If you’re easily distracted, and you want to know how to stay on track with what you should be doing, you’re in good company.
Most people struggle to stick to what they should be doing for very long.
They don’t have strategies in place for ignoring the inevitable distractions that will prevent them from finishing what they set out to do.
To know how to stay focused, it’s worth remembering that, when you decide to do something, what you’re really saying is, “By choosing to do this, I’m making a commitment to not do everything else that I could do.”
Whether you’re aware of it or not, your commitment will be tested at any and every opportunity; either externally (your environment) or internally (your thoughts, feelings and habits).
The good news is, if you know how to control these factors, you’ll have some excellent strategies to help you know how to stay focused on whatever task you put your mind to.
Here are 20 ways to help you avoid the off-ramps of distraction:
1. Turn off what you don’t need.
If it’s not related to the task, put it out of sight and out of mind.
Is your phone likely to help you stay focused or get distracted? You know the answer! If you need the internet, make sure wasting time online doesn’t prevent your progress.
2. Prepare your workspace.
A messy desk is full of distractions. Clean it up so that your mind is free to focus on the task at hand.
There’s no need to go overboard and have a full scale clean-up operation. Save that for when you’ve scheduled it, not as a knee-jerk reaction to this.
3. Check the temperature.
Regulate it so that you’ll feel comfortable. Too hot can make you drowsy. Too cold means you can’t think about anything other than getting warm. Cool is cool:)
4. Have what you need.
What will the task require? Having to stop, or not being able to start because you haven’t got the necessary equipment, will soon prevent you from getting the things done that really matter.
5. Keep your body happy.
Make sure it’s fed and watered. Keep a bottle of water with you if possible -- staying hydrated is important if you want to know how to stay focused. So is using the bathroom; just choose an appropriate time.
6. Choose the right time.
Where you do something is important, but so is when you choose to do it. If you want to avoid getting distracted, do work that requires you to fully focus when you’re less likely to be interrupted.
Maybe learning how to wake up early is the answer.
7. Come to it rested.
If the challenge is to know how to stay focused, then it must be something that requires you to think. And that’s always difficult if you’re mentally or physically tired.
Make sure you get enough quality rest and sleep.
8. Schedule it.
When you commit to a task at a specific time, you’re making an appointment with yourself. This is an excellent idea, but it’s so easy to sabotage yourself and find a million and one reasons not to do it.
The way around this is to...
9. Time box it.
Working for a set length of time that you have chosen is one of the most effective strategies you can practice if you want to know to stay focused.
The more you do it, the better you get at estimating how long you feel you can stay on task. Use a timer to help you.
10. Reach the next lamp post.
When I go for a run, but my body can’t keep up with my mind, I tell myself to keep going until I reach the next lamp post.
This approach can work for staying focused because it shrinks the sense of having too much to do.
11. Make a dent.
When you use time boxing, you may finish working after, say, 30 minutes of focused effort. But you haven’t completed the task. So what?
Unless it has to be done there and then, pick up where you left off tomorrow. Make another dent in it. Eventually you’ll finish.
12. Take a timed break.
When you’re working, short regular breaks will enable to keep going. Going for a short walk is one of the simplest and best ways to recharge your body and brain.
Time it so that you come back to what you were doing.
13. Get dressed.
What we wear affects how we feel. If you’re working on a task, wear suitable clothing. Even if you're at a desk or working from home, getting into appropriate attire leads you into a more productive state.
14. Have a reward.
Something to look forward to is the carrot that makes staying on task that bit easier. Keep it in proportion with what you have done, mind.
A Caribbean cruise for doing the dishes isn’t really in the spirit of things. :)
15. Get some perspective.
Think about the bigger picture. How does what you’re doing now affect your future? Is it relevant to your roles, goals and commitments?
Remind yourself of why what you’re doing matters in the bigger scheme of things.
16. Close open loops.
The fewer the things you have to think about, the easier it is to focus on what you do.
David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, refers to tasks that still need to be done as ‘open loops’. Close them to forget them and focus.
17. Check your emails when it suits you.
One of the worst time management habits people have is constantly checking their messages.
Learn how to use email so that you exert control of your inbox as opposed to allowing it to control you.
18. Remind yourself why you chose to focus.
Post your goals in front of you so that you see them regularly. Keep the bigger picture in mind to help you concentrate on what you have chosen to do.
Visualize your goals, spelt out in the form of words and pictures.
19. Mix up the task.
If you’re getting bored, try tackling what you’re doing from another angle. Get creative -- is there some other aspect of it you could do that is still relevant to what you want to achieve?
20. Don’t do the small tasks at the expense of the main one.
All of the above are useful if you want to know how to stay focused on a task, and each one will make some difference to your ability to stick to it. Just remember to actually do it.
Learning how to stay focused is all well and good. But it takes repeated practice. Iron out the creases, find out what works for you, and what doesn’t.
Eventually, you’ll get to the point where you not only know what needs doing -- you have the know-how to get it done with no fuss.