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If you want to be more productive, you need to focus
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We all attempt to multitask. Sometimes it is a necessity (particularly when you have small children). However, I’ve learned that multitasking often produces poor results. If you want to be more productive, you need to focus.
A few weeks ago I tried an experiment. My husband was taking our daughters to do a project at Home Depot on a Saturday morning. I’d been wanting to work on brainstorming new content for the blog. I challenged myself to focus solely on writing and brainstorming for the three hours that I was home alone.
And you know what? In that time I came up with the beginning to 20 different posts! I definitely could not have accomplished that much had I been attempting to multitask.
I’m now a big believer in the impact of focus and single-tasking. If you want to be more productive, you need to focus.
How to focus
Focusing takes practice. Most of us are more used to trying to multitask so it will take work and discipline, but the results will be worth it. Use these tips to help you get started.
Shut off distractions
It may seem obvious that you want to be more productive, you need to focus. But, we’ve gotten so used to constant distractions that focus has become much harder to come by and rarer to experience.
When you attempt to focus on something, you will begin to notice how many distractions arise. There are even more when you’re trying to work on something you aren’t excited about.
In order to be able to focus, you’ve got to shut off as many distractions as possible.
How many tabs do you currently have open on your computer? I have more than I care to admit. Each one signifies a to-do. When I’m trying to focus on something (like writing), it is so easy to navigate from tab to tab avoiding work and getting distracted.
Facebook suddenly becomes super appealing. Everything seems more interesting than the work I am trying to avoid. Letting myself tangent on these tabs is a time suck. It’s a delay tactic that does nothing except extend the amount of time it will take me to complete my task.
In my experiment that day, I closed down every window other than the one I was working on. I created my own rule that during that time, I was not allowed to open any tabs for any reason.
If there was something I needed to research or look for later, I made a note of it. It takes effort and discipline to stay on task.
Our phones are another huge distraction. They distract us from conversations, work, and even from itself.
Have you ever gotten on your phone to check something like the weather or look for an email to instead find yourself scrolling through your Instagram feed while you’ve completely forgotten why you picked up your phone in the first place? Yeah, me neither.
To minimize distractions, turn off notifications for everything. Consider decluttering your apps if they’ve become problematic for you. At a minimum, set boundaries for the time you spend on them and don’t allow your phone to interrupt your task.
It’s easy to think that any and every message you receive is suddenly urgent. But the reality is, it usually isn’t and ends up instead derailing your work.
Decluttering the space that you are going to be working in will help lessen your distractions. When we have a challenging task ahead, it is easy to look for ways to avoid it.
Don’t let your workspace be one of them. Suddenly cleaning or decluttering our space actually becomes more appealing than doing the task we don’t want to do.
Set yourself up for productivity success by already having a clean and decluttered space that will not distract from your task. Your goal is to focus. Let your workspace help you do that.
Have a plan
Distractions creep in easily when you don’t have a plan. When you know what your one thing is for that time period, it is much easier to focus.
“It is those who concentrate on but one thing at a time who advance in this world.” ~Gary Keller, “The One Thing“
Multitasking produces less than favorable outcomes. When you’re trying to do multiple things at once it’s hard to do any of them well.
With your attention divided you won’t be able to excel at anything. If you want to be more productive, you need to focus on one task at a time.
Having a clear vision for what needs to be done in a block of time helps to eliminate other possible distractions. Many people use time blocking to clearly allocate what the intention is for a particular block of time.
If you are working on paying bills, then this isn’t a time to be checking email or social media. Direct all your attention to the task at hand before moving on to anything else.
Having clarity on your plan from the beginning will help you complete your task more quickly and with fewer rabbit trails.
Know that distractions will attempt to derail you. Our culture and media have gotten us so used to being distracted that it takes commitment and work to focus. Being clear on your task and having boundaries to prevent distractions will keep you on track.
Just do it
It is harder to do tasks we don’t want to do. Often we build things up to be more difficult or complicated than they truly are. We get overwhelmed at the mere thought of organizing our files or preparing our taxes or any of a number of things.
Fear is another reason we avoid tasks. We may be afraid that we will fail (or succeed!). We may struggle with limiting beliefs about ourselves and allow negative self talk to keep us from our work.
Instead of procrastinating and allowing the dreaded task to get bigger and scarier in your mind, squash it by getting it done and out of your way.
Don’t feed negative thoughts. It just makes the task feel harder and doesn’t help to get it accomplished.
Set a timeframe
If you want to be more productive, you need to focus for a designated amount of time. In my situation, my husband taking the kids for a few hours created the timeframe.
Often the time block will be self-imposed. I’ve read of many people using blocks of 20 minutes. Your timeframe will depend on your task and your schedule.
I use both short and long timeframes. I am more effective at writing when I set aside a longer timeframe to focus. Other tasks like checking emails and writing social media posts, don’t require as much time and energy and I can schedule them in shorter bursts.
It’s also beneficial to schedule your more challenging tasks that take more brainpower for the time of day when you are most productive. For each of us, that’s different. I’m not a night owl, so writing in the evening takes me more time and is less coherent.
Currently, the hours between 10-2 seem to work best for me for those tasks. Again, everyone’s schedules are different and these timeframes may change with your season of life (and the age of your kids).
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