“I don’t care how much power, brilliance or energy you have, if you don’t harness it and focus it on a specific target, and hold it there you’re never going to accomplish as much as your ability warrants.” — Zig Ziglar
I created these focus guidelines to give everyone I know the upper hand in directing their focus and attention with skill.
It’s a synthesis of everything we’ve learned from Edward de Bono to Stephen Covey to Tony Robbins to Brian Tracy and more.
It’s more than a synthesis though. It reflects lessons learned from trying and applying many techniques in some of the toughest situations, as well as mentoring individuals, teams, and leaders on how to improve their focus.
Focus Amplifies Your Impact
Let me start by saying that a lot of people struggle with focus. If you struggle, you’re not alone.
This article provides guidelines and proven practices for improving your mental focus.
By improving your mental focus, you can finish what you start, align what you do with meaningful results, and achieve better, faster, simpler results from the time you already spend.
You can use the insights and techniques in this article to tune and improve your ability to focus with skill.
What You Will Learn About Focus
- Learn proven practices to focus and direct your attention with skill
- Improve your ability to stay focused and concentrate despite distractions
- Expand your attention span
- Learn how to do less, while achieving more
- Narrow your focus to the vital few things that make the most impact
101 Proven Practices for Focus
Here are 101 proven practices for focus to help you build your focus and direct your attention with skill …
1. Align your focus with your values
Once you get clarity on what you want, you need to reduce your internal conflict and deal with competing priorities.
For example, you might value spending time with friends and family, but your focus might require that you spend a lot of time alone. By aligning your values, you improve your engagement and, as a result, you automatically improve your concentration and focus. At the same time, you automatically, reduce distractions.
2. Ask new questions to change your focus
When you find yourself focusing on the wrong things, change your focus. You can change your focus by asking yourself different questions. For example, one way to quickly reset your focus is to ask yourself, “What do you want to accomplish?”
3. Ask yourself, “What are you rushing through for?”
If you find yourself in a hurry, stop and ask yourself, what are you rushing through for. If you can’t take the time to focus on what you are doing, then is it worth even doing? Or is there a better time to come back to it. Or did you simply just forget how to stop and smell the roses and be fully in the moment. If now is the perfect time to be doing exactly what you’re doing, then act like it. Otherwise, just jump to whatever you were rushing through for. This is how you reduce internal conflict, and train yourself to one again be fully in the moment and to do what you do well, without running around like a chicken with its head cut off, or frantically joining the hamsters on the wheel. A key part of slowing down to speed up is making a time and place for things.
4. Beware of random, intermittent rewards
Beware of the addictive behavior of email, Twitter, Facebook, browsing your favorite Web sites, etc.
They are addictive because you find little interesting nuggets every now and then.
It’s like panning for gold.
These addictions can also be a major time sink, and a major source of distraction.
Just by being aware, you can at least start to make more conscious choices of what you invest your time, energy, and focus on.
5. Bite off what you can chew
This comes from knowing your capacity and throughput. If you keep not finishing what you start, try biting off smaller things and bringing them to closure. This success will improve your focus because you’ll have a mental flip book of your successes. These successes will inspire you to new heights.
Stay relaxed under pressure.
Brains work better when they are rested and relaxed.
When you find yourself under pressure, focus on your breathing, as a way to stay centered and calm.
By staying calm and centered, you can apply your focus to the task at hand.
7. Capture all of your ideas in one place
Everybody needs a virtual dumping ground. You need a place to dump distractions.
You need a place to dump and store your “state.”
All the ideas, reminders, distracting thoughts, etc. floating around your head, need a place to go.
It needs to be simple.
It needs to be accessible.
One simple way is to use a sheet of paper if pen and paper is your thing. If digital systems are your way, the key is to simply have a place where you can quickly write things without having to look for it. A simple practice is to start a new list or dumping ground each day, and give it today’s date as the title. This way you can easily flip back through it.
8. Capture all of your To-Dos in one place
Have one place to look for all of your To-Dos.
Make it easy to see your bigger picture at a glance, so that you can keep your focus in proper perspective.
The less you have to hunt around for your To-Dos, the less you will be worried if you are missing something.
9. Carry the good forward
Don’t let things eat at you and rob you of your focus. Don’t dwell on the past, or ruminate on things that have gone wrong. Deal with them or let them go.
You deal with them by taking action. You let them go, by changing your perspective or perception of the event. In other words, you change how you represent it to yourself. A quick way to do this is to focus on the lesson. Every failure or setback is another lesson.
Treat it like feedback.
Find the lesson, and carry the good forward. Use this forward momentum to stay focused, and not get hung up or dwell on things going wrong. Every blip in the plan is your trigger to find the insight, and turn that insight into action and experience to catapult yourself forward.
10. Change your environment
If changing yourself isn’t working, then change your environment.
