October 17, 2016

Staying Focused in a World Full of Distractions

With advancements in technology, we've become incredibly efficient at multi-tasking and task-identification. We're more productive than we've ever been, and yet if you were to ask most people, chances are they would admit to being distracted on numerous occasions throughout their workday. Whether they work in an office, run a business from their home, or manage a production plant, the problem of becoming distracted on specific tasks can be challenging. When pressed for an answer, most people turn to the aforementioned technology. They download an app for their phone that has a schedule, or they set alarms to remind them to complete certain tasks on time.

But how much does this truly help? Will you remember to keep the schedule on your phone updated every day? Or will two weeks go by before you ever look at it, only to be overwhelmed with guilt before you delete the app entirely?

The problem is not our lack of tools to help maintain our focus. Our true problem is our inability to prioritize, organize, and maintain personal discipline in regards to certain tasks. When you become overwhelmed with numerous tasks, there are steps that you can take to help maintain both your focus and your sanity. As your coworkers, friends, and family pull at your time, it's important to use these steps to stay focused and avoid starting too many tasks at once. These are:

#1. Create a To-Do List:

A lot of people have moved away from create daily to-do lists for a number of reasons, but I still hold to the idea that they are great ways to set the tone for your day. By laying out the tasks that you'd most like to accomplish, you set your mind in the right state first thing in the morning. You prioritize your day, and you eliminate any tasks that you don't see as beneficial.

This can prove to be incredibly important as unexpected jobs pop up throughout your workday. When this happens, you can then decide of this new tasks is an emergency. If not, you run through your to-do lists and compare the new task and its priority with the tasks that you've set out to accomplish that day. If the new tasks is more pressing, work it in to your day by eliminating or postponing another tasks. The reason many people fail to grasp the importance of to-do lists is because they feel constricted by the jobs they've written down. If they don't accomplish everything that they've written on their sheet, they feel like they've failed. But a proper to-do list is simply a system of guidance for you to work with for your day. If you complete everything, that's great, but if you don't, it simply gives you an opportunity to analyze what created the time loss and why certain tasks were not completed.

#2: Think Long-Term

Regardless of what you do for a living, your days should not be viewed as eight hours of endless work. You shouldn't clock in, work until you're exhausted, and then leave without feeling as if you are contributing to a bigger goal. This is what average people do day-in and day-out, and they never experience a true sense of belonging or purpose with their work. To them, it is just a job that pays the bills.

Instead, you need to understand where you are heading with your job/business/career. There needs to be some type of long-term goal that pulls you forward and channels your work, because this will create a sense of purpose for your work and it will help you maintain focus on what it is that you are trying to accomplish. Picture long-term thinking as lighthouse and you are in a ship out at sea. That lighthouse should be your beacon as you try to reach land, and if you stay focused on reaching that lighthouse and nothing else, the things that once distracted you will no longer break your focus. The same holds true for your work. Create a plan of success that stems out 3-5 years, and then use that plan to dictate what tasks fill your day. If they contribute to the long-term plan, keep them. If they don't contribute, don't spend time on them.

#3. Schedule Time for Important Tasks

It is impossible to schedule every minute of your day, so you need to stay open to the fact that meetings will go longer than they should, people will call you with questions regarding certain projects, and that certain jobs will simply take longer than you imagined. That being said, it is vital that you set aside a block of time each day that you can use to focus on your productivity. Whether this time is scheduled in the office or at your house doesn't matter (for some of you, your workspace may be your home), but you must schedule it nonetheless. The timeframe of this window will vary for each person, too. For me, I like 60-90 minutes to work on various things, but you may only need 30-45 minutes, or you may need longer.

Use this time to tackle those "High Priority" tasks that have been pushed back time and time again. If you're having a problem with distribution in your business, use this time to send emails or make phone calls to get to the root of  the problem. If you are in college and have a research paper due in two days that you've been procrastinating on, use your scheduled time to get started on it. Whatever it is that you do, this time is your sanctuary. Shut the door, turn the cell phone off, tell your significant other that you need the time to yourself, and put in the work. Nothing else matters during this time. It's your time.

#4. Learn to say "No"

This is the most important lesson that you can learn regarding your productivity and focus. With so many distractions coming at us throughout the day, learn to say "no" to someone or something that might waste time is incredibly important. When you receive an email requesting a sales spreadsheet or if someone stops you in the hallway to set up a meeting, have the discipline to politely tell them that you can't at the moment. Tell them that you have an important job that must be finished, but you'd be happy to talk with them once it is completed. Say "no" but say it with class and humility.

Staying focused is not a result of one day's work. It comes from developing the habits that eliminate unnecessary work and help stimulate your creativity. Learn to say no when the time is right, schedule time to work on important tasks, and maintain a long-term vision of where you are heading with your work. If you do this consistently, you'll find that your distractions become less trying and less demanding. Keep the course and stay focused!

Daniel Moffett

Leave a comment below with  your tips for staying focused!

And follow me on Twitter: @dmoffett2306

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