 6 habits I believe have transformed the quality and the level of my results in recent years.
First, let me expand on these “Shiny Objects”
As I have briefly described above, Shiny Objects are distractions that interfere in our ability to stay focused on a task(s) at a time. Don’t get me wrong, these are not bad or evil, they are simple disturbances that either we have created for ourselves as excuses to not complete something or have been created externally with the purpose of grabbing our attention.
See if any of these may resonate with you…..
I’ll leave the Shiny Objects distraction on goals and long-term objectives for another day. This deserves a separate blog post.
We are constantly bombarded with distractions that take away our focus from the main tasks and objectives. What is interesting to me is that we tend to not notice those distractions because we have become accustomed to believing that we are the best multitaskers and can do everything at the same time.
“Oh, I’ll get to finishing up the email later”
The truth is, once we lose that initial focus on a task it takes us an incredible amount of time to get back to it. In fact, we may lose the opportunity to ever get back to the same level of focus as before once we have been distracted.
Here are some interesting facts:
Furthermore, this back and forth process of getting back to a task after getting distracted takes up a lot of our brain and physical energy. This may be the reason of why people feel completely exhausted at the end of a workday.
“That switching comes with a biological cost that ends up making us feel tired much more quickly than if we sustain attention on one thing,” says Daniel Levitin, professor of behavioural neuroscience at McGill University. “People eat more, they take more caffeine. Often what you really need at that moment isn’t caffeine, but just a break. If you aren’t taking regular breaks every couple of hours, your brain won’t benefit from that extra cup of coffee.”
So, with all this said, let me share some of the habits I’ve gained through the years that have allowed me to keep a high level of focus during the day.
Habit #1 – Have a clear intention for the day
Habit #2 – Identify what are the most important tasks for the day
Habit #3 – Schedule the time to get the work done
Habit #4 - Work on non-stop X minute intervals on each task
Habit #5 - Take care of your body – recharge and hydrate
Habit #6 - Keep a list of the small shiny objects – review and adjust
Habit #1: Have a clear intention for the day
As simple as it sounds, not having a clear intention for how I’m going to show up in my day will increase the probability of derailing any goal or task I need to execute.
For years I had heard of the power of waking up every day with an intention but it wasn’t until I started putting those keywords (intentions) in front of me that my life shifted.
Once you have identified WHY you are doing what you are doing in any given day your focus and concentration will increase. Plus it will have a purpose!
A quote from James Redfield “Where intention goes, Energy flows”
Sometimes you may feel the momentum building up or the rush of getting things accomplished is because the energy towards completing something is in correlation with the intention you have set directly or indirectly into completing/reaching a goal.
This intention can also be translated into the goal or the mission of the day. What do I want to achieve today to make this an amazing one? That is a question I ask myself very often. If we know where we are going, we will increase our focus and direction towards achieving or arriving at the destination. Remember, once you have set an intention or specific goal, your mind will have something to focus on.
Habit #2: Identify the most important tasks for the day
We want to do it all at the same time, on the same day, and in the best way possible. If you are reading this now and can identify yourself with this, say I! Listen, we want to be the most productive human being on the Earth and then have time to do everything else that is not related to work, and yet we seem to fall short every time.
A while back I became obsessed trying to understand why I could not complete my TO DO list every day. I was going crazy trying to figure out a way I could scratch every single task from my list. The perfectionist in me even became comfortable with scratching things off the list that were not necessarily 100% done or at a high level of precision…..I started to think 85% plus was OK. That was a really bad approach. However, I quickly realized that it was not going to be sustainable so that process lasted only a couple of weeks.
This is when meditation became my biggest allied!
I started putting an intention before my meditation practice to figure out ways to complete my list. Little that I know, I was about to receive one of the biggest lessons of my life. For days, I sat in silence waiting for something, a thought, an idea, anything that could guide me through this dilemma.
Then came the moment I realized I had it all wrong. I had given all the attention to completing my TO DO list for the sake of completing a list of things and not figuring out why I was completing the list or if I was getting the most important things done.
My daily intention setting practice transformed my TO DO list. It changed from 35+ items (I know what you are thinking) to only 7 things on a given day. If I complete those initial 7 then I will add 1 at a time but no more than 10 in a single day.
I still go through everything that I know I need to complete for the day or week but I prioritize the most important items and start from the top. Plus, I get the most difficult tasks done early in the morning when my energy level is at its peak.
Prioritize your list and put all the focus on what is most important to you and your day.
Habit #3: Schedule the time to get the work done
Just as you identify the list of important things that need to be completed in the day make sure you schedule the time to complete the tasks. We often assume things will evolve during the day to allow us to complete what we so desperately want to complete.
Realty check - that time never comes unless you carve out some time in your schedule to complete the work.
