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Learning how to stay focused is essential if you want to maximize your productivity. Focus will help you get more done each day and reach your goals faster. Here’s how to stay focused… and massively boost your productivity!
Learning how to stay focused is essential if you want to maximize your productivity and achieve your goals in the shortest amount of time possible.
Why? Because in our modern world distraction is EVERYWHERE!
Most people spend their entire day in a state of near constant distraction, constantly flitting between different tasks, replying to emails, checking social media, and jumping to attention at every buzz and ping of their phone.
Research shows that the average worker is only productive for two hours and 53 minutes per day!
Worse still, as this article in the Harvard Business Review so neatly puts it:
“Based on over a half-century of cognitive science and more recent studies on multi-tasking, we know that multi-taskers do less and miss information. It takes time (an average of 15 minutes) to re-orient to a primary task after a distraction such as an email. Efficiency can drop by as much as 40%.”
So what is the solution?
The solution is to learn the art of staying focused.
Learn how to stay focused and you will maximize your productivity, get vastly more done each day and reach your goals faster.
Ultimately, if you learn to stay focused you will be able to achieve MORE while working LESS.
What does it mean to stay focused?
To stay focused means to concentrate on one task at a time, giving that task 100% of your attention, and – crucially – not allowing yourself to be distracted by anything else. That means no multi-tasking, getting rid of anything that might distract you and only working on a single task until that task is completed.
Why staying focused will boost your productivity
By focusing on one task at a time and not allowing yourself to be distracted by anything else, you will get more done each day.
And if you get more done each day, you will be more productive: you will get your tasks done faster and (if the tasks you focus on are in alignment with your goals) you will reach your goals faster.
Why does focusing on one task at a time mean you will get more done in a day and be more productive? There are 3 main reasons:
- It reduces switching costs
- You will do better work
- You will spend more of your day on goal-focused tasks
It reduces switching costs
Research shows that it takes an average of 15 minutes to re-orient to a primary task after a distraction such as an email.
Imagine you are working on a blog post that would – with no distractions – take you two hours to complete. But as you are writing that blog post, you allow yourself to be distracted by new emails and new social media notifications.
Let’s say that while you write that blog post, you are distracted 8 times by these notifications. 8 x 15 = 120 minutes. That means you will lose 2 hours of your day to switching costs! And that blog post that should have taken 2 hours to write will take 4 hours to write PLUS however long it took you to read and reply to those notifications!
You will do better work
One of the best books on the topic of focus is Cal Newport’s ‘Deep Work’. In this book, Newport describes Deep Work as ‘working on a single hard task for a long time without switching‘.
He goes on to say ‘To produce at your peak level you need to work for extended periods with full concentration on a single task free from distraction‘.
In other words, focusing on one task at a time will not only mean you waste less time, it also means you will do BETTER work.
Clearly if you waste less time AND you do better work, you will be more productive!
You will spend more of your day on goal-focused tasks
Of course, just learning the art of focusing on one task at a time and not allowing yourself to be distracted will not, on it’s own, make you more productive.
This is because true productivity is not just about working faster and working better, it’s also about doing the RIGHT things!
In the words of Steven Covey in The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People…
‘If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster. We may be very busy, we may be very efficient, but we will only be truly effective when we begin with the end in mind.’
However, if you first make a daily plan that is in alignment with your big picture goals, THEN stay focused on one task at a time, without getting distracted, you will spend more of your day on goal-focused tasks AND do those task BETTER. And the result will be you will massively boost your productivity and reach your goals much sooner.
How to stay focused: 8 powerful tips to boost your productivity
I hope by now you are thoroughly convinced that learning the art of staying focused is vitally important if you want to boost your productivity and reach your goals in the shortest amount of time possible.
But, of course, staying focused is not easy… if it were, you’d already be doing it!
Fortunately, focus is a skill that can be learned. Better still, the more you do it, the better you’ll get at it.
Here are 8 powerful tips that will massively improve your focus…
1. Set goals
As I mentioned before, there is absolutely no point in learning how to stay focused, if you focus on the WRONG TASKS!
But setting goals will help in another way too. Because setting goals will help you see how each task you have to do fits into the bigger picture.
