Focus is your friend. Well, it’s more than that. In this age of distraction, your ability to direct your attention is a huge competitive advantage in work and in life.
I’ve been in many jobs that require extreme focus and dedicated attention. And I’ve helped people learn coping mechanisms to improve their focus so they could rely on their heads, rather than meds.
At the end of the day, your focus really comes down to three things: your passion, your priorities, and your distractions. If you can align your passion and priorities, and bump those up, while reducing distractions and whittling them down, you win the game.
With that in mind, here are 10 proven practices for improving your focus:
1. Use 20-minute intervals to focus with skill.
I am a fan of 20-minute sprints. In fact, I write most of my blog posts in 20-minute sprints.
A 20-minute chunk of time is a very useful slice of time and the productive possibilities are endless, if you can sustain your focus.
The key is to know that sustained thinking takes energy, and it burns out.
To address this, take breaks to recharge and renew. Five minute breaks are a great way to stay focused.
2. Structure for success.
One of the best ways to structure your success is to make it easy to pick up from where you left off.
You can also structure your success by structuring your information — have one place to look and one place to write things down, including your goals, tasks, and actions.’
You can also structure your environment for to improve focus. For example, you can add visual cues and reminders. You can also optimize your workspace to support your focus.
You can also structure your time to improve your focus. Your schedule is your most powerful tool. Use it to “design your time.” For example, you can adjust your schedule to account for your most productive time, your least productive time, the best time to interrupt you, etc.
3. Focus on what you control and let the rest go.
This is simple and effective timeless advice. It’s all too easy to fork your focus while you worry about things beyond your control.
One way to get a handle on this is to simply get clarity on what you do control and act on that.
4. Hold a clear picture in your mind of what you want to accomplish.
Think of this as a simple flash card. Use it to summon your powers of concentration and direct your attention to the end in mind.
Having clarity on this compelling picture will literally “pull” you toward it, and help you focus automatically while staying engaged and excited about what’s possible.
5. Have a place to dump distractions.
Everybody needs a virtual dumping ground. You need a place to dump distractions. You need a place to dump and store your “state.”
All the ideas, reminders, distracting thoughts, etc. floating around your head, need a place to go.
It needs to be simple.
It needs to be accessible.
One simple way is to use a sheet of paper if pen and paper is your thing. If digital systems are your way, the key is to simply have a place where you can quickly write things without having to look for it.
A simple practice is to start a new list or dumping ground each day, and give it today’s date as the title. This way you can easily flip back through it.
6. Shelve things you aren’t actively working on.
Put it on the back-burner, but make it easy to pick up from where you left off.
7. Apply concentrated effort.
If you spread your effort across too many things you can water down your impact.
Concentrating your effort is a way to improve your results. You can concentrate your effort by consolidating the time you spend on a particular challenge.
You can spend more time on it. You can increase the frequency.
The most important thing is to apply enough effort in a concentrated form to get over whatever the hurdle or hump that’s in your way.
8. Use mini-goals.
Slice your big goals down to size. Small is the new big, and you can use size to your advantage.
By slicing goals down to size, you can build a series of small wins to build momentum.
You can also slice a challenge down so that you can divide and conquer it. This is especially helpful when you get stuck.
You can also use mini-goals to create a sense of progress.
One of my colleagues uses mini-goals to get over procrastination.
Rather than have a goal of working out, they have a goal of getting to the gym and getting changed. He said he can choose whether or not to workout once he’s gotten that far, but the goal of getting to the gym and getting ready is non-optional.
This little goal helps him complete more workouts than the bigger goal of working out or getting in shape itself. If your goals aren’t working for you, then chunk them down to create laser-like focus.
9. Set time limits.
Timeboxing and time budgets are you friend.
How well can you focus for 30 seconds?
What about 5 minutes?
By using time limits, you can set the pace and sustain your focus, while giving yourself a break.
Play with time limits both to make focus fun, and to create a rhythm of intense focus, then taking a break.
This is a way to improve your engagement for short-bursts, as well as to chunk up your focus for the long haul, using little time limits along the way.
10. Set quantity limits.
Use quantities to help you deal with overwhelm or overload, and to help you stay focused.
For example, come up with three simple ways to use these guidelines into your every day routine.