Changing your environment can be the fastest way to change your focus in surprising ways.
Try working from someplace new, and see if it improves your focus.
11. Change your physiology
Movement can be your friend when it comes to focus.
Play around with your posture, or how you breathe, or how you sit.
Maybe you need to sit up straight.
Maybe you need to hold your shoulders back.
Find a position that helps you naturally focus.
12. Chart your progress
Use meaningful milestones, as well as little and big indicators along the way. It’s been said that feeling a sense of progress is one of the most important ways to stay engaged. You can think of a milestone as a numbered marker along the road. It helps answer the questions, “Am I on track?”, “Am I moving in the right direction?”, “Am I making progress?”, “Have I reached a significant chunk of achievement on the journey?”, “Now that I achieved this, should I continue or should I explore another path?” You can think of your little and big indicators as the feedback you get along the way, as well as your little and big wins.
13. Choose one thing to focus on
Choose one project or one thing to really sink your teeth into. Live and breathe it. Immerse yourself in it.
When you make something a “project”, you really give it a special focus with a start and a finish. You can define what good looks like. You can give it a friendly name, and get excited by what you’ll be able to accomplish through your project. This will ignite your passion and fuel your focus.
Focus on this one thing so you can finish it.
While this might sound easier said than done, the key here is focusing on “the finish.” The better you get at finishing, the better you will get at picking off meaningful things, and focusing on one thing at a time. By reducing your open work, you’ll thrash less, and you’ll do less task switching, and you’ll have more concentrated energy and effort to not only finish what you start, but do a better job on what you choose to focus on.
14. Choose to do it
Treat the task before you like a challenge, or a choice, or a chance.
Don’t treat it like a chore.
If you think of it like a chore, then you’ll find yourself wandering to other things you’d rather be doing.
Choose to do the task before you and you’ll amplify your ability to stay engaged until it’s done.
15. Clear away all distractions
When you really need to focus, you need to get hardcore about dealing with your distractions.
Identity and eliminate all sources of distractions.
Turn off notifications.
Close email, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Shutdown things that blink, buzz, ding, or vibrate.
16. Clear away external distractions
External distractions include visual distractions, physical distractions, noise, and interruptions.
Sometimes the best way to deal with external distractions is to disconnect.
You don’t have to be “always on.”
You can reduce external distractions by dealing with noise, interruptions, visual distractions, and physical distractions. For example, one way to deal with noise is to get noise cancellation headphones, or play music to add “white noise.”
To deal with interruptions, you can change your location, or create a time and place for distractions.
To reduce visual distractions, reduce clutter. Get rid of clutter, especially in your workspace or areas that you control. You know its clutter when the site of it bothers you and it tugs at you throughout the day, or gets in the way of your simple activities.
To reduce physical distractions, address the things that create discomfort, such as your chair, desk, or lighting.
17. Clear away internal distractions
Internal distractions include nagging thoughts, interesting ideas, internal conflict, and mental chatter.
The key in all cases is to either address the distractions or let them go.
For example, if worrying is distracting you, then address it by having a time and place for it.
You can reduce internal distractions, such as nagging thoughts, by having a place to write things down.
You can reduce internal distractions by aligning to your values, and reducing internal conflict.
18. Consolidate and batch your tasks
Batch and focus. If you consolidate and batch your tasks, you can find efficiencies that you wouldn’t find any other way.
It’s easy to over-engineer or over-invest a task at a time. When you know you’re doing to do the same thing or something similar 10, 20, 100 or 1000 times, you approach it differently. Maybe you simply attack the challenge with more passion and energy. Maybe you find a way to make it a game. Maybe you find short-cuts that by themselves don’t seem like much, but when applied in batches, pay off like compound interest.
A batched and focused effort can produce amazing results. Few problems withstand sustained thinking or effort.
19. Create routines to help you focus
By creating routines, you don’t have to spend as much time thinking about when or where or how to do something. Instead, you can just do it.
This means you can put spend your time, energy, and more thinking on your actual focus.
This is how you move up the stack. Some common routines include having a startup routine for your day, fixing time for eating, sleeping, and exercise, as well as having a routine for dealing with your routine and mundane tasks. One of the most powerful routines is to focus on finishing off your three most important results for the day, in the morning. An equally powerful routine is to do “worst things first” and get over your biggest hurdle in the day, when you feel your strongest.
This makes the rest of the day a glide path.
20. Decide to finish it
Sometimes all it takes to focus is to decide to finish something.
Deciding that something will be done within the hour, or done today, is entirely different than deciding that it will be done when it’s done.
To do this effectively, you’ll need to be flexible in how much you will accomplish within the time frame you give yourself.
When you decide to finish something, you’ll be surprised by how much more you can focus on it.
