Learn how to stay focused in a distracting environment using these practical steps that will help you remove distractions and have the mindset for action.
I sat down at my lonely computer screen for the ninth time that morning. My favourite Mother’s Day mug was full of cold coffee and I only managed to write three pitiful sentences. Apparently, I have the attention span of a goldfish.
My phone lay apathetically on my desk, occasionally lighting up with cheerful bulletins. But each notification only increased my restlessness and continued to taunt the fact that I hadn’t received a reply.
Trying to detach myself from waiting seemed hopeless. I prayed and decided that whatever happens, everything was in God’s hands. Would I be travelling to a paradise-like destination to sing alongside my guitarist husband? Only God knew.
It seems common knowledge that our attention spans are getting shorter. With one British newspaper going so far as to say that our attention spans are shorter than that of a goldfish!
With this apparent decline in our ability to focus, we’re more likely to flounder at completing our goals. Flitting from one task to the next, struggling to complete things in totality.
Perhaps I’m more susceptible than most. I’m a dreamer by nature. And my mind has often wandered out of the sticky hot classrooms of my high school in Barbados, past the hibiscus bushes to some far off snowy place.
And it’s not a trait I’ve grown out of yet.
So I decided to learn how to stay focused and I found that committing yourself to work on a goal really takes a lot of discipline. Because it is so easy to get distracted. To lose focus. Or to put it off for a time when you think you’ll ‘feel‘ like doing it.
Discipline, as defined by the Cambridge Dictionary, is ‘the ability to control yourself even in a difficult situation’.
That makes it a kind of ‘self-mastery’.
And here I’ve got some self-mastery tips that you can apply today to ensure your goals aren’t getting shortchanged. And if they work for me – a dreamer with the brain of a goldfish – they’ll most likely work for you too! You just need enough focus to get to the end of this post. Are you ready?
D to the Power of Three
If you’ve heard of David Allen’s GTD method of Getting Things Done, you may have heard of these three D’s before. They are ‘defer’, ‘delegate’ and ‘delete’.
But here, I’m using them in relation to specific types of tasks. Mundane tasks. Tasks that don’t bring you any joy or happiness.
You see, a part of the reason we have trouble focusing is not that we have goldfish brains, but because we are doing tasks which don’t encourage us to focus. This might be because we are multi-tasking, we’re being blocked by fear* or because the task doesn’t have a high enough interest factor for us.
Tasks that don’t rank high on our passions list. Tasks that don’t spark up our desires, talents or natural gifts. I call these mundane tasks.
And because they don’t spark up our natural desires. We naturally want to switch off.
We all have to do mundane tasks, like the household chores or balancing our financial accounts. But these tasks should not be happening when it’s time to push our goals forward.
We’ve got to either defer them to a time when we can “zone out”. Like folding the laundry in a mindless state whilst watching Netflix. Or delegate them to someone else – like a maid, a family member or colleague. Or we need to delete them altogether. And decide, that task is no longer important or necessary.
Our productive time should not have any mundane tasks in it. Save your productive time to move your goals forward.Save your productive time to move your goals forward.Click To Tweet
How to stay focused
In order to have the ability to focus, you need to eliminate all sources of distraction as much as possible. That means, turning your phone onto aeroplane mode. Silencing notifications on your computer. And even letting the family know that ‘Mama needs some alone work time!’.
I have young kids. And I know how difficult it can be to work with little ones underfoot. My little cutie is three years old. And he LOVES his mama!
I love just how much he loves me. But it can create a problem when I need to get down to some work. Cause he’s literally like a baby koala, always on my hip, my lap or on my leg!
Take care of the kids
In order to get down to some focused work, I need to ensure that my kids (who are home with me all day) are occupied or taken care of. And in particular, my littlest guy who’s most likely to come and disrupt me every five minutes. So here are a few things that I do;
1. Supply him with some of his favourite toys.
I have them set out in different boxes and swap the boxes around frequently so that he’s always finding something “new” to play with.
