We all have the same number of hours in each day, some people just use them more efficiently than others. I don’t know about you, but it’s hard for me to get all the things done when I’m overwhelmed with life. So how do those efficient people do all the things in a reasonable number of waking hours and still get a healthy amount of sleep? They get super focused. If that is laughable for you, don’t worry, it was for me too (still is sometimes). I’m a natural born procrastinator and distracted – man, my picture is beside the word in the dictionary. I’ve got five thousand tabs open in my brain at all times, not to mention the notifications I’m hearing and seeing from my phone and watch constantly. We have created an extremely distracting world and the worst part is, we’re addicted to it.
I learned a lot about distraction in a book I recently read, Bull’s Eye: The Power of Focus. It is amazing to me how distracted we are without even realizing it. We have truly created an environment where productivity is practically impossible and the thought of it is totally overwhelming. So let’s talk about the importance of focus.
Think about how many times you’ve heard the phrase, “there just aren’t enough hours in the day!” Well, as it turns out, research suggests that in an 8 hour work day, the average person is only productive for 2 hours and 53 minutes. So it’s probably not actually a matter of not having enough time, but not knowing how to use our time wisely.
The feeling of ‘too much to do, not enough time to do it’ likely causes you a lot of stress. I know it does me. If you’re like me, you probably even waste time just thinking about all the things you need to do and becoming too overwhelmed to do them. So I came up with a system that works for me. Right now I only use this system when I’m super stressed out, but it’s really something I want to start implementing every day during the week when I need to be the most productive.
This is the Cambridge Limited Action Planner. It is my favorite thing right now. I love lists so I decided to use this action planner to schedule blocks of my days and highlight my to-do priorities when I’m feeling overwhelmed. This particular list is a pre-event day when I was majorly stressed and scrambling to finish all the last minute things for the Out of the Darkness walk for suicide prevention that I had been organizing. Since I was highly stressed and I knew I needed to be super focused to accomplish all my top priorities, I employed this method that I had recently created for myself and ta-da, I accomplished all the things!
So step-by-step, this is what I do each day during times that I’m feeling overwhelmed (if it’s Thursday, I’m planning Friday. Sometimes I plan several days in advance depending on what’s on my schedule.):
- Make a list of all tasks that have to be completed that day in order of importance.
- Make a list of any appointments, meetings, work obligations, etc. and their times.
- Decide on blocks of time that you’ll complete your tasks (I use early morning hours to complete high priority tasks, then fill in evening hours with the rest).
- Assign an amount of time you think each task will take or a maximum amount of time you will spend on each task regardless of if you finish or not.
- Start writing your schedule and be specific. You’ll notice I scheduled everything down to my shower and breakfast. When you need to stay on task, the specifics matter! You’ll notice that my PM check list isn’t time specific. That’s because that particular evening I knew work time would be up in the air because of plans I had with my husband. But I made my check list anyway so I knew what I had to get done before the day was over.
- Finally and super important (in my opinion), choose some positive and motivating words to write at the top of your schedule/to-do list. Words are powerful and they will set the tone for your work session. For real, trust me, just do it.
Here are a couple of tips to stay super focused during your work time:
- If you don’t need your phone for your work, put it on silent and set it aside. Notifications are actually like a drug to us. Our brains respond the same to social media, text, email, and other notifications as it does to drugs such as cocaine. So your notifications will always pull you away from your tasks. It’s been studied, google it. Then put your phone away and get to work.
- Follow your schedule exactly as you have it written. Try setting a timer so you don’t go over on one task and not have enough time to work on the other tasks. You’ll find that even if you don’t complete a task before you have to move on, you’ll still feel a sense of accomplishment and relief. Remember to always put the most important tasks first and allow a proper amount of time for them so those things always get done.
- Minimize multi-tasking. Only work on one thing at a time because multi-tasking, according to a 2009 study at Stanford, over time actually shortens your attention span and decreases memory capacity and your ability to switch from one task to the next.
- Get plenty of sleep and exercise. Your brain and body need movement and rest. Bottom line, you function better mentally and all around when you are taking care of yourself physically.
I hope this has been helpful for you. It’s actually pretty simple and I find that the more simple the trick is, the better it works for me. If you want to make sure you don’t miss any other tips or tricks from me make sure you subscribe below for updates.
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