You have a big project or important assignment to complete but you’re having trouble staying deeply focused. What to do?
Whether it’s the fear of starting an overwhelming task or too many social media distractions, it can be hard to settle into our work and focus for long periods of time.
And when we’re unable to focus, we tend to blame ourselves and our lack of concentration skills. But our intrinsic desire to work isn’t enough to harness our focus. A lot of different variables can impact our attention. From the state of our work space to the effectiveness of our to-do lists, these factors can contribute to how productive and focused we are.
We’ve put together tried-and-true techniques to help you manage your environment, productivity, and more so that you can stay deeply focused and accomplish your tasks.
Give yourself external motivation
We can’t rely on willpower and discipline alone to stay deeply focused. If we did, we would use up a lot of emotional and mental energy just to get started. Make it easier on yourself by creating external motivation to help sustain your focus and productivity.
External motivation can look like:
Setting a deadline on a calendar. Do you keep procrastinating on a project or goal? Then try creating a deadline for yourself. Write it down in your planner or enter it on a calendar. Deadlines can motivate us to stay focused and cross that finish line.
Having an accountability partner. We’re more likely to stay focused on our work if we know that we have to check in with someone down the line. Find yourself an accountability partner so that you can stay committed to your task.
Measuring your progress. Sometimes we lose sight of a goal or project when we think that we’re not progressing enough. But you may not be aware of all the micro wins that you’re accomplishing along the way. And micro wins translate to big gains over time. You can help maintain your focus by tracking your progress in a planner or spreadsheet and regularly checking up on it.
Remove those screens
Want to stay deeply focused? Remove those screens and devices.
Cal Newport, the author of Deep Work and Digital Minimalism, writes on his blog: “reducing the role of screens in your life will significantly reduce the friction you experience toward doing hard things.”
In other words, if you’re in the habit of constantly checking social media or clicking over to your favorite blogs, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to overcome other productivity challenges and buckle down when the time comes.
By conditioning yourself to remove screens and devices and other distractions, you’ll be in a better position to concentrate and do substantive work.
Here are different ways you can remove the temptation of your devices:
- Put your phone in a different room.
- Or put your phone on airplane mode.
- Turn off notifications on your computer.
- Set a timer and don’t allow yourself to go online for a set amount of time.
Turn your distractions into treats
As we mentioned earlier, external motivation can help us stay focused on an important task or assignment. Another technique you can use to stay deeply focused is to give yourself a treat to look forward to.
We all need a little carrot dangling at the end of the stick to help encourage us and bolster our spirits. Otherwise, we’d just be working for the sake of working, and that can quickly lead to boredom, burnout, and frustration.
One way to reward yourself is to use your favorite distraction as a treat.
For example, you can tell yourself: “After I work for one hour, I can read my favorite blog.” Or “After I work for one hour, I will check Instagram for five minutes.”
This way, you won’t be tempted to go on your phone, because you know that it will be your reward at the end for staying focused.
Make an effective to do list
Sometimes, the reason we have trouble focusing on our work is that we don’t know what to focus on. Then we end up multitasking, which doesn’t really get us very far.
What you need is a to-do list to help you stay on track. A to-do list serves as an action plan and it takes the guesswork out of what you have to focus on that day.
Tips on writing an effective to-do list:
- Take a moment to write down all the things you have to do.
- Identify the top 3-4 things you would like to accomplish today. These will be your main priorities to focus on.
- Take note of the things you didn’t get around to doing. Put those items on tomorrow’s to-do list.
Organize your desk
You may not even realize it, but your work environment can contribute to your ability to be productive and stay focused.
Not only does clutter take up valuable real estate in your home or office space, but it also occupies your mind. Clutter can be visually distracting and create stress. When we see piles of paperwork on our desk, or when we have to dig through our drawers for office supplies, it can disrupt our rhythm and our concentration.
Keep clutter at bay with organizational tools. If you have a “home” for your supplies, you’ll be able to manage the mess and keep it from accumulating.
Here are some ways to keep your desk organized and clutter-free:
- Reduce paper clutter by shredding/recycling junk mail and unimportant documents. Keep essential documents organized in binders and paper trays.
- Keep cords and cables organized in one place with a cord ribbon.
- Use a catchall tray to store desk accessories and office items like sticky flags, washi tape, or paperclips.
- At the end of the work day, clear away your office supplies and put them back in their proper place. This will give you a fresh start for tomorrow and help you set the foundation for a focused, productive day ahead.