Have you got something really important to do that’s top of your list and requires your best effort and absolute focus?
Do you also find that a tonne of other things keep getting in the way and jumping the queue for your attention?
And do you, like me, recognise that this is at least partly because of your own tendency to procrastinate when it comes to getting started on things that are a bit more challenging than responding to the next email, or picking up some other incidental task?
This was exactly where I was yesterday. I had some writing to do for our monthly newsletter and absolutely had to get it done.
Knowing what to do – I’m coaching others on this stuff every day – and doing it are not the same thing!
I was working at home, so I finished up for the morning and had lunch with my wife. Over lunch I told her that I had been procrastinating on doing this work, and straight after lunch I would be tackling it. So now I’m accountable.
After lunch I sat at my computer and closed down every possible distraction – Outlook, WhatsApp, Teams. I put my phone to airplane mode. I chose an instrumental playlist that I find good to work to – there’s lots of evidence to suggest deep focus is easier when there’s some noise rather than absolute silence which tends to mean you become aware of every sound.
I opened the clock on my PC and selected ‘Focus Sessions’. There are options in 15-minute increments. I find 30 minutes works best for me.
I started the music and started the clock, keeping the countdown visible on my second screen while I got into the work.
The first 7 or 8 minutes were quite tough. Getting into it is the hardest part, which is why regular distractions are so damaging. We can find ourselves constantly throughout the day fighting to get into things rather than breaking through that initial barrier until the work becomes easier.
Yesterday afternoon was, because of the preparation, not one of these occasions. I got properly into it!
Suddenly the 30-minute timer was beeping. It didn’t seem possible that it had already been half an hour, but I was progressing well with the work by then. Sometimes it’s good to pause and have a quick break before getting on again, but sometimes when you’re in the flow, stick with it. I started another 30-minute timer straight away, and then another. 90 minutes of what felt like my maximum concentration and I’d done what had been hanging around in my mind and on my list for a few days, and quite enjoyed it.
Preparation. Focus. Discipline. Process.
Ah, one other key thing. I had already decided what I was going to do, something I was looking forward to, once I had finished. That helps a lot.
Everyone struggles with this kind of thing to varying degrees and it never hurts to review what you’re doing and work out your strategy for when you need to tackle something important.
Just one focus session like this every day can make an incredible difference.