How can I keep my focus to get more done?

 

“My mind wanders when I try to work.”

"I can’t get anything done as I keep losing focus.”

"I’d get more done if people stopped interrupting me.”

These are just some of the problems people have been writing to me about and there is a common theme among them.

Excuses.

The people making the excuses are blaming everything else, except themselves. Admittedly this judgement seems a bit harsh, but what I mean is that the only person who can change the situation is the same person making the excuse.

Not getting things done is demotivating and as this is the 3rd in a 4 part series on motivation, I want to help teach you how to keep your focus so that you get more done and stay motivated.

But as I said. It’s you that will do it, not me. It’s you that will put these proven methods into practice. You need to take on the responsibility, to step up and take it seriously. Many people fail because they don’t set themselves up for success.

The secret to being successful is in how you set yourself up. It's the habits you build into your life that will enable you to achieve the success you desire.


Are the habits you have today, on par with the dreams that you have for tomorrow? - Alan Stein


WORKING WITH THE PEOPLE IN YOUR LIFE

As mentioned in my previous article on motivation, prioritise your time you spend working on your goal by scheduling time in diary, explaining to the people around you the importance of you being left alone to work, uninterrupted.

Involve them, tell them why it matters and ask them for their help and support. It makes such a huge difference if they understand and are helping you to succeed.

When working, tell them not to bother you with anything. It can wait, just leave a message until afterwards and then you will tackle the problem.


UNDERSTAND YOUR OWN WIRING

As humans we are wired to survive. We are always on high alert for danger and so are very aware of any small changes in our immediate environment. This was fine when we could’ve been lunch, but infuriating when it comes to trying to do some writing, or brainstorming.

You can read up on it, but seeing as I’ve ready done the research, here are a few takeaways to bear in mind:

  • It takes approximately 20 minutes to get into a state of concentration
  • Then you have a 60-120 minutes period of optimal focus.
  • Most people are able to maintain their concentration from a minimum of 20 minutes to a maximum of about 40 minutes before having to take a break
  • After every 45 minute block of concentrate, take a 15 min break before going at it again.

This was the most significant for me: It takes approximately 20 minutes to get into a state of concentration.

If it takes you 20 mins to get back to optimal focus after every interruption, this explains how damaging they can be and why so many people struggle to get anything done.


MINIMISE DISTRACTIONS

As we talked about before, we are wired for danger so you have to turn off any potential distraction or interruption. The biggest contributor to distraction is our phone.

Not only is it the gateway drug to the internet, but it is forever pinging us updates and alerts.

TURN IT OFF

Or at least, turn off the notifications, switch to silent (or airplane mode) and put it out of sight. Lack of focus leads to lack of accomplishment. This leads to lack of motivation and if we aren’t motivated, we’ll never get anywhere.

Achieving a productive level of focus means eliminating all distractions to allow yourself time (20 mins) to get into the zone.

This also applies to your computer. Use the tools listed below to block the internet so you can focus on what it is you need to do.

Website Blocking Software – If you find yourself using some specific websites too much (Facebook), consider installing website blocking software.  If you are using Chrome, install StayFocusd. With Firefox, use LeechBlock. These add-ons will let you specify time-wasting sites, set a maximum counter, and block the sites once you’ve used them for too long.

Freedom is an Apple app which will allow you to turn off your Internet, irrevocably, for a set period of time. Hit it once, and you’re free — you won’t be able to turn back on the Internet until the time has run out.


STIMULUS

These are often overlooked, but the role they can play in altering your mood & motivation is huge. From a physiological point of view what you put into your body can make a huge difference to your mood and cognitive abilities.

For example, if you are dehydrated by as little as 2%, it can lead to a 10% drop in the ability to concentrate. Throw in mood swings, headaches and tiredness and you can begin to see how important it is to stay hydrated and drink plenty of water. 

What about coffee? Caffeine can boost mental focus and alertness as it easily gets into the brain, and affects many kinds of neutrons (brain cells) in a positive way. Studies continue to show that caffeine can increase mental focus and concentration. It takes 45 mins for the caffeine to be fully absorbed and will last for around 4 hours depending on your tolerance. But it is a diuretic, which means that it does lead to mild dehydration, so keep a glass of water handy.

Food wise, the same can be said for sugar. You get the initial rush, but then the crash leaving you drowsy. It’s important to recognise hidden sugars in starchy foods such as potatoes, bread, pasta and rice. You will need a balance of carbohydrates and proteins for energy, but not too many complex carbohydrates like those listed above.

Remember, you are trying to set yourself up for success, so you need to give yourself the best chance at doing this. Think like an athlete getting ready for the game. Don’t work on an empty stomach as you’ll have no energy and will get food cravings. But then again don’t work after a big meal.

After a big meal, your blood rushes from your brain to your stomach to help aid the digestion process, which is why we always feel sleepy after a big meal. You need this blood in your brain, so if you do eat, eat a medium meal that leaves you full but not bloated. Eat 1 to 2 hours before you start work.

So your pre-game schedule may look like this:

  • 60-90 mins before have a meal.
  • 30-45 mins before have a coffee.
  • Start work - Take in some water to aid hydration and some fruit to give you natural sugars to keep ups your blood sugar levels to avoid any peaks or crashes in your energy levels.
  • Work for 45 - 60 mins then take a break.
  • Go for a walk, get the blood flowing and the oxygen into the body. Clear your head, reset, then maybe try again for another 30-45mins.


Equipment & Tools

Make sure you have everything you may need prepared in advance. You don’t want to have to be leaving to grab a ruler or spare pen. Think like you are taking an exam - you can’t leave so make sure you have all you need.

List out all you would typically use and then include back ups for everything. Spare pencils, rubbers, books, pens, Power leads, Headphones etc. Write them down on a checklist and check them all off as you pack your bag.

This way you don’t need to rely any anyone or anything and have the piece of mind you have everything you need to get the job done.

"Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.”

WHITEBOARD TECHNIQUE

Now you are set up and good to go. The phone is off, your internet is off and everyone knows not to bother you You’ve got your music, your coffee and a blank document on your laptop. Surely nothing can stop you now? 

What about those rogue thoughts that pop into your head? How do you deal with those?

One of the most effective ways to deal with these distractions is to use Sean McCabe’s  ‘Whiteboard Technique’. If a thought pops into your head, note it down on a whiteboard or a white piece of paper and deal with it afterwards.

The beauty of this strategy is that this way I know that I won’t forget it and each time it pops up in my head, I can dismiss it without worry.


SUMMARY

Like anything, in order to get better at it, you need to practice. Your body needs to learn your routine and adjust to your optimal working set up system as you refine it. Everyone is different, find what works for you and use it. Don’t forget to give yourself a pat on the back for the very fact that you are trying to get out there and better yourself.

  • Set time aside
  • Tell your friends / family
  • Understand how you work
  • Minimised Distractions
  • Choose your stimulus
  • Use the WT to minimise distractions

I hope that you find these techniques helpful and if you have any more questions or suggestions of your own, please leave me a comment below.