The Six Skills of Staying Focused

Photo Credit: Reinhart Julian on Unsplash

Distractions. They are everywhere. You start to work on something, then all of a sudden, you are spending hours on social media or watching something on your phone. It is easy to find ourselves procrastinating on the things that need to be accomplished. We don’t feel motivated and look for something else to grab our attention. But then, the deadline is coming up soon. This is when we start to feel overwhelmed and then start responding in fear.

It is critical that we understand that fear is not a good long-term solution. Even though, fear might cause you to do something, it can easily wear you down and cause a lot of other issues such as anxiety, stress, and discouragement. But there is hope.

We have to remember that the ability to focus is something that you can develop; therefore, it is something that anyone can grow in and even master. But it takes commitment and a lot of hard work. You have to be willing to put in the sweat equity.

Here are 6 skills (TARGET) that you can work on in order to develop a greater focus:

  1. T – TASKLISTS help you to prioritize. Some people love tasklists, while others hate it with a passion. But writing down a clear plan of action can actually help you to stay focused and be productive. It enables you to prioritize the things that need to get done, as well as, provide a clear guidance of the things that you need to do next. By having a tasklist, it helps you to record what has been accomplished so far, and the things that you still need to work on. When there is a sense of momentum built up by checking off finished tasks, it will enable you to stay focused and motivated.

Next Steps: The night before, come up with a list of things that have to be accomplished the next day, then prioritize that list according to importance, urgency, and deadlines.

  1. A – ADJUST your expectations. It is easy to have an overestimation of ourselves when it comes to tasks and things that we need to accomplish. When we don’t achieve our desired goals, then we get discouraged and start to push things off because of the fear of failure or even perfectionism. But sadly, this triggers more anxiety and stress, which causes us to lose motivation. Then we lose focus and start to turn to things to distract us, which puts us further into discouragement. The cycle starts again. It is a vicious cycle that has negative consequences. The best approach is to adjust our expectations of what we are able and willing to do. Then we have to start tackling the task in smaller chunks. This will help in building momentum and experiencing encouragement along the way.

Next Steps: Write out some goals that you want to accomplish and put down the next steps that you are going to take. Then ask a friend who knows you well to see if it is doable and to keep you accountable.

  1. R – ROUTINES are critical. Those of us who love being spontaneous sometimes struggle with having routines. While spontaneity is a good trait to have and can be useful in many different contexts, but when you have a lot to do, routine is king. Most focused people utilize a good routine to their advantage. They are able to get into the flow while they are in a routine. If you think about a musician or an athlete, they put in hours of “routine behaviors” or “practice” so that they can “unconsciously” do the action when it is game time or a performance. It is at that moment when they “create,” they flow and do things with ease. In the same way, if you want to flow and stay focused, then you have to have routines and practice it over and over again.

Next Steps: Use a calendar and schedule in things that you are going to do at a certain time. Just make sure that you do things roughly at the same time, with the same routine.

  1. G – GET moving. When we just sit in one location and in the same position for a long period of time, it is easier to lose focus. It is partly psychological, but it is also physiological. This is why it helps when you are able to move around and get the blood circulating. One of the best things to do is to take a short walk. The change of scenery helps us to clear our minds and it can really cause us to refocus once we get back to the task. Also, when we move around and think about other things, it helps us to be more creative. So, don’t just sit there for long periods of time, move around.

Next Steps: Set up a timer or a reminder to take a short walk or even move your body by jogging in place or even jumping jacks and start to see the concentration to come back.

  1. E – ELIMINATE distractions. This is a simple concept but so hard to do. One of the main reasons why we struggle to focus is because of the numerous distractions that are around us. When our phones buzz with a message or a notification, it is hard not to take a quick look. Also, when we are working on your laptop and the web browser is open, the temptation to click on to a website to divert our attention is so enticing. Sometimes it is the environment. When we are “studying” or “working” with friends, it can be a big distraction. Also, if we are in an environment where there are a lot of things going on, then it can break our concentration. But some people enjoy being in a place where there is background noise, therefore, you need to really know yourself. We have to remember that being focused is not just about willpower, but it is more of a strategy, and therefore, we have to position ourselves in such a way so that we can succeed.

Next Steps: Find the time when you are most alert and then turn off your phone and other things that can distract you. If you have to use your computer, then close all other applications and use only the one that you need. Then work in intervals of a concentrated 1-1.5 hours.

  1. T – TIMELY and TIMED breaks. We are not machines; therefore, it is important that we take appropriate breaks in between our concentrated work times. But it is vital that we do it wisely because a 20-minute break can turn into two hours of watching YouTube videos of cute puppies. Every person is different, therefore, you have to find your rhythm. But it is critical that you take “timely and timed” breaks. Normally, concentrating for an hour and then taking a short break, helps with focus.

Next Steps: Carve out bigger chunks of time to work and then break up the time by an hour or 1.5 hours intervals. Then set up alarms to remind you to take a break and then another alarm to get back to work.

We live in a distraction-filled world. There are so many things that are vying for our attention. This is why many of us struggle with staying focused and accomplishing the things that we need to. But if we develop good habits and have a clear strategy, then we can be more successful in getting things done with more focus. Therefore, remember the TARGET:

  1. TASKLISTS help you to prioritize
  2. ADJUST your expectations
  3. ROUTINES are critical
  4. GET moving
  5. ELIMINATE distractions
  6. TIMELY and TIMED breaks

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