I’m sure you have heard “If it doesn’t get scheduled, it doesn’t get done”. Well, let me tell you I stand by that phrase because with all the distractions we have to face it is a challenge to complete a task let alone 35+ items in a day.
So I schedule the time to complete things on my calendar. Here what a typical Monday looks for me:
5:30am - Wake-up - Meditate/Run/Affirmations
6:45am - Family drill - Breakfast/prepare lunch/review calendar/Intention setting
8:00am - Team Meeting - Update on the week
8:30am - Admin time - tasks
9:00am - Work - Client Calls
12:30am - Admin/Strategy time - Lunch
2:00pm - Work - Clients/Partners
6:00pm - Admin time
7:00pm - Family drill - Dinner/reading
8:30pm - Review my day and plan tomorrow
9:00pm - Me time - Learning or Reading
My admin time is when I take the time to complete all administrative or personal tasks I’ve identified are important for the day. Once I see it on the schedule I will then take a moment to review what I need to complete and simply get it done.
At the end of the day, I review what was completed during the day and plan for tomorrow.
Habit #4: Work on non-stop X minute intervals on each task
Now that you have taken the steps to schedule the time to complete a task, use the same methodology for work. A few years ago I started implementing the Pomodoro Technique on my work schedule. This is a technique that was developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s and in very simple terms it breaks down the work time into intervals of 25 min.You need take little breaks (5 min) in between. After 4 pomodoros take a longer break, usually 20-30 minutes.
Through the years, I’ve played around with some variations of the technique such as having working periods of 30, 40 or even 50 minutes instead of 25 minutes or taking a long break after 2 work periods instead of 4. I don’t believe there is a magic formula to this but building the practice of working non-stop on a task for X amount of minutes at a time is extremely powerful.
In the beginning, it will not be easy due to all the distractions but with time and practice, you will be able to master your own technique, whether it is 15, 25, or 40 min intervals. This will have a significant impact on your focus and the productivity level in your daily objectives/tasks.
There are a number of apps that can help with this technique:
Toggl to track your time
or simply use your timer for 25 (or more) mins at a time
What is currently working for me is sitting down for 45-50 minutes at a time to complete a task or set of tasks and then taking a 10-minute break. It doesn’t matter if I’m done or not with the task or project, I will still take the break and then come back to it. No need to start there but commit to at least trying to be focused on one single task for more than 25 min (without any distractions) and please let me know in the comments sections what it did for you.
Habit #5: Take care of your body – recharge and hydrate
We tend to overlook our body and our brain when it comes to focus and productivity. Our body is our temple! I still can remember my mom saying “drink lots of water during the day” - and many of us still forget to do it.
There are immediate effects on our ability to concentrate and stay focused on not drinking enough water. In fact, our brain consists of 75% of water, so it is no surprise that when we feel low on energy or unfocused is simply for the lack of water in our body.
So how much water should we drink? I get asked this question a lot. A Harvard study says, “the daily four-to-six cup rule is for generally healthy people”. Some other guidelines suggest that a healthy intake of water should be somewhere between 2.7 and 3.5 litres of water a day. This depends, however, in your body, your level of activeness, weight, age, etc.
In addition, as I mentioned in the habit #4, during the work breaks try to move away from the desk or computer. This is the perfect time to go get some more water, take a bathroom break or simply walk around to get some air. Sometimes I use this time to do some breathing or stretching exercises. This gets me completely recharged and gets my mind away from what I was doing and allows me to jump on to the next work interval with a fresh mindset.
Habit #6 - Keep a list of the small shiny objects – review and adjust
Picking up where I left at the beginning of the article on shiny objects, we are constantly bombarded with distractions that take away our focus from the main tasks and objectives. What is interesting to me is that we tend to not notice those distractions because we have become accustomed to the noise and to be able to multitask. When a new distraction interferes in our focus we tend to drift away and shift our attention to the distraction rather than the task.
One thing that has worked for me is to keep a list of any distraction that comes along during my work interval. This can be remembering to call somebody, paying a bill, sending an email, or anything else that is interfering in my concentration. Right it down on a piece of paper or agenda and when you reach a break, review, assess the level of importance, and if needed, adjust your priority list for the day. However, don’t let that thought interfere in your current task and don’t let it distract for more than 5 seconds.
Remember, “it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task” once we get distracted.
Take little steps integrating some or all of these habits into your daily routine - Take action!
You will have a higher probability of getting things done if you maintain a high level of focus. Start by applying one or two of the habits on this article and take action immediately (within the next few days). Being consistent with the action will create the momentum to turn these actions into habits.
Would love to hear how you are doing with these steps. Send me a note at [email protected]
To your success,
Founder/CEO @ Be Upgradable
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