Last week, I received an email from one of our ‘Inner Circle’ members that asked:
“How do you stay focused with so many interruptions? This is something I really struggle with. Would love to see some tools you use to tackle different projects and how to utilize your team so that you don’t get bogged down.”
So, I thought I’d answer.
But before I do, I want to be very clear … I am not a psychologist and my day-to-day responsibilities are likely to be very different to yours.
This isn’t a walkthrough of what YOU should do.
Instead, everything that I share below is based on MY experience of using myself as a guinea pig, regularly having monumental to-do lists and working out what methods allow me to be at my most productive.
This might not work for you, but I’m sure there’s at least one thing below that you may be able to apply to help you stay focused for longer.
There are 3 key areas when it comes to being super productive from my experience:
Let’s go through each of them
How I Plan for Productivity
This is so important to me.
I cannot sleep unless I have the following day meticulously planned.
The thought of waking up and then trying to work out what my priorities are gives me immense anxiety.
I plan in three ways.
1. Firstly, every Sunday, I find a quiet room and I map out the key priorities of the week.
I consider the “tasks” that need doing, the things I need to do to grow the business and any short-term focuses that need addressing (I.e., a staff issue or a customer challenge, etc).
This typically gives me a huge list of 50+ things that need completing.
2. I then prioritize and add each task to a specific day of the week, allowing me to understand what needs doing on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc.
3. I then plan the following day in as much detail as possible.
For example, on Sunday, I plan what Monday looks like, then at the end of Monday, I plan what Tuesday looks like, etc.
Waking up to a list of things I need to do is helpful, but what keeps me on-track and ensures that nothing slips out of grasp is to block-schedule my day.
This is where I calculate how long each task should take, and then add to my schedule to ensure that at every hour of every day, I know exactly what I should be focusing on.
As you can see in the picture on the right – this is my schedule from two days this week.
I have time scheduled to check emails, for all the tasks that I need to complete, and time for family life.
Yes, it’s a little bit obsessive.
But it’s the approach that I have found works best for me, and keeps me focused without distractions.
Am I perfect? No.
Do some tasks take longer than expected and mess up this “perfect” schedule? Often.
Will it ever be perfect? Probably not … but the benefits outweigh the cons for me.
How to Stay Focused
Focus can be difficult.
We all wake up some mornings and feel tired, have a lack of motivation and without the “get up and go” that we typically have.
When I feel like this, there are a few things that I do to ensure I stay focused and get myself in the groove.
The first is entirely a personal preference, but it’s to drink coffee.
A caffeine addiction is hardly desirable, nor does it look great on a dating profile, but it does help me to stay focused, or at least give me the feeling that I can.
The second is to work from an area where there are no distractions.
I don’t like being around other people when working, I find myself getting too distracted and joking around – I work in a quiet room on my own, or my favorite place to work is typically a coffee shop in a quiet corner.
I block out the world, and give myself no risk of distractions.
Thirdly, I use a tool called Brain.fm
This is a paid-for subscription that plays functional music that improves focus.
To steal the verbiage from their website “Brain.fm holds patents on key processes for creating functional music, including technology to elicit strong neural phase locking—allowing populations of neurons to engage in various kinds of coordinated activity—and technology to remove distraction in sound.”
Here’s a link to check it out (there’s a trial or examples on YouTube).
This is relatively new, I discovered this in late 2020 but it’s been so helpful to keep me focused – I’m listening to it now while writing this article.
I define effectiveness as how much good work that you can get done.
A quote that has always stuck with me is “Focus on being productive instead of busy” and I’m conscious that I regularly fall between the lines.
Although I always have the tendency to be busy, there are a few lessons that I’ve learnt about myself and my preferences that allow me to be effective.
- I avoid drinking alcohol in the week – I hate not feeling sharp and a few beers (regardless of how desirable it is after a long day) always makes me feel slightly fuzzy the following morning.
- I’m an early morning type of guy – I wake up at 5am and tend to do some of my best work in the first few hours of the day. If I hit snooze it starts my day off badly so I’ve had to be disciplined to wake up early every morning
- I’m very lucky to have a wife that helps me to be as productive as possible by taking care of school-runs, grocery shopping and much of the day-to-day essential things, allowing me to focus at work (she’s incredible).
These are little things that I’ve learned based on my preferences, but of course, you may be more productive in the evenings, not respond well to coffee or find you thrive in busy places.
I don’t believe there’s a magic formula – it’s a case of finding what works best for you.
Your Next Steps
As I said at the outset, I can only share what has worked for me.
There is so much wishy washy information around on how to be more productive, but planning, avoid distractions and working out what works best for you is by far the best thing I can recommend.
I hope that at least something that I have shared is helpful, applicable or at the very least worth trying.
Will it work for you? Who knows … but continuing to experiment to find the winning formula for you is a never-ending game.
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