I think it’s safe to assume we agree that staying focused is important. But why is it so difficult? In this episode we explore a few reasons why it’s so tough and discuss five ways we can practice being more focused.
Focus is required to excel at anything. From daily tasks to selling, leading, communicating, creating and achieving long-term goals, if we desire performance, we need to develop focus.
The Inner Game
According to this amazing book (link below) about learning, improving ourselves, leading and coaching others, we’re all subject to an inner game. This inner game is a battle of our Self 1 vs. Self 2.
Self 1, (we’ve referred to it before as the resistance) is our voice or the voice of others that gets in the way of our natural ability. It manifests itself in fears, negative thinking, giving in to distraction (there’s always tomorrow, I can put it off, I don’t feel like it right now, etc.).
Self 2 is our true self and figures stuff out when we’re truly focused. It’s our natural potential and what makes us rise to the occasion. Self 2 is easily understood by watching an athlete “in the zone.” Things happen almost magically. Performance seems automatic and easy.
Of course, we all want to hear and trust more of our Self 2 and ignore Self 1. The key to mastering this Inner Game is focus.
Here are five things we can do to stay more focused:
- Clarify the desired outcome: learn to rekindle your child-like laser focus on what you’re after or are trying to accomplish. You may need to prioritize and rank competing agendas. It’s always best to write this stuff down.
- Break things down into smaller chunks: overwhelm and anxiety are two of the biggest reasons people lose focus. You can mitigate this by chopping up large items into small pieces. The completion of small tasks builds momentum and acts as a reward. Consider limiting your to-do list to 3 items vs. 15 and take short breaks every 30 minutes of work.
- Think bigger: the other big reason people lose focus is boredom. You can more easily sustain focus when things are meaningful and manageable. Be mindful of your attitude regarding what you’re doing. Think bigger about the importance of tasks or shoot for a bigger target.
- Focus on neutral and critical variables: fighting Self 1 doesn’t work, but you can distract yourself from thinking about the desired results by focusing on related variables. Just make sure they are observable, interesting and relevant.
- Be aware of what distracts: self awareness can help keep distractions at bay. When you understand what distracts you, eliminate what you can. It’s important to avoid judging or condemning yourself; this is just Self 1 fighting harder.
My best trick (so far)
James emailed in a question asking what the single most impactful thing I’ve done to keep focused. I’d say breaking projects down into smaller chunks (list of three), using a timer, and turning everything else off has helped me most.
I also had a question about working with multiple clients. How do we stay focused when we’re juggling their agendas, our own, and what our boss needs? This goes back to priorities and competing agendas. Everything can’t be done at once. Something must take precedence because multitasking doesn’t work. The desire to multitask is evidence that Self 1 is hard at work.
I put out a challenge to you to do one of the following for 21 days:
- use short task lists of 3 things per day (I’ll be doing this one)
- use a timer and work for short periods of time and then take a 5 minute break
- document when you get distracted – keep notebook by your side
- connect with desired outcome for the day
Resources I mentioned during the Podcast
- Post: I Overdosed Again – Don’t Let it Happen to You
- Post: 13 Ways to Beat Distractions and Stay Focused at Work
- Podcast: #015 Work and Rest
- Software: Anti-Social & Freedom
- Book: The Inner Game of Work, by W. Timothy Gallwey (affiliate link)
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As I mentioned there was no live call this past Thursday. In case you’ve never participated, these free, interactive sessions are for anyone who wants to learn, grow, and do the hard work to become a better leader. People call in to offer opinions, ask questions, and inspire others to live and lead with more success. If you call in each week, thank you!
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