Focus on three things at a time and you will be more productive. Know what to work on, how to refocus after an interruption and how to beat procrastination are the keys to stay motivated and build momentum.
It turns out that it is possible to efficiently take care of many things on a list every day, but those things might not be very effective. They may just keep you busy.
Productivity is always about choices. On particularly hectic days it can be especially hard. Too many choices, ideas and opportunities create overwhelm. Have a plan to deal with these things and stay out of more overwhelm.
Three is a magic number when it comes to effectiveness. There are three levels to focus. Basically, it comes down to what, where and when.
So, here it is, the all time easiest way to be productive, are you ready?
Plan your time using the NOW, NEXT, AFTER THAT method.
Instead of all the overwhelming stuff you need to do, now you have a plan. All you have to do is pick 3 important things and do them in order.
Right now I am working on…, next, I will work on the…, after that, I will deal with…
This method of sequential focus is much more effective than multitasking and allows you to:
- Set expectations for yourself and your team. Here is what we are working on, then we will work on, then we can worry about the… (This concept really works well for your kids too. This is what is happening now, then we will, after that we can).
- Be flexible with your time and still move projects forward. I’ll work on this for an hour and then work on the next thing for half an hour and I can do the other thing after lunch.
- Easily gather your materials. Right now I need the calculator, then I will need the client files, after that the marketing plan and copy notes.
- Put interruptions into perspective. Right now, I’m in the middle of something, then I will be working on that thing you are interrupting me about, so I’ll get back to you then. And I will still have time to do the other thing after that.
- Immerse yourself into the activity for a short amount of time. Prepare, work on an activity and review your progress within each focused session. A now, next, after that method within each session – how cool is that?
You can rotate one more into the mix every time you finish the now, or you can do them in blocks of 3. I like to block 3 and add more in only if I finish. That way I can pause and evaluate my activities against my big picture goals.
Start everyday with just 3 important things you are going to focus on, and you stand a much better chance of doing so.
Sometimes, it’s hard to focus. There are a lot of things, activities, tasks, and people vying for your attention most of the time. One of the most frequent comments I hear from my clients is that they feel stressed because they never can focus for long enough to complete a project.
Interruptions take the blame for your lack of focus and that is your excuse to not even try to get your focus back in a timely fashion. That is until I share some reasons and tricks to regain focus. It turns out it’s much easier than you think.
There are 3 reasons it can be hard to focus, and sometimes they overlap.
You are Depleted – Due to lack of sleep, lack of fuel, too much giving.
You are Bored – Due to working on too many tasks below your potential.
You are Distracted – Due to undone things, bright shiny things and interruptions. Which of course leads us back to too much giving. See how that works?
Luckily the strategies for regaining your focus also overlap. That means just try one and see if it works. If not try a different one until you can focus.
The 3 methods for regaining your focus will have quick effect on your stress:
- Recharge -A snack, a nap, a nature walk, meditation or what ever your favorite way to reconnect with yourself is are worth the time away from a project. Focused bursts of energy are up to 10 times more productive than distracted energy. (I think I read that somewhere, but I might have made it up to make my point.)
- Challenge – Work with the music on and tell yourself you are doing 2 things at once – such talent! Do something you truly love for a little while. Work on something creative. See how much you can accomplish in 5 minutes. (And keep reading for more on this).
- Exaggerate – Now, this is something I almost never do. (See above.) What I mean is to talk your self through the project out loud or in a funny voice or as if are teaching it. “First I’m going to… then I do the… once that’s done I move onto the…” It can be helpful to also exaggerate the physical movements. Pick up the pen with flourish and smooth out the paper etc. This works because you have to think about what you are doing.
It took me a long time to realize the benefit of surrendering to no focus. Sometimes it is just faster in the long run to do something entirely different for a little while, then focus on three.
Or you can make it more challenging to beat procrastination.
Recently I met a man who claimed to not be competitive at all. I thought it was a joke. I can’t imagine such a place. He was horrified. That made me think.
I also met a man who makes his living in competition and has the awesome ability to keep focused on one result at a time. What is it about competitiveness that is so compelling for some and so repulsive to others?
I’m a competitive person. Not so much to beat others as to be my best self. Don’t get me wrong, I like to win, but even more than a win, I love to do well. It is perfectly fine on those days when someone else just does better. It gives me something to work on for next time.
The downside is all the pressure I can put on myself to be my best all the time. It is easy enough to return to my old perfectionist procrastination tendencies. That doesn’t get me anywhere though. So, I work with a coach, it helps me improve constantly and keep things in perspective.
People who have ever participated in organized sports seem to get that a healthy dose of competition can help you get what you want. There is effort, measurement, adjustment, trial, error, and focus to achieve a goal in all athletic endeavors.
Are you competitive? Does your competitiveness get in the way of your productivity? Does it stop you in your tracks when you stumble across an idea, that you had (but haven’t implemented yet, because…?), already done?
Or do you feel like a bad person for enjoying the win, and does that keep you from moving onto the next task?
Either way, competitiveness might be in your way.
Focus on three ideas to make your competitive streak work in your favor:
Self-satisfaction for a job well done can be it’s own motivation and provide the momentum to tackle the next thing. Being satisfied is a good thing. Be satisfied with yourself and your success leads to more success. Turn little things into a contest and make it fun. How fast, how far, how much can you do? Enjoy the process and the win.
Learn to get things done not perfect. Think of it as a way to dose your energy. Don’t waste energy on stuff that is not relevant, spend it where you really shine.
And some things you have to do anyway, don’t wait for the perfect moment, just do them in the right order. Get over the mountains so you can sprint on the Champs-Elysees. (It’s a cycling thing, I’ll explain it later if you want.)
Focused bursts of speed can lead to brilliance and clarity in your work. A power hour of focused effort on what ever your project is will help you get it done. You are prepared, you have the right stuff, you are ready. So, set a timer and go to it! You might just set a record.
I thought I might crank out this post in about 20 minutes. I set a timer. It rang 15 minutes ago. Oh well, I’ll write faster next time. For now, this is done! Time to focus on three.
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