When you don’t decide to finish something, it creates a downward spiral. Without an immediate end in site, it’s easier to let the activity drift in and out of focus. As it drifts out of focus, you’ll find yourself facing more and more distractions.
21. Delay gratification
The ability to delay gratification is a key to improving your focus and staying power. In general, your ability to choose and make choices based on how much this will support you in the future, you’ll exponentially improve your results.
If you remember the mantra that “sacrifice is the price of success” or the saying, “pay me now or pay me later – 10 times worse”, these will help you to delay your gratification.
Develop sayings that help you trade short- term pain for long-term gain. For example, Stephen Covey uses the saying, “Thinner tastes better” to stay focused on his eating habits and delay his gratification. He also trades up for the ability to enjoy running for distance, as an expression of his value for freedom.
22. Direct your attention with skill
You can choose what to focus on. You can focus on the past, the present, the future. You can focus on problem or opportunities.
You can focus on “how you can” or “how you can’t” You can focus on “why you will” or “why you won’t.”
The choice is yours.
23. Develop a routine
Create a simple routine for your productivity. Establish a schedule so that you can optimize your work, maintain your focus, and finish faster.
In the words of Gustave Flaubert:
“Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”
24. Develop an effective startup routine
Effective people that know how to focus, tend to have startup routines. Their startup routine includes identifying priorities for the day and how they will spend their time, based on what they want to accomplish.
A common startup routine for effective people is to workout, in some way, shape or form, even if it’s just a walk around the block, to get the blood flowing.
25. Develop an effective shutdown routine
Effective people that know how to focus have an effective shutdown routine. An effective shutdown routine, helps them deal with left-over issues from the day. It makes it easy for them to pick back up where they left off. It helps them get a jump on the next day, and set the stage for better focus and better results.
It helps them sleep better, by knowing that they have dealt with their day and put a cap on it.
Their day doesn’t bleed into the next day, or disrupt their sleep.
An effective shutdown routine adds close to the day. One part of an effective shutdown routine includes reflecting on your results for the day. This will help you see the fruits of your focus pay off. This will also help you identify opportunities to improve your focus, if you find that things keep getting away from you.
26. Develop effective email routines
Email can be a powerful tool for helping you get things done. The trick is to drive your email. Otherwise, your email drives you.
Take action out of email and put actions into a simple list.
Keep your actions list in check by having your short-list of priorities and goals, front and center. One habit many effective people use to improve their focus, is they check email at specific times during the day, usually in the morning, around lunch, and later in the day. Otherwise, email can easily turn into a bad habit where you constantly check it throughout the day, and spend more time processing than being productive.
27. Develop effective renewal activities
The best way to keep your focus going strong is to manage your energy. When your energy slumps, it’s really hard to keep your focus.
You need a handful of activities that you can use that instantly renew you. For example, maybe it’s a walk around the block. Maybe it’s a quick game of something. Maybe it’s a reading something completely different. Whatever is is, the goal is to give yourself a quick boost of energy so that you can maintain your focus.
28. Develop effective social media routines
Similar to email routines, effective people improve their focus by creating routines to handle their social media.
This includes things like having specific times in the day for engaging with social media.
They resist the temptation to constantly check social media.
Again, like email, you drive your social media, or social media drives you.
29. Do less, focus more
You’ve heard the saying, “Less is more” and there is a lot of truth to that. Sometimes the best way to focus is simply to close the floodgates, and close down what you have in flight, and simply focus on one or two key things that will pay off the most.
30. Do now what you could put off until later
Don’t let things pile up on you. The more little piles you have, and the more little things you save for later, the more little things you’ll have competing for your attention throughout the day.
By getting on top of things, it’s easier to stay on top of things, and it’s a great way to defeat procrastination. Procrastination is a habit you create by building up endless piles of things to do, because you never get on top of things. While it might seem tough to get on top of things at first, the trick is to stop letting lots of little things get in the way.
31. Do things you enjoy focusing on
Enjoy the journey and the destination. Don’t tie all your success, enjoyment, and fulfillment to the end goal.
Instead, find a way to enjoy the journey.
This can be as simple as rewarding yourself along the way. Rewards don’t have to be external. You can reward yourself internally, by acknowledging and appreciating yourself for taking action, doing your best along the way, learning and growing. Connect the journey to your values and make the journey itself rewarding.
You know the sayings, “A job well done is the reward“ and “anything worth doing is worth doing well.”
Did you reward yourself for a job well done today?
32. Do worst things first
Don’t let the tough stuff bog you down or hang over you like a heavy cloud. Tackle the tough stuff when you are fresh. For example, you might take it on first thing in the morning.
Or, you might tackle things in the early part of the week so that they don’t loom over you.
That said, it’s good to warm up with some low-hanging fruit to build momentum. Just don’t fall into the habit of doing all the easy stuff, to the point, where you never get to what’s important, or you never clear the tough stuff from your plate.
