Dec 092012

5 Quick Tips For Staying Focused

In the dynamic world in which we live, staying focused can be one of the biggest challenges.  I see it in my kids, the people I coach, entrepreneurs and achievers everywhere, and I see it in my own activities.  There’s a lot to get done, not much time, and a massive number of (quite interesting) potential distractions.

With all of this going on, how do you stay focused so you can reach your goals and dreams? Here are five quick tips.  This is by no means a comprehensive list; if you have other ideas, please share them in the comments.

Staying focused tip #1:  Realize the importance of focus.

Sometimes when I talk about the importance of focus with the people I coach and others, they look at me like I’m crazy.  I think many people have become so accustomed to the idea of doing several things at once, they do not realize (or remember, depending on their age) how much more effective it can be to focus on one thing at a time.  If you question the validity of this point, look around at the most successful people you know and think about the times when you’ve enjoyed the most success in your activities.  Based on that frame of reference, will you get further by focusing or by constantly trying to multi-task?

Staying focused tip #2:  Create non-negotiable blocks of time.

Once you have your goals in place, or even if you don’t yet, you’ll realize that in order to make progress, there are certain key activities you must get done.  You’ll also quickly realize that there will be one hundred less important tasks that will try to jump in line ahead of the key activities.  You can try to fit the key activities in between all the mundane, less impactful tasks that tend to clog up our days, or you can find another way.  In my experience the most effective way to get those key activities done consistently and with a high level of quality, is to block non-negotiable time daily, or with whatever frequency makes sense, where those activities are the only thing I work on.  Staying focused and getting tasks done efficiently and effectively with such an approach is, in my experience, much easier.

Staying focused tip #3:  Listen to music.

I’ll state right out of the gate that this tip may not work for everyone.  I’ve always listened to (loud) music in headphones when I was trying to concentrate on an important task, whether it was studying for an exam, preparing a speech, working on a tough problem, or whatever it may be.  The music calms my mind and keeps it from wandering to other tasks and thoughts; it also has the benefit of blocking out external noise, which can be very distracting at times.  For other people, music, especially loud music in headphones may be a distraction in and of itself.  You won’t know until you give it a try.  If you find it distracting initially, try another genre of music.  Classical music without words sometimes works quite well for those who are otherwise distracted by the song lyrics.

Staying focused tip #4:  Play concentration games.

It’s a bit strange in a post about staying focused to talk about playing games, I know.  I’m not talking about playing just any game though; I’m talking about playing games that force you to concentrate.  These would include any game that requires you to concentrate to achieve the desired outcome.  If you’re playing against an opponent, that outcome usually is “winning”.  If you’re playing against yourself, that outcome is usually bettering your previous best score.  Examples may include playing such physical games as tennis, Ping-Pong, or basketball.  Or they may include mental games such as chess, checkers, or even building a house of cards.  Challenges against yourself could include juggling a soccer ball or whatever else you like to do.  At the end of the day, the particular challenge doesn’t matter; what matters is that you are forcing yourself to concentrate more than the usual couple of minutes (or seconds) between commercials or flipping channels on TV.  The real idea is to break the cycle of “short attention span theater” that is so typical of the age and society in which we live.  Cultivating your ability to focus better and longer can help you on every important task you undertake.

Staying focused tip #5:  Create goals with tight deadlines.

One of the enemies of concentration is having (what you perceive as) plenty of time on your hands.  Similar to the saying “an idle mind is the devil’s workshop,” I believe that having too much time to get something done is the enemy of getting it done efficiently and with high quality.  Procrastination is, of course, something that runs rampant in our society and in the human race in general.  The tendency is to continually put off tasks, including challenging and complex ones, until the very last minute possible.  This approach typically does not lead to a high-quality outcome and it creates a bunch of unnecessary stress.  In my article on unrealistic deadlines, I pointed out how one potential solution to the procrastination epidemic is to create deadlines that force you to get started and make progress right away.  By playing this little trick on your mind, you can often force yourself to take the most difficult step much sooner, which is getting started.  Once you get started, you often realize that the task is not as bad as you had imagined and sometimes, you may even enjoy it more than you expected.  All of these factors can lead to better concentration and staying focused on the task at hand, rather than finding a bunch of excuses or a bunch of other less important tasks to keep you occupied.

I hope you found these tips for staying focused helpful.  Please put them to use and let me know how they work for you.  Also, as I said at the outset, this list is by no means exhaustive.  Let us know what else has worked for you!

I look forward to your thoughts!

Paul Morin

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  • Pawel Glowacki

    Paul, these are some great tips. The listening to music one doesn’t work for me personally, I just need some peace and quiet. On the other hand the last tip about creating goals with tight deadlines is a must. I feel like creating short term small goals to complete tasks gives us a extra boost of positive energy because we literally see progress as we complete tasks. It’s a incredible feeling all together! Thanks for the great tips on this Monday morning.

  • Thanks, Pawel. I agree — smaller goals with tighter deadlines are powerful, as they allow you to see progress and avoid procrastination.

  • Jim Zboran

    Great tips, Paul. Staying focused is indeed one of the biggest challenges that comes with today’s fst changing society. Handling the distractions requires focus skills and you’ve done a good job of providing some skill builders in that area… Thanks 🙂

  • Thanks for your comment, Jim. Staying focused is tough indeed in this fast-paced world in which we live. The is especially true with so many shiny objects around. 🙂

  • Hi Paul, great tips. #2 and #3 have worked very well for me personally. Probably stating the obvious but I’d add that distractions during the “non-negotiable” blocks should be minimised eg. email notifications turned off, phone on silent etc.


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