Staying on task is a skill that would benefit every single human being. No matter what you do for a living, being able to remain focused in stressful and busy periods is craft that many work towards but very few achieve.
We have been blessed with a quite brilliant brain, all humans that is. We as a species have developed our minds like a bodybuilder does their muscles. With this highly developed mind comes the ability to ponder and this often leads to the inability to concentrate. Long ago, before I started to make a conscious effort to focus, I would often lose at least ten minutes day dreaming before any task could begin (as you can see, I’m writing this article from experience). Focus has been something I’ve actively worked on since I realised it was going to be one of the most important skills for getting on in life. Looking back, most of my school reports read something like “Must show more concentration” or “needs to stop day dreaming”. If only I could talk to my younger self!
As I have gotten older, taken jobs, started business and written blog posts like you see on this site, focus is a skill that I have taught myself. It is still a work in progress and I can tell you now, if you don’t make deliberate actions to improve your focus levels you will never really master the act of attention.
Below is a list of a few things I have found that really improve focus. Like I say, I am still working on getting better at being a more focused person, but these six actions keep me on task 99% of the time.
Make your workspace a simple place to sit
This should be the first thing you do before any task begins. In my eyes it’s the most important factor in staying focused on any particular task.
Your workspace needs to be a comfortable and simple place to sit. Personally I think having your desk in front of a window can make it very difficult to concentrate, especially if you have a particularly nice view. Try and position your desk with as few distractions directly in front of you as possible.
Make sure your ergonomics are good. For example, your seat height isn’t going to hurt your back and your arm position is comfortable. These may seem like simple things but they all add up.
Keeping your desk clear of clutter and distractions will help direct your focus to what’s in front of you. Here is a picture of my desk at home. I do a lot of work from here and this is where most of my content writing is completed. The first thing you probably notice is the desk isn’t very big.
I can fit my laptop, mouse and a few pens on it, that’s all. There is no room for additional extras that might distract me.
Turn everything else off
I love my phone and my Ipad, they are so easy to pick up and use. Problem is, if you’re not careful you look up at the time and realise you have spent 25 minutes scrolling through your twitter feed.
Turn everything off! I don’t mean put it to one side, this is still a distraction and the second a hint of boredom sets in you will find yourself leaning over to check notifications. Turning the devices of will stop you looking at them, try it and see.
You can also switch of the Wi-Fi connection on your computer which will mean you won’t receive any notifications, emails or updates. This said, you may need to be online to complete certain tasks so having your computer or laptop connected might be something you have to do. Turn of the notification settings from social media platforms you are likely to receive updates from and disconnect your email. This may seem like a lot of effort but it’s worth it. One notification from Twitter could be enough to derail your efforts to focus on the task at hand.
Break tasks down into sections with milestones
Tasks themselves are often not as simple as heading toward one target. Take building a website for example. You have content curation, graphic design and theme choice to consider among just a few.
By setting milestones with specific elements within a task you will keep your focus narrow, giving your mind less chance to wander. These milestones should be written down on paper; a timeline is a great way to chop projects in to smaller more manageable chunks, ticking or highlighting them as each element is completed.
Reaching more milestones will keep you motivated and your focus will remain consistent throughout the task.
Accept that some tasks wont get completed today
I sometimes have days where I just can’t get into a flow. Nothing seems to come easy and certain tasks seem to take twice as long as they normally would. If you’re trying to complete a task that has a certain element of creativity to it, such as writing a blog post or designing a new product this can be a serious problem. I have learnt one thing from this and it’s that sometimes it’s ok to put something to one side and tackle it another day.
If you’ve hit a brick wall and progress is slow, remove that task from view. Save the document, log out and put your notes away; go for a short break and come back to the desk to complete a different task. Tomorrow will come and you will get your flow back. Just remember that by trying to push through a task that is causing you problems, won’t result your best work.
Don’t procrastinate though, you can’t afford everyday to be a difficult one. If a certain task has been causing you problems for a while, it might be time to push through it regardless.
Eat, sleep and do some exercise
I have lumped these three in together because I don’t want to ramble on about living correctly, but eating right, getting enough sleep and doing some exercise will increase your focus exponentially. You can do all the things on this list but if you haven’t set up your body to focus, setting up your workspace properly will do little good.
It doesn’t take me to tell you that getting these three things in order will not only make your focus more specific but your overall life should improve. Really there isn’t any reason why this can’t be done anyway, the fact it’s going to help you get more done is just a really handy side effect.
The silence debate
Should you sit in silence or not? This is an interesting question and I think it depends very much on the person.
I often listen to music when I’m writing. I will say though, that I listen to classical piano or jazz with no lyrics, just instruments. I find this helps me stay focused and more often than not silence gives my mind space to wander. Like I say, this isn’t for everyone. Some people won’t work well with music, but it’s something I have found which keeps me on task, blocking out the outside world if you will.
If you opt for silence, commit to that. This doesn’t mean don’t say anything, find somewhere that is truly quiet if you want to remain focused. If you’re struggling to do that, try some ear buds, they will pretty much guarantee you it.
The round up
These tips are but a few of the things you can do to stay on task. You may know of others, you may dislike some of the techniques I use, but I would like to bet that at least one of the tips here works for you. The only way you will know is by trying them. Next time you sit down to complete a task, make sure you have laid the groundwork for ultimate focus before you start.
James has worked within various management roles as well as becoming an entrepreneur by his early twenties. Working with companies across the globe in a range of industries, he wants to help people grow their businesses and become more successful in life.
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