Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Achieving Laser-Like Focus

Since I started working from home full-time and searching for a job in my new city, focus has become more important to me than ever. There no longer seem to be enough hours in the day to accomplish everything I want and still maintain a moderate level of sanity. As an avid list maker it seems easy enough to get all the to dos on paper, but it is also easy to become overwhelmed with the possibilities and wind up dabbling in a bit of everything... and accomplishing a whole lot of nothing. So here are a few tips I've picked up in my quest to achieve laser-like focus:

Remove the excess - First, make a list of all of the activities and commitments that fill your time in any given week. Include everything you can think of, from guilty pleasure TV shows to belly dancing classes to your daily coffee shop trip, you name it. Then, get those items off your plate that are not necessary and are not getting you closer to your goal. Less items on your list not only means fewer commitments vying for your time but also fewer potential distractions. Skipping that book club you're not so interested in, opting for clean bare nails over regular painting, quitting mindless TV watching, and generally learning to say "no" can serve you well when life is calling for your full attention. Remember, this does not mean you have to give these things up forever, just until your need for such a high level of focus has diminished.

Minimize that which can't be removed - Or... that which you're not quite willing to remove. I love reading blogs and listening to podcasts but minimizing the list of those I follow frees up time and energy for more pressing matters. Even if your not willing to remove an activity from your life fully, cutting back can make a big difference when you need to get down to business.

Set a schedule - Falling into a regular, predictable schedule can have a lot of benefits. No, it may not be the most exciting way to live, but when you hit a period of your life that calls for focus, routine is your friend. Whatever schedule you find that works for you, it should ensure ample sleep (no one can focus and yawn at the same time, 7-8 hours is best), consistent meal times (again, no one can focus while hungry or poorly nourished), daily exercise (releasing pent-up energy makes mental focus much easier), and plenty of time for uninterrupted focusing. After a couple of weeks, your schedule will start to become second nature - and just as regular physical exertion becomes easier when practiced every day, mental focus becomes easier when your brain is used to kicking into high gear at the same time each day.

Work in sprints - It can be taxing to focus fully on just one task at a time, especially for an extended period. Instead, prevent yourself from becoming burnt out by working in sprints. First, break your goals for the day into manageable tasks. Then, assign a realistic time-frame to each task. If any one of these tasks will take longer than 15 minutes to complete, try and break it down further. The idea here is that it is much easier to focus, completely uninterrupted, when we know we will be finished with the task at hand in a short period of time. Once your list for the day is chopped into manageable 15 minute chunks, get started! Take a short break after every couple of tasks to stretch your muscles or enjoy a little breathing meditation (i.e. an activity that won't completely suck you in to the point that you can't regain your focus and start working again).

Recharge - When it comes time to recharge, pursue your down time with the same level of focus you bring to your work. That means... no worrying about tomorrow's to-dos as you unwind, no working while you are eating, no emailing as you talk to your spouse, no re-living that conversation from work while you shower. Instead, bring your full attention to the present moment. Let go of the work you have completed; you gave it your full focus so there is nothing to regret and now it is time to move forward.

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