7 Highly Effective Ways To Stay Focused
Staying focused can be a challenge in today’s crazy hectic, constantly coming-and-going, technological world. With so many different distractions competing for our attention, it’s easy to find ourselves wasting time on things that don’t really matter. Take social media for example. How many times have you found yourself falling endlessly down the rabbit hole of social media? It’s a total black hole that sucks anything and everyone into its void, only to look up hours later and realize there’s a world happening all around us. How many times have you started cleaning to find yourself in a totally different room from where you started, without that first room not finished? It’s crazy right?! Well, You’re not alone! There are 7 strategies you can use to help stay focused and get more done in order to be more productive overall.
1. Set Clear Goals
One of the most important things you can do to stay focused is to set clear goals for yourself. I’ve written blogs about how important I think goals are and how you can effectively achieve them. You can check that out here. What I am referring to is short-term goals. Not checklists, goals, and the steps needed to achieve those goals.
Your goals need to be absolutely clear. This will give you a sense of direction and you keep your eye on the prize. When setting goals, it’s essential to be specific and break them down. What do I mean by breaking a goal down? Great question!
When you break a goal down, you are thinking about what smaller tasks you need to do to achieve that goal. Breaking your goal down into smaller tasks will help you remain focused on the task at hand and to manage these smaller tasks better. Think of the process like a watermelon. Think of your goal as the watermelon. The meat inside the watermelon could be the smaller projects you need to accomplish. The seeds of the watermelon are all the tasks you have to accomplish to complete your smaller projects. Make sense?
Creating clear, concise goals and breaking them down into smaller, more manageable tasks will make the whole process feel less overwhelming and more attainable. Just remember to pace yourself. Be realistic with how much time you may need for each goal. I’m the world's worst at wanting to get everything done all at one time. The. Worst. Write your goal process down, it always helps. A creative way I write my goals out and track them is by journaling. Bullet journaling to be exact. You can check out my TikTok channel to find ideas for this type of journaling @journalwithteachertomom.
2. Eliminate Distractions
This one’s a doozy. Distractions are one of the biggest obstacles to staying focused. You have to minimize distractions to be productive. There’s no way around it. To minimize distractions you have to figure out what works best for you and do it consistently. When I used to teach in the classroom, I used to tell my students that I could provide them with all the organization and study strategies and skills in the world, but ultimately it was up to them to figure out what works best for them to be successful.
We’re all different and one size most definitely does not fit all. When I read a book or have to focus on something I need quiet. No music, no TV, no one bothering me and trying to chit-chat. My son, on the other hand, listens to music and sings, and he is just jamming out on his homework.
I work from home. I don’t turn the tv on all day because I know if I do it will be a distraction. I can’t take all the extra noise it makes! My husband? If he had it his way the tv would remain on 24/7. Seriously. We have had to do some serious compromising where that’s concerned, lol. I usually fall asleep once my head barely touches the pillow, so he knows to wait until I’m passed out to turn the tv on and then he will set a sleep timer. There’s been a few times I’ve woken up in the middle of the night from a bad dream to find alien shows blaring on the tv. If you mention this to my husband he will start giggling like a schoolgirl getting away with not doing her homework.
Think about the environment or space you need to be immersed in so you can be productive. Take a look at your workspace and notice how it’s set up. Is it arranged in the most productive way possible? Think about the things you use on a daily basis. Those things you touch every day should be easily accessible—things like pens, pencils, technology, files, manuals, workbooks, etc. Your space should be clutter-free so you won’t be wasting your time moving stuff around trying to find something. That’s a distraction in itself! Make your space work for you.
If noise is an issue maybe try playing some ambient music to drown out the other annoying sounds. Sometimes silence can be loud. Maybe close your door, and use noise-canceling headphones. Use technology to your advantage! Set work timers so you won’t get pings from your phone unless it’s a designated emergency contact. Set your browser so you will not get other notifications popping up on your screen while you work. Set timers and reminders on Alexa or other smart home devices. All of these are great ways to minimize distractions.
3. Prioritize Tasks
Setting clear goals and prioritizing tasks can sometimes align when keeping distractions at bay. This means identifying the most important things you need to get done and focusing on them first. We have all had those days that seemed like it was impossible to get all the things done. Have you ever written a to-do list that included at least ten things that were super important and absolutely had to get done? We’ve all been there. Take a deep breath.