33. Don’t chase every interesting idea
If you chase all your ideas, you won’t catch any of them. Focus on your top priorities. Let things go. Say no to the lesser things to say yes to the better things. Trade-up. Part of letting your ideas go is having a place to dump them that you can go through at a later point. Another key is treating ideas like a flowing stream of possibilities.
34. Edit later
Do it quick and dirty.
Write it down.
After you complete a pass, now you can go back and iterate on it.
But don’t block yourself along the way by editing or critiquing yourself, or falling into analysis paralysis. It’s easy to second-guess yourself. But save that for the second time around. The more you practice keeping your inner-critic at bay, the better you’ll get at finishing with focus. You can then focus on doing a better job of editing or constructive criticism.
35. Exercise your body
Your body is a key contributor to your ability to focus. How you feel affects how you focus.
There are many creative ways to exercise your body. Explore. Experiment. Find what works for you.
Exercise can be one of the most profound ways to improve your focus.
36. Exercise your mind
When your mind gets tired it wanders. When your mind gets bored it wanders. Your mind needs stimulation. Sometimes you need a break.
Sometimes you need to exercise your mind more.
Whether it’s puzzles, games, or reading “Who-Done-It?” mysteries, give your mind a workout to keep it fresh and focused.
37. Expand your attention span
It’s easy to focus when you’re fully engaged. The trick is to train your focus to deal with any situation, including very distracting scenarios. The other trick is to expand the duration you can focus your attention. Work your attention span like a muscle through practice. Start with 30 seconds. Focus for five minutes. Focus for 10 minutes. Focus for 20 minutes. By having a range under your belt, whether you have a short block of time or a longer block of time, you can get results. When you have a much longer block of time, you can simply chunk it up.
38. Find a way to refocus
Assume and accept the fact that you’ll get off track or somehow end up off path.
Don’t get hung up on it.
Instead, have a simple way that gets you back on track and focused again.
39. Find the best time to do your routine tasks
Don’t let the burden of your mundane tasks get in the way of your focus. At the same time, don’t let interesting ideas and compelling projects, get in the way of the tasks you have to complete. Set aside time to get them out of the way. Don’t use your most creative, most productive time for the mundane. Also, find a way to batch your mundane tasks so you can nail them in one fell swoop. A common pattern is to use a short-timebox in the morning to deal with common or boring tasks. Another common pattern is to do them later in the day, when you don’t feel like your best and brightest,like 3:00pm, which is a common “siesta time” for a lot of people. Save your best and brightest hours to focus on your best results. Another common pattern is to actually use a fraction or a small portion of your best and brightest hours to plow through their mundane and routine tasks in record speed. The key is to avoid letting routine and boring tasks overshadow your day or wear you down or distract you from your focus.
40. Find your flow
Flow is when you are fully engaged in an activity. It’s a state of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.
You find your flow when the activity is challenging enough to keep you engaged and put your skills to the test, but not so challenging that it overwhelms you, and not so easy that you get bored, or disengage.
One way to find more flow is to turn the things you already do into a game where you can challenge yourself to do it faster, or achieve new levels of quality.
You can also focus on mastering your craft or gaining new skills. Finding your flow is up to you.
41. Finish what you started
A lot of people start things they’ll never finish. I have a lot more to say on this …
42. Focus on what you control
Focus on what you control and let the rest go.
This is simple and effective timeless advice. It’s all too easy to fork your focus while you worry about things beyond your control. One way to get a handle on this is to simply get clarity on what you do control and act on that.
43. Force yourself to focus
Every now and then you might have to force yourself to focus. This only works in short bursts, but you have to start somewhere.
Don’t give yourself excuses. Excuses are a slippery slope.
Instead, challenge yourself to focus like you’ve never focused before.
44. Get clear on what you want
Clarity is a force multiplier when it comes to focus.
The simplest way to focus and stay engaged is to have clarity on what you want. Make it vivid and visual. Keep your goals simple and clear.
Test yourself to state your goals as one-line statements. By having clarity on what you really want, you improve your engagement.
When you are engaged in what you do, your energy and attention will automatically flow with your focus.
45. Give it the time and attention it deserves
“Right-size” your time-frame for your focus. It takes more than a day to train for a marathon. It takes more than a year to become a doctor. Don’t get distracted or disheartened because the path is stretches over time.
At the same time, don’t expect miracles and short-cuts, unless you know the miracles and short-cuts.
Instead, use metaphors, milestones, and set your expectations based on more accurate time estimates. If you don’t know how long things should take, talk to people who have “been there, and done that.” This will help you maintain your focus for the long-haul.
46. Have a time and place for things
This applies to both physical and virtual. Your calendar or weekly schedule is one of the best ways to make time for things.
