This morning, I perused my email looking through the many newsletters I get and I thought about all the possible articles I could write. Within 10 minutes, I began to feel overwhelmed. I asked myself the question I hear so many people ask out loud on a regular basis: Where should I focus my attention?
Most of us have a lot on our minds. Our to-dos lists are long. Our inboxes are flooded with email and information is coming at us on our multiple screens. We know we need to focus to get stuff done, but the distractions are overwhelming and our brains are cluttered.
So, how and where should each of us focus our attention on any given day and at any given moment?
Here are five ways to figure out what you need to focus on and how to go about it:
- Pursue clarity. It’s a lot easier to focus when you are clear and excited about what you consider your top priority for the day, week and month. The key is to be pumped about that priority — whether it’s something at home or work. What part of your job or your home life motivates you and is worthy of your attention? Write it down. Often seeing it on paper helps you focus.
- Think ahead. Our job descriptions, career paths and lifestyles are rapidly evolving. Our brains are constantly looking for what’s new and what’s next. Harness that energy and factor in not only what’s next but what’s important and what’s urgent. It’s easier to focus on getting ahead than on playing catch up.
- Clear your surroundings. If you really want to focus, you need to set yourself up to succeed. Clear away distractions, log out of email and disconnect from social media. Go to a place where you can focus. You won’t believe how much you will get done when you are completely absorbed in a task.
- Develop the skill. Elie Venezky, author of Hack Your Brain, says “Focus is a muscle, and you can build it.” Realistically, it’s unlikely you will be able to maintain a constant focus for a long period of time. But you can get better at focusing if you you plan for and accomplish a short period of distraction-free time every day.
- Forget perfection, be committed instead. If you’re like me, you feel like you should be super productive all the time and worry about focusing on the right thing. Blogger Stephen Guise suggests taking the pressure off yourself for choosing the best task to focus on. “It’s better to be focused on one good task than to be distracted with several potentially great tasks,” he said. Once you decide that one good task, figure out the small individual steps that you will focus on to get the bigger task done.
If you set out to focus on a task, and become distracted, don’t get frustrated and give up. Instead, re-focus. And when one task is complete, rather than zoning out and losing focus again, move on to your next task.
Like Guise, I am big on the reward system. He rewards himself with animal crackers for completing the small steps that it takes to accomplish a bigger task. ( An animal cracker for every paragraph he writes) I prefer chocolate raisins or almonds. Whatever reward you choose, the goal is to do what it takes to build your focus. It’s going to take practice, but the big reward will be completing more of what matters to you.