You might have read that I recently was overwhelmed and had to take a step back from the multitude of tasks that I put on my own to do list:
- taking care of my family
- being the best version of myself at my job
- keeping the house clean (luckily I don’t have to shoulder that all by myself)
- this blog, horse-back riding
- taking riding lessons
- looking after my health
- working out
- professional development
- socializing for myself and my daughter
The list goes on. In short, I was having a hard time and needed to find a way on how to stay focused to follow my dreams.
As I outlined in “Feeling overwhelmed?”, to get better, I had to take a step back, scale down my pace and prioritize. I also tried the 15 minute-block challenge. While I enjoyed going through the exercise, I knew what I am spending my time on. In my opinion, the 15 minute-block method is great if you don’t have a good sense of where you spend your time. It reveals where there might be pockets of time that could be optimized and serves as a reminder to use “waiting time”. So far I haven’t been able to make dramatic changes. So I kept researching and exploring.
As it so often is the case with synchronicities, because you attract what you focus on, I came across this quote:
The simplicity of Mr. Maxwell’s statement struck a cord in me. Achieving your goals and living your dreams needs you to focus and manage your priorities.
Here are the 13 tips that help me focus:
When you prioritize your tasks you create a clear mental picture on where you want to focus your energy on. Even though 20 things may seem like a top priority right now, something has to give. You are only human!
Put everything you need to do and accomplish on a piece of paper or in your bullet journal and write it down. The Brain Dump exercise might give you an idea on where to start. Then, go through and find the top three things that you need to tackle first.
2. One thing at a time
Being able to multitask is praised as a top quality in any employee. But there is a steep price that multitaskers pay. According to a 2009 Stanford Study, multitaskers are more easily distracted, have a decreased memory capacity and ability to switch from one task to the next.
Even computers are not able to multitask: they process one 0 or 1 at a time. They are just extremely fast at it.
Stopping constant multitasking is something I learned quickly at my current job. There are always a million things to do and they all seem to be most important, right now! The pace is fast, but when it is at its fastest, I put my head down and focus only on one thing at a time: when it is time to put the monthly newsletter together, I clear everything else off my desk. I get the distracting and interrupting tasks like emails, social media content creation and scheduling out of the way, and then fully dedicate my attention to writing, image creation and putting it all together.
3. Take a break
Breaks are as important as getting things done. Give your body and brain a break from the task at hand and relax your eyes and your mind. It can be as little as taking a 20 sec screen break, to getting some tea or coffee or even going for a walk during lunch. I am still amazed what a walk over lunch does for me. When I come back, I am energized, focused and much more balanced during the afternoon.
4. Get organized
Being organized is much more than having an up-to-date to-do list and decluttering your space. They are important pieces to the puzzle, but there is even more that you can do to bring focus and clarity to your life. Here are a few simple ideas on how to stay focused and organize your life:
• Place items such as phone, keys, wallet, sunglasses always in the same spot
• Put your monthly bills in a stack and pay them on time
• Lay out your clothes for the next day
• Keep a running grocery list. I use this great app for it called Wunderlist.
Bringing order into your life will help you stay on track and on focus so you can devote your energy to your main goals in life.
5. Quiet Place
A quiet space to work that keeps outside distractions to a minimum helps you stay in your zone and lets your creativity flow. Some people work well with music, others prefer to work without. Find out where your sweet spot is.
6. Keep work at work
In today’s day and age, it seems that there are real pressures on many of us to take work home and be available beyond the working hours. Where it is sometimes necessary to work overtime to get the job done, research has shown that doing it consistently depletes mental and physical energy. If we are not able to detach from work, we might be detaching from important personal relationships sooner or later. Keeping healthy boundaries will let you arrive at work refreshed, focused and with the ability to be innovative. Here is a great article on detaching from work on Psychologytoday.com.
7. A good night’s sleep
Getting consistently enough sleep is vital to a healthy mind, body and keeping you excited about your day and your goals. According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults between ages 26 – 64 should get on average between 7-9 hrs of sleep per night.
Do you feel you have “brain fog” a lot or are increasingly forgetful? Regular exercise releases chemicals in your brains that will positively impact your memory, concentration, and mental focus, according to the Harvard Medical School. If you exercise your body, you also exercise your brain. Rigorous exercise will also allow you to shut off your brain that keeps running up and down your to-do lists.
9. Devote specific hours to tasks
When you plan your week ahead, devote specific hours to specific tasks, like checking your email in the morning, after lunch and before the end of your day. Get the most important tasks tackled in the morning, when your focus and energy are the freshest. This will give you a sense of accomplishment and you will be able to see how you make progress every day.
10. Embrace doing nothing
There is nothing wrong with taking some time away from your to-do list. Scientists suggest that spending time in meditation or simply doing nothing at all are essential to our mental and physical health, increase productivity and creativity. The Italians even have a name for the art of doing nothing: ‘Dolce far niente‘ or The sweetness of doing nothing.
Clutter is a huge form of distraction not only in your work space but also in your life. You don’t have to become a clean-o-maniac, but make sure that your space, home, office is beneficial and conducive to achieving your goals and following your dreams.
12. Minimize distractions
When you are working on your goals, say no to all distractions: email, social media, TV, gaming, or your mobile phone. Electronics are usually the worst offenders. You can feel busy with busy-work, but not get the big-ticket items on your list done.
13. Nourish your body
Your health is the most important asset you have in your life. Money, friends, great dreams become secondary if you are lacking in health. Nourish your body with what it really needs to stay focused. Everybody is different and you need to find out what works best for you.
Speaking of synchronicities, this is a story that I recently read in a newsletter, which I usually delete without reading (how ironic, I know), and since then realized it can be found all over the internet, albeit with slight alterations.
Focus on the glass of water
One day, a new employee went to the HR manager and said, “I’m not interested in coming to the office anymore.” The HR manager responded, “But why?”
“There are people who do a lot of politics and talk negatively all the time. Some are gossiping constantly,” the young man replied.
“OK, but before you go, can you do one last thing? Take a full glass of water and walk three times around the office without spilling a drop on the floor. After that, leave the office if you wish,” countered the HR manager. “Heck, it’s a matter of minutes,” thought the young man, so he walked three times around the office with this full glass of water in hand.
As he reached the HR office the HR manager asked, “When you were walking around the office, did you see any employee speaking badly about another employee? Any Gossips?” The young man replied, “No.” Then the HR manager asked, “Did you see any employee looking at other employees the wrong way?” The young man repeated, “No.” “Do you know why?” asked the HR manager and the young man replied again, “No.”
“The reason you didn’t see any of that is that you were focused on the glass, to make sure you didn’t tip it and spill any water and the same goes with your life. When our focus is on our priorities, we don’t have time to see the mistakes of others,” explained the HR manager.
How to stay focused time and time again? It helps if you love what you do. Whether it is your work, your side hustle, your goals and dreams you follow, we can all come back to our focus, because we are motivated to follow our passion. However, it is not always that easy to love what you do. Try to use the impetus of what you don’t love as motivation to make a change that does inspire you. But that topic is certainly worth its own article.
Look after your health, physically and mentally, focus on your priorities and your goals and dreams will be within your reach. Happy focusing and I’d be curious to know what works for you and what you struggle with most when it comes to staying focused.