Look at your task list, I usually call them to-do lists, and out beside each task number them in order of importance. Think about time deadlines if something has to get done by a certain time. Also, take into consideration tasks that will take a long time to complete, so you might want to start that task first and then get started on another while that’s going. An example of this is laundry. Laundry should always be at the top of your list. Why? Because it’s something you start and let run. I know when I start laundry I have about 45 minutes before I have to touch it again, so I can get done the next task on the list. There might be some tasks you can combine in such a way. By tackling the most important tasks first, you’ll be able to make progress and feel a sense of accomplishment.
4. Take Regular Breaks
You might be questioning me on this one. How am I supposed to get anything done if I’m taking regular breaks?! Hear me out. Many people believe that working for long stretches of time without taking breaks is the key to getting more done. However, research has shown that taking regular breaks can actually help improve focus and productivity. Take a short break, notice I said short, every hour or so can help refresh your mind and give you a renewed sense of energy.
Again, I go back to teaching. When it comes time to take tests, even that pesky state test we Texans have to take (don’t get me started), I tell my students to do the same thing! Most students I tutor have the biggest trouble with tests and it’s not because they don’t know the content. It’s because they made silly mistakes. Adults do the same thing!
When my students are stuck on a hard problem, feel like they’re going cross-eyed, or are non-stop yawning, I tell them to ask for a restroom break. Not to necessarily use the restroom, but to get up, stretch, and get a change of scenery. I tell them to take some long blinks and squeeze their eyes shut a few times. Once they get back to their desk, they’ll be looking at their test with fresh eyes.
I try to do this while working from home. I time block my calendar and set timers on Alexa to help me with this throughout the day. I do the same thing as I preach. If I’m yawning or finding myself becoming more distracted I take short burst breaks.
5. Block Your Time
This is exactly what you think it is. This is something that is part of my evening routine. I have found that when I don’t take the time to do this my day seems like it’s all over the place. I sit with my calendar and color code and block off time for VA clients, personal stuff around the house, etc. It actually relaxes me a bit knowing what’s coming up the next day. Don’t get me wrong, I like surprises but I also like having a skeleton plan. If you’re just starting out doing this, just remember that it’s ok to have a wrench thrown in your plans. Breathe and be flexible!
There is also something I’ve heard of called the Pomodoro Technique. This technique is a time management method that can help you stay focused and get more done by blocking your time in shorter periods. This might work really well for you if you find yourself very easily distracted! The idea is to break your work into 25-minute chunks, with a 5-minute break in between each one. This helps to keep you not only focused but energized, and it also allows you to take regular breaks to avoid burnout.
If you’re anything like me, you probably literally laughed out loud or spit your coffee out of your nose after reading “get enough sleep.” Duh, right? We all know we need more sleep. Try to tell that to a mom of three kids who all have different activities going on, are applying to college, juggling calendars, trying to budget and make it all work, etc. Do I need to go further?!
The idea with this is to make it part of your routine to at least recognize when you need to go to sleep. I didn’t learn the value of true, restful sleep until I was divorced. Seriously. It was me and my three kiddos. They were 3 months, 4, and 8 at the time. It was rough, to say the least. I was adamant about getting my kiddos down to bed at certain times so I could do what I needed so I could get to bed because I could not survive on 5 hours a night. I was working 3 jobs and going back to school at the time, my plate was overflowing.
I found that I could start to tell what my body needed. I absolutely knew without a doubt that if I did not go to bed by a certain time the next day was going to be rough. It’s so super important to take care of yourself first so you can take care of those around you. If you’re a mom you know that life doesn’t stop when you’re not feeling well. I totally need to work on this still! It will always be a work in progress but the goal is to recognize when your body is telling you something.
Lack of sleep can affect your ability to concentrate and make it difficult to stay on task. Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep each night and try to establish a consistent sleep schedule. I know we don’t live in a perfect world and most people can only dream of 7-8 hours of sleep per night, but just try your best.
In a world full of noises and shiny distractions it can be extremely difficult to focus. I think it comes down to, how badly you want it. Every task we face each day is part of a bigger task. Do you want to make an A on a paper? Put in the effort, time, and work to earn that A. Want to start a successful business working from home? Do your research, block special time to learn new skills, etc. You catch my drift. If you focus on ten things, you’re not focused on anything.
These strategies are not overnight quick fixes, but setting clear goals, eliminating distractions, prioritizing tasks, taking regular breaks, and getting enough sleep can assist you to improve your focus and be more productive. It’s so important to be patient with yourself (I’m the world's worst at this!) and to not expect perfection because it doesn’t exist. These strategies can take time to become routine and show results, but if you stick with them, you’ll find that you’re able to stay focused and achieve your goals.
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