The saying, “everything has a place, and everything in its place,” is a simple way to remember to declutter and organize your workspace.
Having a place for things also means choosing the best place to execute whatever you are focused on. For example, you might need a different context or environment to do your most creative work.
Make a time and place for your most important things. Just structuring your time and place is a powerful way to stack the deck in your favor and improve your focus.
This also applies to worrying. For example, if worries are distracting you, then have a time and place to do your worrying, and consolidate it as much as possible.
47. Hold a clear picture in your mind of what you want to accomplish
Think of this as a simple flash card. Use it to summon your powers of concentration and direct your attention to the end in mind. Having clarity on this compelling picture will literally “pull” you toward it, and help you focus automatically while staying engaged and excited about what’s possible.
48. Keep it simple
Keep your focus simple and precise. One-liner goals are one way to do that. If it’s something ongoing, then make it compelling, such as, “The Relentless Pursuit of Excellence.”
49. Keep your energy up
Keep your mental, emotional, and physical energy up. One of the most important patterns here is setting boundaries, such as “down time.”
Schedule your free time so that you know you don’t have to be “always on” and so you can recharge and renew.
Another key pattern for keeping your energy strong is to fix time for eating, sleeping, and exercise. If you can count on these routines, this is also part of structuring your success. One of the most powerful things to keep your energy going through thick and through thin is to have a simple and compelling one-liner reminder … the relentless pursuit of something worthwhile.
50. Know the tests for success
How do you know when you are done? How do you know what good looks like?
By identifying a small but critical set of “tests for success,” you give yourself a very simple way to stay focused and achieve the right results.
Your tests for success help you stay on track. The key here is to remember that “value is in the eye of the beholder,” so be sure to get the tests for success from whoever you are delivering value for. This way, they help you set a target to focus on, and these test cases help you focus your scope, and avoid scope creep.
It’s a lot easier to stay focused when you can clearly articulate the target.
51. Know what’s on your plate
Be able to quickly list the top 3-5 things on your plate. You’ll have more than that, life can be messy and complicated, but bubble everything up to 3-5 key projects or things that you are spending your most important energy on.
If you know what’s on your plate, you can make better trade-offs.
You can be more deliberate about what you let go.
You can also push back more effectively when people want you to take on more things.
52. Know your limits
We all have limits.
Pay attention to your limits when it comes to focus.
Can you deal with noise?
Can you stay focused for an extended period of time? How long?
What types of activities can you stay focused for?
What types of activities can you not stay focused for?
Use that knowledge to adapt how you apply your focus.
53. Know your personal patterns
Your most powerful tool is your own self-awareness.
The best tricks of the trade don’t mean anything if they don’t work for you, or if you don’t know how to adapt, apply, or tailor them to you or your situation.
Pay attention to your own patterns of distraction. If you know that opening your browser is the fastest way to get off track, then don’t do it. You know the old joke, “Doctor, it hurts when I do this” … and the doctor replies, “Then don’t do that.”
54. Know your priorities
Prioritize your goals and make sure you know the most important things you want to accomplish, and what your trade-offs are.
By knowing your priorities, you can use them to focus and to make trade-offs.
You can also use your priorities to help deal with internal conflict when you have multiple, competing priorities. You can evaluate your priorities against what you want to accomplish and what you value the most, or against the experiences you want to create.
Sometimes it’s about enjoying the journey more than the end result.
55. Learn to say no – to yourself and others
Don’t set yourself up for a bunch of let downs and failures or spread yourself too thin to be effective.
You can’t do it all and you don’t want to “boil the ocean.”
Know when you don’t have bandwidth. Know when you don’t have the capacity. This means closing the flood gates from yourself and others.
Saying no will help you finish what you start, reduce your open work, and create powerful focus and momentum.
The key to saying no with skill is the ability to easily see and share what’s on your plate.
How easily can you enumerate the balls you are juggling?
56. Limit your starts and stops
Nothing breaks focus like perpetual interruptions, false starts, or hopping back and forth between your continuum of priorities.
This is another reason to consolidate and batch your tasks.
This is also another reason to clear away your distractions and have a time and place for things, so that you keep your distractions to a minimum.
A less obvious thing to also address is to limit how much you analyze or think about something. Don’t intersperse thinking and doing to the point where can’t execute or you think your way into analysis paralysis. Instead, block off chunks of time to stay focused on executing, then you can analyze the results.
You can always adjust the loops. If you want faster feedback, use shorter loops to test your results.
57. Limit your task switching
You limit your task switching by batching, and by reducing your open work, and by getting clarity on your priorities.
58. Link it to good feelings
If you want to sustain your pace or keep going for the long-haul, then link it to good feelings.
Change your approach to be more enjoyable.
For example, do your work with your favorite music in the background. Or, if you like learning, change your approach so that you can learn something as you go.