There are no two ways about it, staying focused on one task at a time is HARD. But when you know WHY you are doing a particular task, if you know that by doing that task you will get one step closer to your ultimate goals, and if you know that by staying focused on that task and not getting distracted you will reach your goals faster, then staying focused becomes much easier!
2. Write a daily plan
But of course just setting goals is not enough. If you want to ensure you actually achieve those goals, you need to create an action plan that details all the steps you need to take to get to your ultimate goal… and then you need to work that plan right back to what you do on a daily basis.
In other words, you need to create a Daily Action Plan each day.
Writing a Daily Action Plan for each day will ensure you focus your efforts and energies on the tasks and activities that truly move the dial – tasks that will actually help you achieve your goals.
But writing a Daily Action Plan will also help with ‘focus’ – because it will tell you WHAT to focus on AND because your Daily Action Plan is based on your goals, you’ll know that each task on your plan is helping you get one step closer to your goals.
3. Prioritize goal-focused tasks
But of course, there is more than one way to plan a day… and not all ways of planning will ensure you maximize your productivity.
One of the biggest mistakes people make with daily planning is prioritizing the wrong tasks.
Broadly speaking there are 2 types of task:
- Goal-focused tasks
- Everything else
‘Goal-focused tasks’ are the tasks that will help you make progress on the goals you have set yourself – the tasks in your Monthly Action Plans.
‘Everything else’ is all the other tasks that seem important, such as dealing with emails, replying to social media comments and other dull-but-necessary admin tasks.
All too often, people prioritize ‘everything else’ activities over goal-focused tasks. Because of this, those goal-focused tasks tend to keep falling off the end of the to do list.
It doesn’t take a genius to realise that learning the art of focus is completely pointless if you then only use it to get faster and better at doing those ‘everything else’ tasks!
If you want to truly benefit from your new found skill of focus, you need to prioritize goal-focused tasks, and that means doing them FIRST each day.
But there’s another reason why prioritizing your goal-focused tasks will help with focus, and that’s because many experts believe that willpower depletes during the day. (This explains why it’s much easier to stick to a diet at breakfast than in the evening, for example!)
That means if you do your goal-focused tasks FIRST you will find it easier to focus on them and ignore distractions than if you try to practice ‘focus’ later on in the day.
4. Start time-blocking
Another technique that will help improve your focus is time-blocking.
Or, in other words, giving each task on your Daily Action Plan a specific and realistic timeslot.
Why does this help focus? Because essentially you are giving each task a mini deadline. And, as we all know well, deadlines really do focus the mind and help us to work faster!
Time blocking will also give you a clear understanding of exactly which task you should be focusing on at any given minute of the day.
Better still, if you do get distracted or lose focus at any point in the day, having a clear plan which tells you EXACTLY what you are supposed to be working on RIGHT NOW will help you quickly get back to the task in hand, and save you all that wasted time trying to remember what it was you were actually supposed to be working on!
5. Learn to mono-task
It has been proven over and over again that multi-tasking is a myth. Our brains are physically incapable of multi-tasking. What we believe is multi-tasking is, in fact, our brains switching back and forth between different tasks.
And, as we’ve already covered, there is a huge cost associated with switching between tasks!
If you are serious about improving your focus in order to boost your productivity and achieve your goals faster, you need to STOP multi-tasking and learn how to mono-task.
What is mono-tasking?
Mono-tasking is simply the opposite of multi-tasking. Mono-tasking is doing one task at a time until it is completed and then moving onto the next task.
Sounds simple, right? But most people are so used to trying to do more than one thing at a time that it’s actually a lot harder than it sounds.
This is partly because of the culture we live in, partly because social media companies and app creators spend billions trying to hijack your attention so they can monetize it, and partly because, as this excellent Guardian article puts it…
“Multi-tasking creates a dopamine-addiction feedback loop, effectively rewarding the brain for losing focus and for constantly searching for external stimulation.”
But mono-tasking is ESSENTIAL if you want to improve your focus and your productivity. In fact mono-tasking has been shown to improve productivity by as much as 80%!
While mono-tasking can be hard at first, fortunately mono-tasking is a skill that improves with practice. Better still, once you see how much more productive you are when you mono-task, you’ll be even more more motivated to do it!
