How to be focused and stay focused at work

How to be focused and stay focused
Photo by Alfonso Reyes on Unsplash

What does it mean to be focused?

To be focused, we first need to define what we’re talking about. According to Google, the word ‘focus’ is searched between one million and ten million times every single month. That makes it a very popular and desirable thing. While some of these searches are looking for a car – a Ford Focus, many other people do want to be focused and stay focused on their work and in their lives.

A simple definition of focus is:

A central point of activity, attention or attraction

A practical example of setting your focus is using a camera to take a photo. In the good old days before computers took over cameras, you had to point the lens in the general direction of your object and twist it to sharpen the appearance of the image. Today, we just click the auto-focus button but the principle is the same: tune into what you want and tune out what you don’t.

How to be focused in three easy steps

The One Thing and Essentialism

The first step in how to be focused is to choose what to focus on.

One of the best exercises I’ve seen for this comes from Greg McKeown’s fabulous book, Essentialism. And it’s summed up in a single diagram!

(I rapped his book as Focus over at Book Rapper as a double issue with Gary Keller’s The One Thing. They’re a great read if you want to focus better and get more done in your life.)

1 List what you are currently working on

Make a list of all the projects that you are currently working on. Make sure you number them.

2 Compare your list to the diagram below.

Now have a look at your list and the two diagrams below. Which one most closely represents your situation?

Are you more like the image on the left with lots of projects and short arrows of energy shooting out in all directions?

Or are you more like the image on the right with a single project and a long stream of energy driving out in a single direction?

Weekly Done - Focus - Where is your energy going?

Most of us, are somewhere in between but the lesson to be focused is the same: the fewer projects we have to work on, the more focused we become and the more energy and results we are likely to produce.

3 Cull

Now, if we want that boost in energy and results we need to be focused and to do that we need to cull some of the things we are working on – I’m sure they’re not all essential – which is precisely the point McKeown makes in his book Essentialism.

See if you can cancel, delay or complete one or more of those extra projects right now – or at least in the next week. And make it a plan to streamline the number of projects you take on at any time.

One Thing

While it’s normal to buy into many things, this muddles your thinking, confuses your action and cruels your chances for success.

In contrast, it’s extraordinary to choose one thing. This clears your thinking, focuses your action and heightens your success.

Narrow your focus to improving your chances of producing extraordinary results. You might have noticed that the great artists, elite athletes and Nobel Prize winners focus on just one thing.

While the great Michael Phelps – who won 18 Olympic gold medals – raced in four different swimming strokes, he still stuck to the one sport. He didn’t try to play golf, or football and do ballet at the same time. Be focused.

How to stay focused in four different ways

Now that you are focused, we want to stay focused. The following four strategies for staying focused we use in our Project Done program (plus I talk about each one of them in detail in my book Done). They’re tried and tested proven strategies that you can apply easily to your situation today.

1 Create a Project Goal

The obvious starting point to be focused and ultimately stay focused is to have something to focus on. (You probably guessed that already.) Setting a goal is a great start. And turning that goal into a project is even better.

To define your project clarify:

  • Why do you want to produce this result
  • What result you are going to produce
  • How you are going to produce that result

2 Boost your Motivation

Being focused for a moment is easy. Staying focused for longer takes more effort. And one of the crucial pieces for your project and your focus is to be clear about why you are doing it.

Ask yourself:

  • Why do I want to be focused?
  • What is not being focused on costing me?
  • What is my purpose behind wanting to achieve this goal/project?

3 Build Habits

Now that we have something to focus on and a clear reason for doing it, we want to stay focused long enough to achieve our goal.

Unfortunately, this is not something we can just do once and forget about. It’s like exercise – we need to keep doing it regularly to gain the benefit.

One of the biggest ideas to come out of all of the neuroscience research in the past few years is the power of habits. A habit is like being on automatic pilot – and we want to build habits to stay focused.

The key here is to think about when you want to be focused. For instance: First thing in the morning, regularly throughout the day plus when we’re working on our project.

Then we want to create little actions we can repeat often to stay focused. Plus eliminate any habits that distract us – like multi-tasking.

4 Shape your Environment

An easy way to create habits is to build them into your environment so you are triggered to perform the habit action.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Write down your motivation for why you want to be focused and the purpose of your project. Put this somewhere so that you will see it when you wake up in the morning. This might be on your bedside table, on your bathroom mirror or on the opening screen of your smart device.
  • Likewise, create a visual – with words and pictures – to remind yourself of your project during the day.
  • Reward yourself – whenever you take steps toward reaching your goal, celebrate in some way. You might like to write a list of possible ways to do this in advance. And we’re not talking about buying a new car because you remembered to brush your teeth. It could be as simple as smiling and saying ‘I did it. That’s a much cheaper and easier way to give yourself a dopamine hit.
  • Create a scoreboard to measure your progress in your project.

Summary: How to be focused and stay focused

If you want to be focused the key is to have something that is important to you to focus on – ideally, a project or goal that you want to accomplish.

This then becomes the key to staying focused over a longer period of time. Build your attention to taking action on your project and reward yourself for the steps you take along the way.

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