Over the years I’ve kept an updated list of tips I’ve read about to stay focused. Every six months I’ll come across it and re-read it, and it always gives me a little boost of focus to get more done. Hopefully some of these ideas will help you and your team focus more too.
I saw a great speaker, Victoria Labalme, and during her talk she quoted the famous mime Marcel Marceau, under whom she had studied. Marcel used to say, “breathe, breathe.” And it’s amazing how just slowing down to breathe as though you were in a yoga class really helps the brain focus.
2. Compress Time
Pretend you only have two hours a day to work. What three to five things would you do during those two hours a day? Once you know what those are, delegate or stop doing everything else that you currently do. And start doing only those three to five things all day, every day.
3. Eat Something!
It’s hard to concentrate when your tummy is rumbling, so have a light snack before you settle in to work on your top priorities. Not only will you avoid the “When is lunch?” thoughts, a healthy snack will give you more energy and help you to think better too. Cathy Stucker gave me this advice and it’s something I always remember.
4. Get out of Email
Email has got to be one of the worst time-wasters ever. Start your day working on one of your TOP 5 projects for the day. Check email at 4pm and no earlier. It really can wait. As soon as you start checking email, the temptation will be to get sucked into it, draining your productivity.
Years ago, at 9am, I sent all eight of my direct reports the same email: “Don’t tell anyone, but come find me in the boardroom right away.” I then walked calmly to the boardroom. Within three minutes, six of my eight reports were in the boardroom. The other two were there by the five-minute mark. It quickly showed me and them how little they were focused on the critical projects and how distracted they could be with emails.
5. Let Fear Guide You
Nothing helps you focus quite like fear. Harness it.
6. Minimize Distractions
I think there’s actually a Latin phrase for this, but I have no idea what it is. Essentially it means, “a messy desk is a messy mind.” The more clutter you have on the desk, workstation, and walls around you, the more distracted you are. Keeping a clean work area will help you focus.
7. Put Your Headphones On
Put ‘em on, put on some great tunes, and crank out your work. I actually can be hyper-productive listening to a genre of music called “Psy-Trance.” It’s gets every ounce of me pumped up and focused.
8. Reward Yourself
Break your projects into small achievable parts and upon completion of each part give yourself a reward, like a night out. I don’t allow myself a glass of wine with dinner unless I have the next day’s TOP 5 in writing.
9. Set Timers
It may seem crazy, but you can use a simple timer. Set it for thirty minutes and then focus on ONE THING until the thirty minutes is up.
10. Slay the Dragon
Figure out what the big ugly task is that you have to do today. Then, start with it first. Once you have the thing you are dreading out of the way, the rest looks easy.
11. Tell Two Others
Tell two to three people that you are going to do something and by when. Be very specific about the date and what the outcome will be. Get them to tell you the key projects they will get done today too.
12. Turn off The Damn “DING”
Turn off the notification on all software on your devices. The last thing you want if you’re trying to focus is something telling you your attention is required elsewhere. Remember the old AOL, “You’ve got mail!” announcement? Evil. But it’s been replaced with a million other “dings,” “pings,” and “pop-ups.” You don’t need any of this when you’re trying to be productive.
13. Write ‘Em Down
Know that saying, “out of sight, out of mind?” It applies to the items on your daily to-do list, so put your weekly and daily lists on a white board, flip chart, or even a Post-It note on your monitor. I use an app called “Stickies” on my Mac. Seeing your key projects in front of you all day will force you to focus.