8 Steps To Becoming Intensely Focused
By Kevin Daum, Contributor
You know how much you can get done when you’re focused. You also know how hard it is to achieve and maintain. Competing goals, distractions and the limits of attention all compete to dismantle your focus. If you’re trying to work, your family needs your attention. Try to focus on family, and the duties of the job get in the way. People load up with hobbies and trips and learning and aspirations. TV and internet surfing, video games and social media offer tempting respite. And then there are all those distractions caused by elements outside of your control, like news and politics and bureaucracy. It’s really quite amazing that anyone ever gets anything done at all.
But some people know how to work through all that distraction. They tune it out and focus tightly on the person or task in front of them. These are the people you admire. In conversation, they make you feel seen and heard. The output they create has depth and intensity. Here’s how they do it.
1. Clear the noise.
The world is noisy and overstimulating and can easily end up dictating what you do with your attention. People who achieve extraordinary focus start by controlling their environment. Try doing the same. Set up your environment to be conducive to the task at hand. Whether you need to focus on a work project or your lunch date, get rid of the beeps and dings of notifications. Disable your laptop’s internet. Put your phone in airplane mode. Remove everything that is not helpful to your objective.
2. Create a plan.
Not knowing what to focus on first wastes time and energy and makes you vulnerable to the easy answer of simply responding to the distractions as they come in. Really focused people always have some sort of plan to follow. They create a clear picture of where they’re going and a reasonable idea of how to get there. Set up a structured path for your objective. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. It could be just a few bullet points in an email. That way when you veer off course, you can quickly reset and get back on track. You can’t focus if you don’t know what to focus on.
3. Set up a clear reward.
Often being unfocused is a result of being unmotivated. You have to want to focus. Really focused people clearly understand why they are engaging in any form of activity. Determine early on what’s in it for you so that you are excited about the task at hand. Create a reward for completion to help yourself become accountable and to make the task a priority over all other distractions.
4. Create routine.
Being disorganized can cause distraction, stress and inefficiency. Really focused people don’t allow mess and chaos to get in the way of their objectives. If you are not good at organization, enlist someone who is. Give everything its proper place and home. Control the things you can control so you can be free to deal with the things you can’t. And focus on them.
5. Work methodically.
With so many projects and tasks to accomplish, it can be tempting to try to multitask to get everything done at once. Really focused people know that multitasking is a sure way to accomplish less work of lower quality in more time. Schedule your day to compartmentalize projects so you can give them your complete attention. Check email in email-checking time and no other. Stop trying to do four things at once. Do one thing at a time with complete attention. You’ll be amazed at how much you can accomplish.
6. Live in the now.
Progress happens in the present. History offers useful lessons and future goals give you guidance, but work only gets done in the now. Focused people are present in the moment. It’s important to pay respect to lessons from before, and the vision of where you are going, but do that in scheduled times of reflection and planning. Do the work of the moment in the moment. Don’t let your thoughts wander through time. Keep all of you in the present moving things forward. This will give you a better future and a past you enjoy reflecting upon.
7. Mind your own business.
One of the most distracting activities in life is comparing yourself with others. It’s very tempting to use others’ achievements and progress as a measuring stick for your own. Don’t do it. Take your focus off others and put it squarely on yourself. Worrying about the performance of contemporaries drains much-needed energy and inhibits effort. Focus on your own performance. It’s the only one you can improve.
8. Accept failure.
It’s tempting to assume that setting attainable goals means that you will most certainly accomplish everything on your agenda. Disappointment in missing the mark eats up energy that can be used to get things done. Really focused people quickly assess their failures to learn from them. They don’t obsess over what they could have done differently, they do it next time. They don’t waste time on regret. When things don’t go as planned when you miss a guess or fail to account for an important factor, refocus from the failure to what you can do about it. Then repeat steps 1-7. Set up your environment, make a better plan with clear rewards, routinize what you can and then act methodically on your plan in the present keeping your focus on your performance.
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