In today’s world, multi-tasking has become a way of life. Ask any new mother. Multi-tasking means survival.
David Meyer, a cognitive scientist at the University of Michigan says that multi-tasking can be “very often highly inefficient and can be dangerous to your health.”
I used to be the mom who thought that I could do a billion things at one time. I would literally stop what I was doing throughout the day every time one of my kids yelled “mommy!” Soon began to realize that I would get NOTHING accomplished. I finally learned how to be deliberate with my daily tasks and that the kids would be okay if I made them wait a few more minutes while I completed unloading the dryer or making a bed before attending to their request.
Years later I’m in the beginning stages of creating my own business. I’ve had to apply those same skills to getting projects completed throughout the day. We all know the parable of what sunlight focused through a magnifying glass can do to an ant. I’ve never tried it myself but the point is clear. Here’s another way to look at it. What if you started to cook an egg over the stove and kept turning off the burner every few minutes to go and do something else? The egg would take forever to cook!
Being focused throughout the day isn’t just about DOING. It’s also being effective in what you choose to do during the day.
Doing your best and most focused work requires getting to know yourself. You need to know what time of day you do your best work? Are you a morning person or a night owl? Are you an extrovert or an introvert? What kind of work makes you energized and what kind of work drains you?
Think about these answers as you read the following tips to stay focused.
1. Start your day right so you can make it through the forest.
I am working on the practice of reading scripture and a short devotional in the morning and at night. Then I take some time to pray and think about what I need to do that day. I’ve begin to ask myself what is the most important things that I need to do today? Then I mentally capture those tasks as my goals in order to summon the energy that will be needed to accomplish those goals in the midst of distraction. I know that sounds a bit dramatic. I look at goals like the holy grail on the other side of the enchanted forest. Waiting to be my reward after dodging the distractions and dangers that await me on the journey. The ferocious emails, the flying arrows of phone calls, the ogres that come to make you upset or even the pretty fairies of pinterest that catch your eyes and make you vear off the path. You have to stay focused to make it to the other side!
2. Make time to think…and nothing else.
I work in a creative field so it’s important that I take time to think and imagine and dream. But I don’t believe that taking time to think is just for creative business owners. It’s for every entrepreneur. Every parent. Everyone. Take time to think and write down your ideas. Take time to dream about where you would like to go with your business or your life. Just breathe. Evaluate what you are currently focusing on and if it’s getting you where you want to go. If not, find a way to change directions, processes, or clients so that you can take your business to the next level. If you never stop to think, you could end up just being busy without progress.
3. Put on your blinders.
In life it’s important to be able to see the big picture, stop and smell the roses and be open to new opportunities. But sometimes you need to block out things that can distract you from what you are trying to accomplish. You need to put on your blinders. Just like horses where side blinders to keep them from losing focus, we need to do the same thing. When you are ready to work you need to know exactly what you are planning on doing so that you can immediately identify what is unnecessary or unimportant. Recognize where you are getting drained and sucked dry for no reason. Maybe it’s social media, maybe it’s a particular client, maybe it’s a co-worker that loves to talk…about nothing. Recognize those things and practice ways to handle them.
4. Have a system to handle email.
Email has been a panic zone for me lately. I’ve spent a lot of time cleaning out and catching up on my emails. I finally learned about tags and archiving email. This has been great for me. Tags are like little file folders that you can file your email into. The emails are still there if you ever need to search for them, but they won’t be cluttering up your inbox. Secondly, I’ve begun to work requests into my project planner so I can go ahead and tag then file the email. For example, I had a deadline for a guest blog post come through my email. Before I would have just left the email in my box and probably forgotten about the due date. Now I can just put the due date into my project planner with a reminder on my task list, then tag and file the email away if I need to refer to the details again! You have no idea how this has helped me! Now I can look at an email, make a decision about it and take action!
5. Know your super objective.
In acting there is a method called the Stanislavski method. In this method we break the script down into objectives that the character wants to achieve in each scene. However, there is something called a super objective which is what the character wants for the duration of the entire play. I liken the super objective like our over all goals in life. For example if your overall goal in life is to live by the ocean you would make choices that build towards your super objective in life. When opportunities present themselves your super objective will guide your decisions.
6. Know your priorities.
This is related to the super objective tip. When you know you’re priorities you can easily make decisions about your time and money without feeling guilty. Make your choices with confidence. I recently had to make a choice to turn down a performance opportunity because it fell on my wedding anniversary. I know that it’s important to that we take time out and celebrate this milestone. I know that my husband would never hold me back from an opportunity but I want him to know that our marriage is the priority. I know some people may not agree with my decision but that’s okay. I can feel confident because I’ve got my priorities set. At the end of the day standing by your priorities will gain you respect…and help you keep from feeling out of control with your commitments the majority of the time.
Staying focused takes practice and discipline but if you put these tips in place I’m sure you will see improvement in your focus. Do you have some more tips for staying focused? Please share!