Just like anyone else, I battle distraction and opportunity overwhelm on a daily basis.
There are so many things I could do, that might be worth it. And there is always a deluge of interesting things passing by that pique my curiosity. A funny video on Facebook, an interesting article on Twitter, a new opportunity in my inbox.
The battle for focus is one that I wage daily. And the fight never ends.
I’m always curious how other people stay productive, focus on what matters and finish what they start. I asked you on Twitter if you’d be interested in hearing about how I get shit done and the overwhelming response was “Yes, do it!”
So, what follows is every tip, trick, and hack that I use to stay prolific, get shit done and win the battle for focus.
1. First, go directly to work
The first battle of the day often determines how the rest of the day will play out. If I can resist the temptation to get sucked into checking email in the morning, I can often get something meaningful accomplished right away. A quick win in the morning sets the right tone for the rest of the day.
I’ll admit, this isn’t always easy for me. Sometimes I struggle to not check email or Facebook. But if there’s one high leverage habit I’ve developed, it’s this.
If you’re working on developing your focus muscles, I would start with this simple practice and master it before moving on.
2. Start, often
The hardest part is often just starting. I’ve found that it’s especially hard for me to start when a task is difficult or complex. The more importance and weight a certain activity has in my life or business, the more I seem to put off starting.
However, if I can just get moving on it, even for a few minutes, it tends to get easier.
Because I know this about myself, rather than setting the intention to finish something, I resolve myself to start. The more often I start, the easier things get finished. Overcoming that first bit of inertia is the biggest challenge (just like getting started on a run, or the first push of getting a car moving).
Once things are moving, momentum is on your side.
3. Systems, systems, systems
For the longest time, I used to rebel against all forms of systems. I thought they’d limit me and get in the way of my creative spontaneity. Now, I can’t work without them.
The two main tools I like to use are Omnifocus (for my Mac and iPhone) and Basecamp (for team communication). I have them synched together with a service called Spootnik. It simple and gets the job done for me.
Whenever a task comes up that I need to make sure gets done, I simply enter it into Omnifocus and schedule it. Done. Now I don’t have to think about it anymore.
If you don’t have a system in place for getting things done, you’re likely losing a lot of productive time to repetitiveness and inefficiency.
4. Holding myself accountable
This is a big one for me. It can be hard for me to stay focused on what I really intend to do, and accountability helps with that a lot. Without accountability, fear, uncertainty and procrastination can get in the way.
There are two ways I hold myself accountable: with my team, and with a small, weekly mastermind I’m a part of.
Both help me stay focused and more importantly, follow through on what I intend to do. Community means everything to me.
(As a short side note for anyone that’s interested: I’ve tried the whole reward and punishment system many times before. But rewarding myself for doing something or punishing myself for not doing something just doesn’t work for me. However, knowing that I’m going to let someone else down if I don’t follow through is particularly powerful for me.)
5. Clearly defined tasks
I need to know what needs to be done, right now. However, if I just have a very vague, nebulous idea of what I need to do — like “writing” — I’m not very likely to follow through. In the book Switch, Dan and Chip Heath talk about the importance of shaping the path. The clearer the path is, the easier it is to get moving. I find this to be true for myself.
Whenever things are a bit fuzzy, I try to ask “What needs to be done next to move this project forward?”
Sometimes the answer is planning, sometimes it’s making a call or sending an email, or creating an outline. Whatever it is, I define it and then get started.
Every now and then I need to take drastic measures to ensure that I stay focused. Sometimes the battle for my attention is too much, and I need to admit my own weakness.
When that happens two things help me:
- Changing my environment. Usually a coffee shop or even moving to another room in the house does the trick. However, if that doesn’t work I…
- Firewall distractions. Because I work online it’s easy to get sucked into the social media black hole where all time is lost forever (until the end of time). I use an App called Concentrate that allows me to block social media websites and other distractions for a set period of time. It’s like training wheels for building focus. It helps limit my number of choices so I can buckle down and do the work. (Here’s an affiliate link if you’d like to give me credit for the referral: Concentrate)
7. Giving a damn
If I don’t actually care about what I’m doing, it’s very unlikely that it will ever happen. I have
a very low zero tolerance for doing things I don’t like to do. It’s pretty much impossible for me these days. I have to be constantly making sure that what I’m doing is in alignment with my reason why and relates to my long-term vision. Without that, what I’m doing right now has no context.
As much as possible I try to spend the first few minutes of my day thinking about the life that I’m creating, the people that I’m serving and why I care about what I do. Keeping those things in the front of my mind helps me stay synced with my reason why.
Action: What helps you get things done? Leave a comment and share with the community.
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