If having fun is your priority then find a way to make it a game.
59. Make it easy to pick back up where you left off
By writing things down, you can make it easy to pick up where you left off.
You can also keep your workspace clean or find ways to reduce friction or tee yourself up for success so that picking up where you left off is friction-free.
60. Make it relentless
Make it the relentless pursuit of something worthwhile.
Use this as a single, clarifying focus.
Use this to drive your action and stay on track.
61. Make it work, then make it right
Get it working as fast as possible. Then repeat the loop and improve it each time.
Treat perfection as a path, not a destination.
Having results to show right away, will build your own momentum, help you avoid all the attractive distractions, and will help you stay focused on what’s important. You can tune and improve your results, by having results.
If you never finish, then it’s more than a buzz killer. You create a frame of reference that you never finish what you start. Instead, always finish fast, then finish strong. Work your way through the loop, like a dry run, then loop through faster and better each time. Or once you have something working, use feedback and a look from the balcony to choose what to improve or what your next best thing to do really is.
62. Master your mindset
This is about getting your head in the game. Your mindset is the mental model you have, the expectations, beliefs, and attitudes you have.
One simple way to change your mindset to a more supportive one is to put on a metaphorical hat, or to model from a role model, or to play a persona.
For example, if you are normally not very productive or focused, then give yourself a chance to wear the hat of a highly focused, highly effective role model, and use that to shape your mind to see yourself as a more effective and focused individual.
This will get stronger over time as your results support your beliefs. The key is to use your beliefs to reshape your results, not the other way around.
As the saying goes, “If you believe it, you can achieve it” and “Seeing is believing.”
And sometimes seeing means simply seeing it in your mind’s eye first.
63. Multi-Task with skill
You can multi-task with skill by having one main thing you are working on at any given time, and one thing to switch to when you need a break or when you get blocked.
This will help you keep your energy going, while limiting task switching.
64. Music everywhere
You can use music to stay motivated and focused.
You can also use music to add “white noise” if other sounds or people are distracting you.
If lyrics distract you, then consider listening to music without lyrics.
65. Narrow your focus
Narrowing your focus is a way to improve your results, especially if you need to get unstuck.
It’s easy to bite off too much and churn or spin your wheels.
To narrow your focus, simply find a smaller slice of the problem to focus on, and overwhelm the problem with your focus and energy.
Keep narrowing the problem down until your focus and energy produce effective results, which in turn, helps build momentum.
As you build momentum, you can expand your focus.
66. Pair up
Sometimes the best way to stay focused is to pair up or team up with somebody. If you’re both committed to the same goal, then you can help each other stay focused on reaching it.
67. Pick up where you left off
If you have a place to look for things, this will make it easy.
One of the best tips here is to leave yourself a few notes on what your next actions or steps are, even if it’s simply writing down the question or line-of-thinking, where you left off.
When you start back up, this little note will jog your memory and make it easier to move the ball forward each time.
68. Put the focus on something bigger than yourself
For example, put your focus on the greater good.
When you put the focus on something bigger than yourself, it’s easier to rise above your day to day challenges and chaos, and fight the good fight.
When it’s just for you, your focus might wax and wane, but when you think of the larger impact, you might find inspiration where you never knew you had any.
69. Practice meditation
Mindfulness is your friend.
People that practice meditation improve their ability to stay focused for longer periods of time.
They also learn how to let things go.
They learn how to let distractions fly by, while they focus and channel their thoughts.
And they learn how to be in the moment.
That’s where focus thrives.
70. Rate your focus each day
Give your focus a score on 1-10, where 10 is awesome.
By paying attention to your focus, and giving it a rating, you’ll find that you naturally start to improve it over time.
After all, you get what you focus on, and what you focus on expands.
By focusing on focus, your mind will get in the game and help you improve it.
71. Reduce friction
Avoid the “death of a 1000 paper cuts.” Get rid of the little things that get in your way each day, that slowly kill your energy and momentum.
Instead, find ways to create glide paths and create more friction-free results.
By reducing the friction, you make it easier and simpler to focus on your goal or task at hand, and less time getting dragged down, nicked or sliced by little “attention thieves” throughout your day.
72. Reduce open work
The more work you have “in flight” the more you are task switching.
The more you are task switching, the more you are forking your focus. The more you are task switching, the more you are dealing with competing priorities. The more you are task switching, the more you are spreading your energy to the point where it’s little more than a gentle nudge or push of the ball, if that.
Consolidate your focus and knock the ball out of the park.
73. Reward yourself along the way
“Have your thing. “ Have your little rewards you can use along the way, rather than some giant pay off in the end.
This will improve your journey, but also help you stay focused because rewards are within your reach.
74. See it, do it
See it in your mind, then make it happen.
If you can’t see it in your mind, you’ll be fighting an uphill battle.
