Maybe you’re like my friend, Hiria, who told me she was having real trouble making progress on completing her assignment. “The deadline is looming,” she admitted. “But I can’t seem to get focused.”
I know the feeling.
If that describes you, I have good news. Here are seven steps to getting unstuck. They are not that revolutionary on their own. In fact you may say they are common sense - and yes, they are. But I find that common sense doesn’t always translate into common practice. If you give these seven steps a shot, together, they will be like a defibrillator for your productivity:
- Create a to-do list for today. Many people keep lists, especially those who have been inspired by David Allen’s GTD method. They have scores—perhaps hundreds—of tasks, neatly divided by projects, contexts, or areas of focus. But they don’t know what they need to get done today. I recommend creating a simple list for today with just three critical actions on it.
- Turn on some inspiring music. I listen to music whenever I want to get out of the world and into my work. I like to listen to Māori or iwi radio stations. Some people prefer instrumental music only. Someone told me about Focus@Will which is a service that streams music selected to lengthen your attention spans and improve your concentration. I haven’t tried it myself but you might want to check it out.
- Turn off the social web. Shut down Twitter, Facebook, Messages, Slack, and email. This works for me but if you don’t have the discipline to do this, make technology work for you. There are apps such as Freedom.to. that instead of closing everything down, allows you to selectively disable apps and websites for specific lengths of time. It also allows you to keep your browser open for research. And it works for both Mac and PC.
- Do one task at a time. Multitasking is a myth. Instead, you need to focus. Starting, stopping, and switching tasks before you finish costs you time, energy, and productivity. Do one discrete task from beginning to end. Block time for it. As you check tasks off your list one by one, you’ll start feeling momentum and satisfaction grow.
- Batch similar tasks together. You can build on the gains of single-tasking by batching similar tasks together. If you need to run an errand, run a bunch of them while you are out. If you need to do a financial task, do several. Why ramp up to do one? Leverage your effort across several.
- Take breaks, including naps. This is one of the secrets behind the Promodoro Technique. Work intently for a defined period, then take a break. Be as rigorous about the breaks as the work. You’ll find that this actually increases your concentration and productivity. And if you really want to up your ability to focus, take a quick nap in the middle of the day. I haven’t quite got around to napping in the middle of the day yet but it sounds good and I’m working on it.
- Rinse and repeat. Go through several cycles like this each day. The main thing is to surge and then rest, surge and then rest. As you do so, you will learn the best length for your own optimal cycle.
Productivity is like any skill. The more you practice it, the better you get. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t initially make as much progress as you want. Stick with the process and expect to improve. You will!
Awhimai Reynolds is a Business Adviser and Coach with the Trusted Adviser Network (TAN). She is passionate about women in business and leadership. Contact Awhimai at www.iWahine.nz or on FB https://www.facebook.com/iWahineNZ/ and LinkedInhttps://nz.linkedin.com/in/awhimaireynolds