Have you ever had the experience of sitting down, trying to make yourself do some task that’s important but not all that fun, and suddenly being inspired to do laundry, clean out your closet, or pick up the dog poop in the yard?
Sometimes you can get off track in a more subtle way, though, and a way that’s not exactly counterproductive, either, which makes it trickier to stop.
For instance, this sort of thing has happened to me before: I’ll be working on developing material for a new course, say. But then I’ll wake up one day and discover that there’s a problem with my email system, and I’ll spend a day sorting that out.
And in the process of doing that, I’ll realize that there’s some setting on my website that’ll need to change. And once I’m in there doing that, I realize that some articles will probably need updating when I launch my course, and that’s pretty easy, so I spend a few days doing that.
Before you know it, I’ve spent a week doing things that are necessary to have done at some point, but which haven’t moved my course any closer to launching, really.
It’s like you found an old classic car rusting away in a barn, and you want to completely restore it, and you start by washing the windows!
In other words, while not exactly wasting your time, if you’re like me, if you end a week having only checked off these little tangential things, then you’re not only going to feel unproductive, but probably a little weak-willed and bad about yourself for letting your goals get away from you again.
It’s said that soon after Bill Gates met Warren Buffett, someone asked each to write down on a slip of paper what the secret is to their success, and they each wrote down “focus.” And that makes sense, because it doesn’t matter how much energy and motivation you have, if it’s not efficiently focused and targeted at something.
You’re at your best, healthiest, and most productive—all at the same time—when you’re focused. So let’s talk about how to get and stay that way.
1) Your focus starts with how you set your goals.
My understanding is that snipers are taught if you are shooting at someone and you’re aiming, say, for their chest, you might miss by a foot, but if you’re aiming for a button, you might only miss by a couple of inches. They say, “aim big, miss big. Aim small, miss small.”
Now sorry if that’s a macabre image for you, but the same thing applies for you and your targets.
Try to set out on your tasks for the day—or your day itself—with clarity about what little, button-sized outcomes you’re looking for.
Let’s say you have to write a report for work. Give yourself a laser-focused objective, like 800 words, for the first time you sit down to write.
If there’s some margin of error, then maybe you’ll surprise yourself and write 900. Maybe you’ll fall short and write 700. If you only make it *halfway*, you’ll still have written 400.
But if you sit down with the vague idea that “it’s time to get something done,” you either fail, in which case you get nothing done, or you succeed and get “something” done—but who knows what?
It’s such a vague goal in the first place that you might write 50 words and call it a day—because 50 words is “something,” right?!—rather than staying focused and putting in your best effort, so you can be proud of yourself later.
To set yourself up for good focus and results, you need to be specific before you even begin.
2) Ask yourself for more focus.
Once you’ve framed your effort the right way, then do your best to calm down and settle into the task at hand. It can be helpful, actually, to do a mindfulness meditation beforehand, and I’ll put a link down below to some guided meditations on my website for you to try.
But once you’re working and perhaps find yourself drifting away, ask yourself to double whatever focus you have right now.
I promise this is effective. Whether you’re feeling focused for several minutes and then lose it, or you’re almost completely distracted, you always have some amount of focus that you can double.
When you do that, it gives you a quick win and a sense that there’s improvement to be had. Then, after you’ve worked like that for a while, double your focus again.
After you do this several times, you may find yourself dropping into a greater level of not just focus, but contentment and calm, with whatever you’re doing, than you thought was available to you.
And all you have to do is ask for it.
3) Acknowledge the part of you that’s looking for something else.
After you’ve set a button-sized goal and you’ve doubled down on your focus over and over, if you’re still drifting away, there’s a good chance you’re bored!
In an upcoming video and article I’m going to be talking specifically about boredom, but look: if your mind is asking for a break to do or think about something else, listen to that!
One way that I and many of my clients have found helpful to do this effectively is to work on a 50/10 schedule.
That means, for 50 minutes, turning off distractions and really cranking on your work, no excuses. Then taking 10 minutes completely off to reward yourself with a walk, get some food, check your phone, etc. That’s your free time to use as you wish.
Then put it all down and do another 50. You might be surprised how productive you can be when you stack a few of these 50/10 segments together. (Just be sure to use a timer, because your 10 minutes can go by quickly, and you have to stick to the plan for this to work!)
Building Your Focus Muscle
Although it might take some effort to remember, and then implement, these tips, remember that behavioral change takes time and practice. Your focus is a skill and quality that you can develop over time, so the more often you practice it, the easier it will get and the better results you’ll see.