Imagine how you can successfully achieve your goal, and use that as a focal point.
75. Set a time frame for focus
Be deliberate in how long your focus will be in effect.
If you’re working on something all month, then set a theme for the month.
If this is just your focus for the day, then be clear that today is all you are putting into it and give it your all. If this is your focus all week, then have a reminder each day, and a checkpoint mid-week to stay on track.
If this is a focus for the year, then aside from a daily reminder, have a checkpoint at the end of each month, and a deeper quarterly review.
By being explicit about your focus and the timeframe, you can adjust your levels of focus and intensity, and you can get the time frame on your side and working with you, instead of against you.
76. Set goals
It’s sounds obvious, but it’s hard to spend time on things, if you don’t know what you want to accomplish.
Set a goal and have fun with it.
Play with your achievements and make it a game.
Don’t over-think it.
Just ask the question, “What do you want to accomplish?” and make that your goal.
77. Set goals with hard deadlines
Sometimes just setting a goal isn’t enough.
Sometimes we need to add a time constraint or a deadline to improve our focus.
Sometimes the best way to stay focused is to just set hard deadline goals, such as “Done by 12:00pm” or “done by end of day” or “I will finish this by Friday.”
Putting a hardline on it means you can put your heart and soul into it to pull it off, without it turning into an endless death march with no clear end in mind. It’s also a way to pick the pace up and to create a sense of urgency that will serve you and tap your energy in more powerful ways.
78. Set mini-goals
Slice your big goals down to size. Small is the new big, and you can use size to your advantage.
By slicing goals down to size, you can build a series of small wins to build momentum.
You can also slice a challenge down so that you can divide and conquer it. This is especially helpful when you get stuck. You can also use mini-goals to create a sense of progress.
One of my colleagues uses mini-goals to get over procrastination. Rather than have a goal of working out, they have a goal of getting to the gym and getting changed. He said he can choose whether or not to workout once he’s gotten that far, but the goal of getting to the gym and getting ready is non-optional.
This little goal helps him complete more workouts than the bigger goal of working out or getting in shape itself. If your goals aren’t working for you, then chunk them down to create laser-like focus.
79. Set quantity limits
Use quantities to help you deal with overwhelm or overload, and to help you stay focused.
For example, come up with three simple ways to use these guidelines into your every day routine.
80. Set time limits
Timeboxing and time budgets are you friend.
How well can you focus for 30 seconds?
What about 5 minutes?
By using time limits, you can set the pace and sustain your focus, while giving yourself a break.
Play with time limits both to make focus fun, and to create a rhythm of intense focus, then taking a break.
This is a way to improve your engagement for short-bursts, as well as to chunk up your focus for the long haul, using little time limits along the way.
81. Shelve things you aren’t actively working on
Put it on the backburner, but make it easy to pick up from where you left off.
82. Single Task
Do one thing at a time. If you want to achieve more, then speed up your cycle or loop from start to finish. If you want to improve quality, then loop through multiple times and iterate towards “perfection.”
83. Spend your attention with skill
This includes allocating the right time for the right things. Another key is to reduce the things that distract you in your life from what you want to achieve. Another key is asking yourself simple questions to refocus, such as, “What’s the goal?” or “What’s my next best action?”
If you spread your effort across too many things you can water down your impact. Concentrating your effort is a way to improve your results. You can concentrate your effort by consolidating the time you spend on a particular challenge. You can spend more time on it. You can increase the frequency. The most important thing is to apply enough effort in a concentrated form to get over whatever the hurdle or hump that’s in your way.
84. Start with WHY
Ask yourself, “Why are you doing it?” You need a compelling reason to stay on track
This is the key to making your focus compelling and sustainable.
Make why you want to do something explicit and connect it to your values in some way.
85. Stop starting new projects
Before you start something new, finish what you started. This will help you focus, because you will have less things to juggle. If you have less things to juggle, you’ll do less task switching. With less task-switching and more focus on what you are working on, you’ll finish it faster.
86. Take breaks
If you don’t take breaks, then chances are you’re pace or intensity is more like one long break. Instead, when you focus, focus with full force.
Then take breaks.
When you’re on you’re on, and when you’re off, you’re off. You may find that just by switching to this cycle, your ability to focus deeply and intensely dramatically improves. You can also start to find the most effective ways to take breaks that work for you. For some, it’s a trip to the water cooler. For others, it’s a brisk walk. For others, it’s switching to a game. Experiment and test your results.
87. Take care of the basics
Take care of your fundamental needs first. If you don’t take care of the basics, they will distract you, either through little “tugs” or background mental chatter.
This could mean simple things like going to the bathroom, having water handy, having snacks, etc. Or it could mean taking care of your bigger and more pressing needs, such as financial security or health.
This goes back to priorities and the key is to focus where it really counts, and take action where you can.
