“Why can’t I just focus?”
That’s something we’ve all said to ourselves during stressful workdays. We have a pile of work to do but can’t seem to get anything done.
What’s wrong with you?
Well, there’s nothing really wrong with you except for a problem that’s increasingly plaguing people in today’s modern work environment—a lack of focus.
We all have too much to do. And I’m not just talking about work. There’s so much going on that it can seem nearly impossible to be still and alone with one’s work.
Sure, you have a project right in front of you that you’re supposed to be working on. But your cell phone is ringing, you’re getting Skype notifications, and new emails are coming in by the minute.
Not only that, but your desk is cluttered with other projects you’re supposed to be working on and all the notes you’ve taken associated with those projects.
Not only that, but you’re thinking about taking the dog to the vet and the kids to soccer and the doctor appointments you’re supposed to be making.
Not only that, but you really wish you could get away from your work just for a little while to read that book you’ve had on your night stand for months. Or to watch that new TV show everyone is talking about.
Your mind runs in a loop, thinking of all those things. It’s so much that you short circuit and check Facebook for a little while. You start to follow links, then you get absorbed in blogs, then your phone rings, then you check your email, then you go back to Facebook.
You look down at the clock on your computer, numb like a zombie, and realize that several hours have passed and you didn’t really get any work done. You’re embarrassed and kick yourself. You work well into the night to try to salvage the day but you’re nowhere near to working at top capacity.
You get up the next morning, determined to get more done that day. But you’re so zonked out from staying up late and there’s just too much going on and now your to-do list is even longer because of all the things you didn’t get done the day before.
And over and over again. It’s a viscous cycle. You might have had trouble getting through this article, in fact. Because today’s modern demands, habits, and expectations have made it so hard to focus.
What’s the answer?
You have to get stuff done. You can’t afford not to focus. You have been thinking of the time you’ve wasted and the money you’ve lost in your business because you have such a hard time focusing on your work and getting things done.
Your brain feels like mush.
The answer is that you really have to work hard to fight against this. You can develop better focus. You just have to work for it.
I’ve heard people say over and over again that they never had trouble focusing until they started working online. I totally believe it. I also totally believe that you can fight it and do better.
Focus is a skill that you can win back.
What’s Taking Away Your Focus?
You want to be able to focus while you work. Doing so will boost your success and your income.
Fair enough… now figure out what’s zapping your focus. If you can figure that out, you can beat the struggle.
There are things in your internal environment and external environment that are making it really hard for you to focus.
What’s going on in your mind? You might be distracted and overwhelmed by all the things you have to do. It’s no wonder you can’t focus.
You might also be dealing with things like self-doubt and low self-esteem. Identify those things so you can work through them.
Know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. If you’re confident about the reason why you’re working hard on your own business and about your goals in general, it will be so much easier for you to focus.
There might be external factors that are taking your focus. For example, all the dings and sounds from your computer and smartphone that are notifying you about certain things.
Your desk or work environment might be cluttered. Co-workers or family members might be distracting you.
Make a List
Whatever it is, you have to figure it out. Make a list of those internal and external factors that are zapping your focus on a daily basis.
It can be really helpful just to identify these things. I think you’ll find it refreshing and empowering. By having these distractions down on paper, you can then work to eliminate them or at least ensure they don’t have a negative effect on your ability to focus.
Write this list down by hand—there’s something about getting pen to paper that really helps with focus.
Clear Your Mind
It’s hard to work when you have so much swirling around in your head. I recommend you get it all down on paper.
Write down everything on your to-do list… things related to work and otherwise.
Meditation and mindfulness can also be helpful. Think of what’s really important. Eliminate worry from your mind. Deal with the things you can deal with, write the rest down, and only focus on one thing at a time.
Clear Your Environment
This might be surprising, but the things that are going on in your environment can really impact your ability to focus.
Clear your desk and the clutter around you. It can help you clear your mind and feel more in control.
Turn off the notifications and dings from whatever it is that’s distracting you while you’re trying to work.
Don’t allow yourself to check social media and email until you’ve completed your most important tasks for the day.
Be Clear about What You’re Working On
It’s hard to focus on your work when you’re unclear about what you’re working on. Break big projects down into easy to manage chunks. Complete milestones for your projects, only focusing on the tasks that are directly in front of you.
Outline, create to-do lists, and get everything together that you’ll need in order to focus on a task.
Create systems for your business—especially for your most commonly completed tasks.
Know exactly what you’re working on and why and how you’re going to work on it.
If you’re just working on a chunk or a task at a time, it will all come together at the end if you’ve outlined your task list and your system properly, so your mind won’t be worrying about things that you aren’t currently working on.
Allow Yourself to Take Breaks
No one can work well if they’re working all the time. Do you take true breaks or are you sitting in front of the computer for 14 hours a time? That’s not healthy.
If you want to be able to focus and get more done in less time, you need to give yourself time off.
Make sure you’re clearly separating your work time from your home, family, and leisure time.
It’s okay to take a break… it’s actually healthier and will allow you to have better focus.
Prep Your Mind before You Start Working
It can really help if you visualize yourself completing a task before you get started with it, especially for tasks that are scary, or challenging, or that you’ve been putting off for a while.
Prep your mind for what’s to come. Get yourself excited and feel empowered. That can go a long way toward helping you focus.
If you’re overwhelmed and have a hard time focusing, it’s time to simplify. Eliminate the ‘fluff’ from your life and business. If it’s not important, get rid of it. If it’s not truly going to help you achieve your goals, get rid of it.
Simplify by only focusing on your most important projects. Do the most important stuff first so you’re sure it gets done.
Simplify your to-do list and life in general and it will be so much easier for you to focus. You’ll find that a huge weight will have been lifted from your shoulders.
Remember to separate work life from personal and home life. Have set work hours that your family and friends are aware of, especially if you work for yourself from home.
Let yourself spend time with your family in your off-hours. Make time for it. Be strict with yourself about it. It’s worth it.
Practice focusing. If you find yourself drifting off and not paying attention to the task at hand, forgive yourself and return to the task.
Focus is a learned skill. You can make it easier for yourself by paying attention to internal and external distractions. But ultimately, you can develop the skill to focus no matter what else is going on. You can develop ‘focus of steel.’
There are also tools that can help you focus if you need a quick boost. For example I use Action Enforcer which enables me to put my to-do list on my computer desktop and “time box” each task or chunk that I need to get done that day. When I’m ready to start on that task, I click on it, and an timer starts counting down, enforcing the thought that I have to focus on that before the time disappears.
There are also applications that will block your access to certain sites if you find that going to Facebook or Twitter or wherever else is just too distracting.
This has to be priority for you, especially if you feel like you can’t focus on much at all these days. If you can focus on your work, you’ll be so much happier and have so much more free time. You’ll find it easier to achieve your goals, financial and otherwise. Developing the skill to focus is very much worth it.