Almost 4000 people type the exact question “how to focus better” in Google every single month. In today’s world full of distractions, it’s nothing surprising. I’ve got to the point where my focus isn’t as clear as I’d like it to be. There are certain goals that I want to pursue at this point in my life and I truly want to devote them my full attention yet I tend to wander more than it’s necessary.
Sometimes, we’re chasing the next inspiring article and the next life-changing book while the answer is in your head already and you need to start implementing (and continue absorbing the wisdom). This post is a personal reminder on how to get back on track when I lose focus.
Begin with decluttering
You can show me cluttered desks of Einstein and Twain all you want yet based on my personal experience, a clean and minimalistic desk is a key to distraction-free work. Whenever I gather too much possessions of all sort on my desk, focus melts away and I end up doing weird things with any particular reason. Clean your desk, get rid of needless, sentimental stuff that only distracts you, make more space to breathe, think and create.
I’m not trying to sell you the idea of living with a backpack and having less than 100 things. Although it seems liberating (and I’d like to try it at some point in my life), there are definitely downsides and you don’t have to go extreme to regain focus.
Remove digital distractions
Since I do all of my work using computer and the Internet, making sure that my desktop and browser are as distraction-free as possible is a crucial step.
I have a huge tendency to collect icons on my desktop. It’s not good from a long-term perspective but when I’m doing my work, I just quickly add new icon because it’s most convenient. One icon at a time, I can get to the point where I can’t even see my wallpaper. This isn’t good if you want to turn on your computer in order to get some work done. Each icon will fight for your attention. Each unfinished project will demand attention.
Similar rule applies to bookmarks. I know I’m not the only person that saves stuff for later only to never come back to it again. It’s caused by fear of missing out on great information, but it’s a trap. When part of your work gets done using the browser, it’s helpful to make the bookmark bar invisible so you don’t get distracted by the “Great documentaries” folder or any other folder that seems exciting to explore.
Try to stick to the single tab rule.
In my case, it’s not always possible yet it’s extremely helpful, for example when I’m writing. There is a chrome extension called TabZollo that makes this easier by blocking more than one tab opened at the same time.
The idea of being able to get different things done at the same time sounds exciting yet it doesn’t work in the real life. It’s tempting to switch from task to task, do a bit here and there but the best thing you can do is choosing the one thing and completing a certain task from start to finish. Work on a particular project as long as possible and then switch to another one. The mind is already focused in that area so jumping to an unrelated thing only to get back to the first project an hour later rarely works well for me.
Use pomodoro technique
The idea of working long hours seems good to all the workaholics out there but it only works if you ignore all the other real-life factors like fatigue and inevitable distractions.
If you’re not familiar for this technique, here is how it works. Grab a timer, set it for 25 minutes, choose a task and work on it until you the timer goes off. Then you can either have a short break or do another pomodoro right away. It works wonders because 25 minutes isn’t an overwhelming amount of time and you only commit to finish one thing. As you finish your first pomodoro, it’s easy to keep going because well, it’s easier to move a car that’s already going than a car that stays still. You broke the initial barrier with your first 25-minutes and realized that it wasn’t that bad. Use that to your advantage.
Specify a plan
If you want to focus, there is obviously something you want to focus on. Whatever your goal is, whether it’s getting investors to fund your start-up, publishing a book, learning to code, fighting malaria or rescuing puppies, you need to come up with a strategy that will take you from where you are to where you want to be.
If your goal requires daily work, you need to prepare a daily to-do list as well as weekly and monthly plan. That’s the only way to stay focused on your goal without letting distractions kill your progress. Having this plan allows you to move faster and get shit done without wondering what comes next.
Optional step: Read this book.