Have you ever read a blogpost telling you that you should focus and just laughed? Do you really see the point of focusing on sticking to one thing or do you just think you need to get on with all these different things as they are all a priority? What is the point of focusing?
Well the honest answer is that we are finding out right now. We are seeing people able to focus on one thing because that is the thing that is front of most people's minds – Covid-19. What if you have to invent a new ventilator to try and save more lives? People have done it. What if you had to find a way to inspire thousands through a national singalong or clapping along to support the NHS in the UK? People have done it. Why have things like this not been happening all the time, why has it taken a global crisis for this to happen? The answer is focus. When you focus on one clear thing, you can get it done. It’s not always easy to focus but the power of it can be seen as we look around and read the news right here right now.
Have a listen to our GreyHatBeard podcast on the subject or read on.
So how do you focus?
As with many solutions, there’s always a harder question to answer. How do you dedicate your time to one thing when there are all sorts of challenging priorities around you? When the kids need you to help them with their homework, your wife is asking what shopping is needed for the weekly trip, your colleagues are asking how to solve something and HR is asking whether you need to take that leave and all at the same time, how do you focus on getting just the one thing happening?
If you try and juggle all those different things, you are unlikely to get any of them done and context switching between the different things will mean you are less effective on each of them. By the end of the day, you will be exhausted and your to-do list won’t have changed. You will finish with substandard results for each task, unhappy family, agree work life and probably no leave to recover.
So the first step has to be to list and prioritise. Sorting out which is more important is hard but first you need to get everything down so that you can. For me, I like to use Microsoft ToDo as it will already pull my tasks from Planner but you could use a piece of paper or post-its too (these are better as you can then sort). Work through the list and decide then on what has to be done first.
One thing at a time
Now that you have a list of things to work through, you can look at one thing at a time. Shut off your notifications, ignore you email and work on that one thing until done. If it's too big, then break the task down a bit but stick to the one thing at a time.
Leave some time for emails and other social media but don't keep swapping between different things. Just get one done at a time.
Use your environment and equipment
To stop yourself from being disturbed, use technology like noise cancelling headphones and think about where you sit. Pick places where you won't be disturbed. Use different desks (or rooms in the house at the moment due to lockdown) for different tasks so your mind is in the right place for it. Some places for documentation, another for meetings, somewhere else for coding perhaps.
Also use different music, podcasts and audio books for different types of work. High tempo for coding works for me but lower intensity for writing documents and reading articles. For repetitive tasks, having an audio book or podcast in the background works.
Where can I find out more?
There are so many things out there on focusing, amusingly enough to really distract you. Great books such as The Organized Mind or Getting Things Done will help. Or take a listen to GreyHatBeard - we'd love to know what you think!