88. Use lists to avoid getting overwhelmed or overloaded
The Air Force uses checklists as a way to transfer tribal knowledge, and to reduce overload and overwhelm. Checklists are the simplest way to automate your mind.
Rather than try to remember routine things, just write them down.
This helps avoid simple and silly mistakes, while freeing up your mind to worry about higher level things.
Additionally, by organizing your information into lists, you make it possible to slice and dice your information and to think about It in more powerful ways.
89. Use metaphors
Metaphors are simply emotional picture words. Make them meaningful for you. For example, when I have tedious, long-running task, I remind myself that I’m like a diamond cutter and it will take time.
When I have a challenge or a hump I have to get over, I tell myself to scale the wall as fast as possible.
When I don’t have enough clarity on my focal point, I remind myself to aim for the bull’s-eye.
After all, it’s tough to hit a target or focus on a goal, if you can’t really see it.
90. Use Sprints to scope your focus
You can use Sprints to scope and maintain your focus for a specific period of time.
A Sprint is just a time frame (a day, a week, a month.)
One of the best ways to focus is to close the loop on things, by finishing what you started.
The key here it to bite off things that fit within a specific timebox or chunk of time.
You can choose to focus on something for specific time frames. For example, some common time frames are 5 minutes, 20 minutes, a day, a week, a month, and a year.
By using time frames for focus, you can chip away at a stone for an extended duration, or you can nail your short bursts of work with skill.
91. Use the Rule of Three
You can use the Rule of Three to always escape from overload and overwhelm, and to improve your focus.
You can also use it to zoom in and zoom out.
Simply identify three goals for the day, three goals for the week, three goals for the month, and three goals for the year.
When you read a book, to stay focused, simply look for three take aways you can turn into action. If you’re in a meeting, look for three take aways. If you’re at a movie, look for three take aways. If you’re in training, look for three take aways.
The Rule of Three can help you focus in just about any scenario.
91. Use verbal cues
Use mantras and one-liner reminders to get on track, stay on track, and get back on track.
Find the mantras and one-liner reminders that work for you.
Here are a few that work for me: “What’s the goal?,” “What’s my next best thing to do?”, “What do I want to accomplish?”, “Does it matter?”, “What am I rushing through for?”, “What am I trading up for?”, etc.
93. Use visual cues
There’s a saying, “Out of sight, out of mind.” This tends to be true. Use a simple system of reminders and visual cues to help remind you of your focus.
From a visual perspective, use sticky notes, vision boards, checklists, etc. Use anything that helps tickle your mind back to your focus.
94. Visualize your performance
See yourself performing the way you want to.
Imagine what it’s like to have great focus.
As part of this visualization, also imagine the setbacks and challenges you’ll encounter. And, imagine yourself working through it. Play out the challenges and imagine yourself dealing with them.
The more you practice, the better prepared you will be.
Also, by having simple mental pictures or visualizations to hold on to, you’ll give yourself a simple way to inspire your focus to new levels.
95. Wake up at the same time each day
By waking up at the same time each day, you’ll train your body and your brain what to expect.
This will help your body also sleep better, so that you can, of course, focus better.
96. Wiggle your toes
This is a quick trick to practice mindfulness.
It’s a way to wake up your body and wake up your mind, and get back into the moment.
When you get back into the moment, you can remind yourself of the task at hand, and rekindle your focus.
97. Work when you are the most comfortable
Just like you might have times in the day that are better for your workout, you’ll have times in the day when you are more focused and alert.
Use these times of the day to put your focus to good use.
98. Write down your goals
List your goals. Having your goals down in writing, makes it easy to keep reminding yourself, “What’s the goal?” This little mantra and your list of goals will re-enforce each other.
99. Write down your steps
List your steps. Write down your list of actions. Having a list of the actions or steps will help you execute the task. It’s a way of making it easier to pick up from where you left off.
100. Write down your tasks
List your tasks. Having a simple “To Do” list of tasks makes it easy both to see what’s on your plate, and to remind you of what you choose to do. Rather than fill your head and have it become a distraction, you can use your list to free up your mind for better focus.
101. Write down your thoughts
Dump your thoughts down on paper. I think of my notepad as a “thought catcher” and I simply jot down a line or two as thoughts go by.
This helps me stay focused and avoid chasing every thought, like a wandering butterfly.
That said, I also bake “think time” and “creative time” into my schedule so that I have time to explore my thoughts, in a free form way, as well as go back through my notebook of thoughts. By having a place to write your thoughts, whether with pen and paper, or in a digital way, you create space for your thinking about
Please enjoy the list as a source of inspiration and fodder to build your focus.
Don’t get discouraged by your setbacks.
Use your setbacks as a chance to practice your ability to focus, and you’ll get better over time.
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Image by Keith Ellwood.