2. I give him a snack.
Strawberries, blueberries, yoghurt and a spoon will keep him occupied for 10-15 minutes. Ladies, we can accomplish a lot in fifteen minutes of focused productivity!
3. I ask his sisters to play with him.
He’s got two older sisters who are 11 and 7 years old. And they are very good at involving him in their fort creations. Or when playing ‘mummies in the kitchen feeding baby’ – can you guess who the baby is? If they’re in a convivial mood, I can get an hour or so of work time done like this.
4. I let him do “school” with his sisters.
When his sisters do their Art lessons, he gets a paintbrush also! Oh boy!! He loves having paint and water! And although it can be messy, I value the space to work more than the inconvenience of a little mess.
5. I put on some nursery rhymes
My son loves nursery rhymes and has learnt a lot of colours, numbers and letters because of it. He recognises every letter of the alphabet now and I don’t feel guilty when he’s watching something really educational. I don’t like non-educational screen options for my kids. I’m a homeschooler, what can I say!!
My older girls are quite able to leave mummy to work in peace. And my oldest can even cook meals or fix snacks for her younger siblings. Because of this, I am able to get a lot more done than if I were constantly needed to attend to their every need.
Training your kids to be independent and able to do things by themselves pays dividends, my sweet!
Clear other forms of distraction
If you don’t have kids, you just need to ensure that your work time is completely free of all distractions – physical and mental.
Put all other thoughts and concerns aside. Even for just 25 minutes. The world wasn’t built in 25 minutes, and it won’t fall apart in 25 minutes either! Whatever is on your mind, can wait!
Social media can wait. That spanking new all-singing, all-dancing app can wait.
The fridge can wait. The laundry can wait.
One way to help you stay focused is to remove distractions by putting your phone (and computer) on ‘Do Not Disturb’ and turning off any notifications that are likely to pop up on your computer.
The simple act of showing up to do work can be enough motivation you need to start. You’re here now, so you may as well do this!
And my friend, once you’ve started, it’s a lot easier to continue.
That’s why it’s worthwhile to set an appointment for important tasks. If a task needs to get done, book it in your calendar like you would a friend coming to visit.
When the time arrives on your calendar to attend to that task, show up. Don’t let your friend down! And don’t spend that precious time with your friend glued to a screen. Give your friend (that is, your task) some undivided attention. This is a key point on how to stay focused.
If you knew a friend was coming over to visit, you’d probably check your cupboards to see if you had any tea, sugar and biscuits. This is England, we like tea (and biscuits)!
In the same way, when that task appointment arrives, make sure your kids are taken care of and you have what you need to work on your goal.
Furthermore, show up with the mindset that this task is going to get done right now. I have a vision board on the wall behind my computer which has motivational words and phrases that help me to stay focused. One quick glance at my vision board and I’m inspired to get busy and work my butt off!
You’d be surprised how a small shift in your thinking may be all that you need to knock that task out of the park!
Use a timer
This isn’t compulsory, but I’ve found that it helps me to stay focused when I know I have a very limited time in which to accomplish a particular task.
It’s also helpful when you have kids to ask them to try and not disturb mama for thirty minutes, and then show them the timer counting down. They’re more likely to let me work in peace for half an hour when they know that I’ll be coming out of my ‘diva den’ in a little while and they’ve got something to keep them occupied. 😉
And so, if you want to know how to stay focused, save your productive time to move your goals forward. Defer, delegate and delete any mundane tasks from your hour (or fifteen minutes!) of productivity. Show up ready to act and put on a ‘let’s do this’ mindset. Reduce or remove all distractions and use a timer. That way, you can be sure you won’t fall into that ineffective goldfish bowl.
I apologise if I have offended any goldfish reading this post. I have nothing against goldfish – I love goldfish.
Have you got your own methods on how to stay focused? Let me know about it in the comments.
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*- fear is a massive topic – too big to get into in this post. But I just wanted to say that our brains can find it hard to focus on tasks where fear is involved because our brains are hardwired to stick with what’s comfortable and to prevent us from coming to any harm. So fear often triggers our survivalist nature to stay where it’s safe.