We all have times when we struggle to focus. Often it’s when we’re tackling hard, energy-intense tasks: perhaps while studying in college or writing a report at work. A lack of focus often leads to procrastination and a poor-quality end result – and a lot of frustration along the way.
So how can you overcome your tendency to get distracted, to procrastinate, or to slack off? Here are three simple steps that will make a massive difference to your ability to focus – even on the toughest of tasks.
Step 1: Minimising Introductions
One of the biggest focus-killers is other people. It might be a ringing phone, a colleague or friend dropping by for a chat, or a crying child – whatever the cause, the result is the same: your focus on the task at hand is instantly gone.
If you’re engaged in a high-energy task like writing, it can take ten to fifteen minutes to get back into your flow after an interruption.
So, the first step to gaining focus is to make sure that you’ve minimised the chances of being interrupted. That means closing the office door, turning off your phone, and letting anyone nearby know that you should only be disturbed in an emergency.
Step 2: Shutting off Distractions
Even when you’ve got rid of interruptions from other people, you’re likely to have other distractions going on that sap your ability to focus. One of the biggest distractions for most of us is email: seeing a new message arrive in your inbox can create an almost irresistible urge to open it.
Other common sources of distraction include instant messaging programs, social media websites, and the internet in general! If you find that you’re frequently wandering off-task to surf the net, try switching off your internet connection – or use a full screen program such as Dark Room to draft that report or article.
Step 3: Set a Time Limit
The final step to achieving complete focus is to give yourself a time limit. Have you ever noticed how fast you can work at 4pm on Friday when you’ve got a task that needs to be done by the weekend? There’s an adage that work expands to fill the time available – the flip side of this is that you can often squeeze work into a smaller amount of time than you think.
A time limit of thirty minutes often works well. Set a timer, and tell yourself that you’re going to work on this task and this task alone until that thirty minutes has gone by.
There you have it – three simple but powerful steps to improve your focus and help you make faster progress towards your goals!
Ali Hale is a postgraduate student of Creative & Life Writing, and a freelance writer working for several large blogs. She also runs her own blog, Aliventures, writing regular, in-depth articles that help you get the most from life.