What I Do When I Need to Focus
My flow of work depends on what I have to accomplish. For some tasks, I have to be active and communicative, responding to questions or contributing to a project. During these times, I am moving from one task to the next.
Other times, I need to sit down and focus, shut off the world to get a project done. I find these types of tasks much harder to finish than active decision-making and responses. Writing my blog articles, filling out long application forms, taking notes from the books I read, and creating plans for implementation are all examples of tasks that require diligent focus. My mind tends to wander, and I procrastinate endlessly, so I realized I needed a new approach to help me maintain my focus.
This method includes certain practices that I have developed over time, which help me get the work done more quickly and effectively.
1. Promise a deadline
It helps when I set a deadline for myself. If I have a project due by the end of the week, for example, I move the deadline two days before to ensure I will get it done on time.
Sometimes I have an assignment I am dreading. For situations like this, I have a tactic that forces me to tackle the work. I’ll communicate with my counterpart that I will have the project ready by a certain date, which holds me accountable to that promise. I hate going back on my word, so this usually works like a charm. That is how I launched this blog. I promised a group of colleagues I was going to publish my first blog post by September 22, 2017. It worked: I posted my first blog on September 21st.
2. Set a time on my calendar
I block off a time when I know I will be able to cross projects off my list. Sometimes I am so busy it seems as though I can hardly catch my breath, but I am usually able to find half an hour to an hour to work on the required task. Some work requires more than that, but I always find comfort in what a wise friend told me once: “Anything you’ve been putting off can be substantially done in about three hours.” I have found this to be largely true over time.
During this designated time, I don’t work on anything else. I don’t touch other pending tasks, and I place all my focus on the task at hand. I have the added incentive that if I don’t work on the task during that moment, it will be difficult to find a different time.
3. Ensure there are no distractions
I have three young daughters, aged six, four, and two. As I write this, I have my six-year-old who is recovering from the flu on my lap, listening to me type. No matter the day or time, it’s hard to find space that is free from noise and distractions.
There are two places where I can work and I know I won’t get interrupted at specific hours of the day: a small sitting area in my house and my office at work. I retreat into one of those refuges when I need to dig down and work. I make sure no one will knock on my door or walk into the room.
The only remaining distractions are the ones on my phone and my computer, mainly social media. To remove the temptation, I have an app on my phone called “In Moment,” where I block social media for three hours at a time. On my browser, I don’t have shortcuts to any of the social media sites, so if I want to go into a specific platform, I’m forced to type the address. This action usually gives me enough time to reconsider the idea and get back to work.
4. Play music
When I need to concentrate, I put on my earphones and get to work. Music helps me focus as nothing else can. Certain types of music help me think. Right now, for example, I’m listening to my favorite piano playlist (it’s on Spotify, and it’s called “Peaceful Piano”). The music is slow, inspiring, calming, and beautiful, and it just works when it comes to helping me maintain my focus. Other types of music have helped me at other times, so it’s just a matter of searching for the right one.
With time, I have carved spaces where I can do work that requires focus. Now, when I need to do something that requires my full attention, I block one of those spaces in my schedule, go to a quiet place, put on my music, and get to work. It’s still difficult, and I haven't stopped procrastinating, but I’m getting better and more disciplined at sitting down and focusing on the work I need to get done.