How to Get Done What Matters Most
Focus work is the work that I would argue is the most important because it's the building block of productivity. But it’s not necessarily the most urgent, which can sometimes cause a problem. We can push it off sometimes for days and days and weeks and weeks. In my last blog we talked about thought work, and I would say that thought work is the foundation. Next is productivity or focus work and it builds on thought work.
You can’t delegate focus work because it needs your brain and only your brain. It's also work that takes more than a couple of minutes, and it's often project based. It’s work that we often avoid. I’m going to give you 5 tips for focus work, and to train your brain to acknowledge but ignore distractions.
Getting Done What Matters Most
Tip #1 Combat Distractions
The best way to combat distractions is that first you have to understand the distractions, internal or external. Are they real or are they perceived? So internal distractions are made up of your own ideas, and your own thoughts, like when you sit down to do some work but suddenly feel the urge to check your email or look something up on the internet. You created that distraction internally. No one told you that you had to check your email at that time, no one told you it was time to Google.
External distractions happen when you’re interrupted by others, maybe it is a coworker or a child needing help on a project, or when a friend unexpectedly sends you a text. Because your goal is to focus for a specific amount of time to get a specific thing done, you should ideally take a few seconds to deal with the interruption and then go back to focusing.
But many people have an exceedingly difficult time doing this. What if you really addressed the distraction, acknowledged it, but said “I’m in a place right now where I can't respond to you or I can't help you. Can we return to this later?” That's much better than letting it go on and on and on in the background.
Pro Tip: The Pomodoro Technique
Studies out of the Boston Attention and Learning Lab found that the most effective way to get things done was to focus for a bit, then take a short break. The Pomodoro technique is a time management method where you break down your period of work into twenty-five minute chunks and you separate each twenty five minute chunk by a five minute break. So, each work interval is referred to as a pomodoro tomato. Sometimes this is called a tomato timer and once you've finished or pomodoro intervals, you take a longer break for 20 or 30 minutes.
This encourages you to set aside blocks of time to do this focus work where the real stuff gets done for about two hours and then take 20- or 30-minute breaks. While this sounds great in theory, distractions can still find their way in. But over time, you should be able to train your brain to complete the full twenty five minutes of continuous work without any internal or external, real or perceived interruptions. There are many free downloads and even chrome extensions tomato timer for the pomodoro technique.
Tip #2: Do your focus work when you are at optimum operating capacity.
We all have a twenty-four-hour internal clock. Science refers to it as our circadian rhythm, and it tells us when to sleep and when to wake up and when we experience our peak levels of energy. Science tells us to cycle through ninety to one hundred- and twenty-minute blocks of productivity time with heightened focus. Really think about when you at optimum operating capacity are. Are you a morning person, a night person, are you an afternoon person? Write down your levels of focus when you have the most energy each day at hourly intervals. If you did this for a week and you gathered the data for a week or two, you would start to see a pattern emerge. You would be able to pinpoint when your focus and energy are the highest and lowest and match your tasks accordingly. Schedule the things that take the most brain power and focus during your most optimum times.
Pro Tip: Create blocks of time that are 90 to two hours long, not 15 minutes long, because if you're going to get the focus work done, then you have to create those blocks of time. And a step before that is to determine when those are. And you should have at least one block of two hours each day as focus time.
Tip #3: Do your focus work when you are at optimum operating capacity.
Anyone can put anything on a calendar, but you need to honor these appointments with yourself. Sometimes the appointment will be to tackle one task, and that's okay, as long as you respect yourself, as much as you would respect anyone else that you set an appointment with.
Don't be tempted to cancel on yourself because of someone else's emergency, or your own perceived emergency. So, what do you do when someone calls to make an appointment with you, during the time you've already blocked as focus time? You don't make the appointment; you tell the person on the other end of the phone that you're busy and you offer them a different time. What happens, though, is if we attempt to do this, to say, “no, I can't do it,” we often feel anxious that we're going to lose out on an opportunity or we're going to disappoint someone. But guess what? Those are just thoughts.
Tip #4: Make Time for Zoning Out and Relaxing
Many productivity strategies teach you how to quiet your mind and stop it from wandering. This is not necessarily always the best thing. While it may seem counterintuitive, a more efficient approach to getting any kind of work done is to encourage you to have these zoning out or daydreaming times at predetermined times, because that’s like what we talked about in the last episode: organizing your brain. That's when the thought work occurs. So, allow yourself 10 or 15 minutes a day to zone out, but choose this time carefully. Perhaps you're going to let your mind wander while you're cleaning out your desk or while you're on a walk or while you're drinking your coffee. You've chosen those times and you'll be less likely to daydream during that focus work time.
Pro Tip: here is to schedule time for deliberate mind wandering and even set a reminder.
Tip #5 Check In with yourself
Have you chosen the right lighting, the right noise in the background, the right temperature, the right location? Are your senses aligned with you doing this focus work? Does your brain know that this is a place to get your work done?
Pro tip: Give yourself some contextual clues to make your space that you're in unique to focus work.It could be the type of music you play. Tune into your senses and notice when and how you get focused.
I have created a free download that summarizes these steps. You can get How to Get the Focus Work Done by going here. I encourage you to download that, even if you just choose just one of these five ways to get the focus work done.
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