“The key to success is to focus our conscious mind on the things we desire.”
– Brian Tracy (Self-Help Author & Motivational Speaker)
Over the years, I’ve spent countless hours learning new ‘time management systems’, using different productivity apps, making elaborate to-do lists and more. But I would often (and still do) struggle with focusing my mind when it came down to actually doing some work. We have a lot of things to juggle in our busy lives and if you’re anything like me, it can be very challenging to deal with distractions, interruptions and a wandering mind.
And then it finally hit me.
It doesn’t really matter what ‘productivity solution’ you use. At the end of the day, your success will come down to your ability to focus consistently every day on your most important priorities. There’s no ‘app’ for that. It comes down to developing daily ‘mental discipline’.
5 Ways on How To Focus Your Mind
Here are some of the daily disciplines that I’ve adopted over the years. I hope that they also help you to focus your mind and do more productive work.
1. Review Your Goals & Decide Your Top 3 Daily Priorities
Always start your day by getting clear about what’s really important in your life. There are two levels to this:
Your ‘Big’ Goals
Leo Babauta at Zen Habits calls these your ‘big rocks’ i.e. the major things in your life that you need to get done. I just call them my ‘big goals’. You should have a list of your most important ‘big goals’. These could be your top 1-year goals, 90-day goals or monthly goals. It doesn’t really matter, as long as you can map your daily tasks to something bigger and more important. I try to start every day by reviewing these ‘big goals’ to remind me about my longer term purpose in life and to get more motivated for the day.
You Daily Priorities
I also start each day by writing down my top 3 priorities for the day. I ask myself “if there were only 3 things that I could do today – what would they be?”. This really helps me to identify my priorities for the day and to focus on completing them as soon as possible. It also puts me in a different frame of mind, where doing anything else in that day just becomes a ‘bonus’ rather than a ‘must do’. It’s not always easy to just pick 3 things, but it’s always better to pick 3 and get them all done rather than pick 10 and only get 3 done.
2. Relax, Breathe & Get In The Ideal State
Being relaxed and in the right state of mind can significantly improve your ability to focus and think clearly.
Relax & Breathe
Here’s a very simple, but effective breathing technique that you can use that the start of your day or whenever you need to focus and work on something important. Find a comfortable place and close your eyes (if it’s possible). Then simply concentrate on breathing in and out. for about 1 minute. Become aware of your breathing. Take slow and long breaths in through your nose. Breathe out slowly through your mouth and pretend as if you are making a candle flame gently flicker but not putting it out completely.
Take another 30 seconds to visualize yourself working on whatever it is that you need to do next. For example, if you need to write a report, then try to see yourself effortlessly writing and enjoying the process. Try to imagine what it feels like to be in the ‘flow’ and enjoy that feeling. Then open your eyes and start the process!
3. Create “Focus Blocks” of Time To Do Your Work
‘Focus blocks’ are simply uninterrupted stretches of focus. Being able to focus during a busy day is often a challenge for many people. Here are some tips for finding your own ‘focus blocks’:
Identify Your Ideal Time
For some people it doesn’t really matter where they work, as long as they can work at certain times of the day. I recommend starting work early in the day and focusing on your top 3 daily priorities. I’m not a morning person, but whenever I start early, I always tend to have a much more productive day. If working early in the morning isn’t ideal for you, then you should identify what times of the day you tend to have the most energy and clearest mind.
Identify Your Ideal Places
The next step is to identify the places where you can do your best work. For some people this could be a coffee shop; for others this could be a meeting room at the office; for others it could be a room at home. You should try to spend time in your ‘ideal places’ every day. Perhaps you can start the day early and work on your top 3 daily priorities from home or a coffee shop before you get to work. Or perhaps you could use a meeting room at work to get some focused time.
Chunk Your Calendar
It’s often very hard to get uninterrupted stretches of focus if your schedule is ‘sliced up’ with meetings throughout the day. Wherever possible, I would recommend trying to ‘chunk’ your meetings i.e. instead of having a 30-minute meeting with a 30-minute gap and then another 30 minute meeting etc. Try to have your meetings back to back so that you can create longer stretches of time to focus. And then be sure to block out this time in your calendar just as if it was a meeting with someone.
Limit How Often You Check Email
Instead of checking email every few minutes, my recommendation is to (a) turn off all email alerts/notifications, (b) close your email application when focusing and (c) only check your email 2 to 3 times per day and set a limit on how much time you will spend on email. Setting a limit will help you focus to quicker task completion.
4. Do One Thing At A Time
Contradictory to conventional wisdom, it’s not a good idea to multitask. Splitting your attention has an impact on your productivity, concentration and energy. According to David E. Meyer, a cognitive scientist at the University of Michigan, ‘Multitasking is going to slow you down, increasing the chances of mistakes’. If you want to improve your productivity, then focus on doing one thing at a time. This will take some work if you are a ‘compulsive multi-tasker’ (like me), but after you’ve tried it for a few days I’m confident you’ll find that you are more productive, less stressed and generally feel a greater sense of accomplishment.
5. Focus Work in Short Bursts
Focus doing your work in short bursts. I would suggest trying 25 minute uninterrupted ‘bursts’ followed by a 5-minute break where you walk around, stretch, drink water etc. If you find that’s too short, then try increasing the work time to somewhere between 25 to 50 minutes, but no longer. According to Tony Buzan (author of ‘Use Your Head’ and inventor of Mind Mapping), a learning period of between 25 to 50 minutes produces the best relationship between learning and recall. You can use a simple timer like this to help you.
I hope these tips help you to better focus your mind and be more productive. If you have any feedback or other ideas on how to be more focused, then I would love to hear from you. You can join me on Facebook, Twitter or just email me directly. I will reply.