For me, there are always several things constantly competing for my time – articles to write, business opportunities to explore, links to follow up, my daily work, personal commitments etc. In my experience whenever I try to work on many things at the same time, none of them actually gets done.
In response, I’ve incorporated the following techniques for staying focused into my work patterns:
1. Having well defined goals. I can’t stress the importance of this too much. Having goals which are well defined along good guidelines is key. I’ve found writing my goals down really helps. Whenever I get distracted, I read my goals and I’m reminded of what I am trying to do and why.
2. Breaking things into bite sized chunks. Having broad high level goals are good but having an actionable plan is essential. A plan can identify how you can get from where you are to where you want go. Breaking goals into smaller actionable chunks (tasks) is great – it gives me motivation to start and allows me to get things done in one sitting.
3. Prioritising constantly. To figure out which task I should be working on, I prioritise constantly. Some tasks are more important than others. Some tasks are more urgent than others. I’ve found that working on urgent tasks followed by tasks which have the greatest impact to work well for me – urgent tasks allow me to get things done on time and important tasks allow me to maximise the benefits I receive.
4. Tracking progress vigorously. Each of us wants to improve our lives. However, it is easy to start with good intentions but more difficult to sustain commitment. I’ve found that by tracking my progress, I have more visibility on what I’ve done and can better gauge how much effort is left.
5. Planning ahead without fail. Concentrating on the remaining effort can help reinforce commitment. Some might think they’ll get discouraged, however I haven’t found this to be the case because my tasks are bite sized and easy to finish. I’ve found it really helps to look at my goals and task lists periodically, so I can assess how much time it’ll take to do something and determine the best time to sit down and work on it.
6. Rewarding myself when warranted. By all means focus on what’s outstanding, but also take stock of what’s done. I always reflect on what I’ve done, whether it is reading a post I did awhile ago or looking at the ticks I’ve made alongside my task lists. Whenever I accomplish a logical piece of work, I always reward myself. It really does help with maintaining motivation.
7. Having positive patterns in my routine. I’ve found having good habits and positive patterns to be instrumental. At the moment, I can consistently get more done. As these patterns continue to establish into a routine, I’m finding that I can better judge the periods of the day in which I really need to focus and work.
8. Removing distractions as best I can. The best way not to give in to temptation is not to have the option to. What seems to work for me is making the distractions difficult or inconvenient to access. Because it takes too much effort to indulge in the distraction, I find it is less likely for me to give in.
9. Blocking out some time. In a previous post I wrote about waking up early and consistently. You don’t necessarily have to do this but I’ve found that having quiet time, set aside specifically for accomplishing a given task, to be very productive. I also tend to be more focused in the morning after a restful night.
10. Keeping the results clear in mind. Instead of concentrating too much on the task at hand, sometimes I put some attention on the feelings I ultimately wish to experience. By focusing on the results, it is easier for me to maintain my motivation especially when working on things that I am not by nature motivated by.
11. Enlisting my family and friends for help. I communicate with my family and friends about my goals all the time. Not only have they been helpful with gentle reminders whenever they see my behaviour is not consistent with my goals, but they also give me constant incentives to work at my goals and succeed.
Here are some examples of how I have applied these techniques to my blogging:
* Having a goal to write 120 articles in a year.
* Working on 3 articles each week, or 2 paragraphs in each sitting.
* Prioritising bill paying before working on writing tasks.
* Tracking the number of posts I have done each week.
* Planning the topics for future articles in advance.
* Taking time out to do searches on Technorati and Google.
* Waking up at 5:30am and working on an article before work.
* Asking my wife to wake me up if I fail to get up on my own.
* Unplugging the Xbox to remove distractions.
* Watching TV to relax my mind after completing an article.
* Visualise the growth in subscribers to my feed to maintain motivation.
These 11 techniques can be applied to any aspect of your personal and professional lives. If you find you have trouble staying focused for whatever reason, try applying some or all of these techniques. What works for me may not necessarily work for you, so don’t be afraid to experiment. If you have any techniques which work for you that I have not listed, please leave a comment.