(Think you’re the exception? This study by researchers at the University of Utah showed that the BETTER people think they are at multitasking, the WORSE they are at it in reality!)
6. Remove distractions
One of the biggest enemies to staying focused is distractions! Distractions can come in many forms the most common ones are:
- Social media
- Phone notifications
- Sudden ‘good ideas’
- Open tabs on your computer
- Netflix / YouTube / the TV
- Life admin and household chores
- Other people
If you truly want to stay focused and improve your productivity you need to eliminate these distractions. Or, if that’s not possible, at least reduce them or build systems to help you stay on track.
Firstly, as much as possible try to make the place where you work a distraction free area. Try to work somewhere where you are least likely to be distracted. For example, don’t work in front of the TV or in a busy room! Ideally work in a quiet room, away from other people and other distractions, and with the door closed.
Secondly, put your phone on do not disturb mode (or ideally put it in a different room altogether!) and close down all tabs on your computer that are not directly related to the ONE TASK you are supposed to be doing RIGHT NOW – especially email and social media-related tabs!
Thirdly, ensure that, as much as possible, life admin and household chores are included in your Daily Action Plan, so that they can’t distract you when you are supposed to be focusing on something else.
Fourthly, have a system for dealing with sudden ‘good ideas’ and other internal distractions. (I explain my bullet-proof system for dealing with these kinds of interruptions in my ebook Blog Smarter Not Harder.)
And finally, DO NOT work with NetFlix, YouTube, the TV or any other video-related thing on in the background. It will destroy your focus, make deep work virtually impossible and make you MUCH LESS productive!
Staying focused is not easy. We live in a culture that encourages – celebrates even – distraction, multi-tasking, replying to emails immediately, reacting to every beep and ping of our phones and being ‘always on’.
If you have lived your life in a state of constant distraction up till this point, you WILL find staying focused hard. You WILL find implementing the tips in this article hard.
But focus is a skill that can be learned. It’s a skill that rewards perseverance. The more you do it, the better you’ll get at it.
If you fail, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and try again.
Keep trying and you WILL get there!
Focus is rather like a muscle – the more you work it the stronger it gets.
And the better you get at it, the better the rewards – in terms of improved focus, doing better work and, finally making solid progress towards your goals.
8. Keep your eye on the prize
My final tip is to keep reminding yourself why you are doing this, why you are working on your focus.
You are not working on improving your focus in order to be awesome at staying focused! You are working on your focus in order to improve your productivity and achieve your goals more quickly.
When the going gets tough, keep your eye on the prize… remind yourself of your ultimate goals and how this task you are working on right now is one step on the path that will get you there!
The stronger and clearer your goals and the better your Monthly Action Plans and Daily Action Plans, the more easily you will see how this task you are working on right now fits in with the bigger picture… and the better you can see that, the more motivated you will be to harness the incredible power of focus!
Wrapping it up – How to stay focused… and massively boost your productivity
Staying focused means concentrating on one task at a time, giving that task 100% of your attention, and not allowing yourself to be distracted by anything else.
And, while staying focused in our chronically distracted world is not easy, the benefits to those who learn and practice the skill of focus are HUGE! Improving your focus will help you get more work done each day, help you do better work, help you become much more productive and ultimately help you achieve your goals faster.
Focus may not be easy, but it is a skill that can be learned! You can improve your focus by setting goals, creating Monthly Action Plans and Daily Action Plans, learning to prioritize goal-focused tasks and give each task a specific and realistic timeslot, mono-tasking rather than multi-tasking, and working hard to remove distractions from your work environment.
Better still, the more you practice the art of ‘focus’ the better you’ll get at it. And the better you get at it, the bigger the rewards – in terms of improved focus, doing better work and, finally making serious progress towards your goals.
And that, in turn, will make you even more motivated and even better at staying focused!
Over to you!
I’d love to hear from you if this article has helped you or if you have any tips or suggestions of your own to add. Let us know in the comments section below!
- Why setting goals will make you more successful
- How to actually achieve your goals: The real ‘secret’ to turning your dreams into reality
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- 21 habits that will massively boost your productivity
- How to plan your year for maximum success
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