A motivational speaker once told me “We often overestimate what we can achieve in a day, and underestimate what we can achieve in a year.” This is very true. But what if we do have genuinely under-productive days?
Do you ever get home and think “I should have achieved more today?” If so, you’re not alone. We all have days where we step off the gas a little. For some, commonplace. Indeed, for some people, remaining focused can be a constant challenge.
So how, then, do we train ourselves to remain focused, and get things done? Some of the following may seem obvious, but often it’s the little tricks we can employ that make all the difference!
Distraction, distraction, distraction
It’s so obvious, it’s almost not worth mentioning. However, we are our own worst enemies. We know that pizza isn’t going to help our diet, but it just tastes so much better than the salad. Similarly, we know that having the TV on in the background, or our Facebook account open in another tab, is going to slow us down too. When something more appealing calls to us, it’s human nature to answer the call. No great achievement was ever made without great sacrifice, and it’s the little sacrifices that will help the small achievements mount up too. Identify your key distraction, and spend one day working without it. At the end of the day, take stock of how much more you achieved.
Use RescueTime to track the productive time you spend on your computer, and block disctracting websites.
The 20-minute rule…
If you haven’t heard of this one, it’s well worth adopting. If you struggle to focus or, like me, you try to do too much at once, this could change everything. Multitasking is great, but it can mean you do lots of things to an average standard. Take a single task, and commit to fully focussing on that task for 20 minutes. Aim for top-quality work. After 20 minutes, allow yourself a small moment of distraction (5 minutes maximum), or to switch to another task. 20 minutes fully focussed is much more productive than 45 distracted minutes. If it helps, write yourself a sticky memo and put this somewhere obvious, to remind you to spend 20 minutes on each task, before taking that tangent!
Use Time Out to set up work break reminders throughout the day.
Get your head down!
No, not at work, at home! Our train of thought is directly impacted by the amount of sleep we get. Do you get enough shut-eye at night? Or perhaps too much? Science has proven that too much sleep can slow us down, and that a lack of sleep can make it hard to focus. Find the balance that works for you and stick to it, wherever possible. If you always arrive home from work tired and need a power nap, this is a strong sign that you didn’t get enough sleep the night before. Stay hydrated too – dehydration can be a silent assassin when it comes to our focus.
It’s a proven fact that meditation complements sleep – but it’s hard to stop and just sit there for ten minutes every day. Headspace offers guided meditations that lead you through the session.
Don’t overdo it
For some, hard work comes naturally. Some people apply themselves fully in all they do, and routinely put others to shame with their energy and work ethic. Ideal though it sounds, it’s important not to burn out. There is only so far a gas tank will take a car at top speed, before a pit stop is needed. And for some who are stuck in the fast lane, it’s hard to drop a gear when needed. It’s when additional pressures pile on that the cracks start to appear. Take time to pause, balance your busy moments with quiet ones, and ensure your focus is optimized. If you overwork, and under-rest, your attention span is just a ticking time-bomb. You’ll reach a point where you resent the work, and cannot focus at all.
A change is as good as a rest. Take a moment to step outside of the office. The change of scenery will allow your brain to rest, without thinking about the task that’s sat in front of you. Refresh your train of thought for a few minutes, before committing 20 minutes to your next task. If you haven’t yet found that sleep balance, and are feeling a little sleepy, the fresh air will help too!
Talk to yourself
The first sign of madness? Perhaps. But perhaps also one of the best tools in mentally keeping yourself on course. Motivational phrases like “keep going” or, “I’ve got this” don’t just work in sport. They can be effective in the office too. Just be aware who can hear you, if doing this out-loud in the workplace!
We all need a motivational kick sometimes. Now, this is an old one, but it still works like a charm!
Finally, keep a to-do-list
Do this in a way that allows you to plan your time. Don’t make this overcomplicated, though. For the easily distracted, creating and completing a to-do list could become just another opportunity for procrastination! Allocate yourself those 20-minute bursts of energy and productivity, and plan your breaks. With scheduled pauses, you’ll have little milestones to work towards, and motivation to give 100% for those short periods. Ticking off your to-do list will also be a handy visual reminder of just how much you’ve achieved every day!
WunderList or Taskade are great multi-device to-do-list tools for synchronising your life. If you can’t let another online service into your life, probably the Bullet Journal system is just what you need.
Get to it! Good luck!