Try This: Improve Your Focus and Get Things Done

Scattered? Can’t seem to get anything done? Simple solutions for finishing what you start  

Credit: Flickr/tavopp

Make technology your ally in finishing what you start

Are you feeling scattered, unfocused, as if you can’t get anything done? Here’s how to get things crossed off your list

Fall is a time of resolutions. We all remember the carefully selected first-day-of-school outfit, the new binders and fresh paper, the sense that we could actually start fresh. That feeling carries into adulthood, which makes September the natural time to break old habits and start working smarter.

Fight the Distractions of Modern Life

I’m currently cancelling one flight and booking another, writing this post, corresponding with my dad about my travel plans and halfheartedly keeping an eye out for a friend’s imminent arrival. You could say I’m distracted.

My scattered habits aren’t just my computer’s fault: they follow me into daily life, where I can go from breakfast, litter of dishes in my wake, to the bathroom where I scatter toiletries and towels in my wake. Then on to my closet, where heaps of clothes attest to earlier attempts to cobble together an outfit on the fly. Within just a few minutes, my formerly pristine place is a mess.

Work can be just as bad. You’ve already started crafting a reply to the first email you opened, but you can’t resist opening another midstream and starting to answer that. Another paper catches your eye when you go to file the first, so you abandon your initial task for what you tell yourself will be only a second. By the time you get back to that first job, your head is miles away.

How to Finish What You Start

There’s a simple antidote to all this mental and physical disarray, but it requires some discipline. You’ll need to resolve to finish what you start. That means if someone calls in the middle of a task, even if it’s “just a quick question,” you say, “Sure, I’d love to help you as soon as I’ve finished this. Can I call you back?”

If you need to rush from dinner to a movie, you take the few minutes to tidy dishes and wipe the table before you run out the door.

And if you’re momentarily stuck on a report you’re writing, you don’t check your email as a break, then send just a quick response, which leads to a quick response, which leads to a half-hour on another topic entirely.

Use Technology to Help You Focus

Technology gets a bad rap for distracting us. We check every text the instant it comes in, watch movies while we’re travelling, send quick emails from our phones, and expect answers to questions within minutes.

Guess what: technology can also help keep distractions at bay. Set your email so it doesn’t alert you each time a message comes in. Let calls go to voicemail. Record a message when you’re busy.

Sure, we can be technology’s slaves, jumping at every bell, but the choice is really up to us.

Train Coworkers, Friends and Family

You can’t expect to move from distracted to focused overnight, and neither will those around you. If you’re trying to meditate for an hour a day, ask your kids to help.

When they inevitably interrupt you, ask what would change if they waited until your hour’s over. With co-workers, reinforce the positive. When you do appear, tell them they have your full attention until the problem’s solved.

The Payoff of Focus

What’s the end result of all this hard work? You’re clear and serene, having seen a task through to the end instead of going off on a million tangents along the way. Your space is a calm, clutter-free zone instead of a disaster area.

And you? Well, you just might have time to take a deep breath, lean back, and review everything you got done this week.