Focus Exercises

Focus. It seems in short supply these days.

So many people are diagnosed with attention disorders. We endure the constant interruptions of phone and texts, breaking alerts, fast paced days and exhausted nights.

We move at the speed of busy.

At least it’s true for most of us. We have one speed and reality: overcommitted, short on time, pressured.

It’s hard to do your best work when you’re on a deadline.

As my grandmother would say, when we live this way, we tend to give everything “a lick and a promise.” As in, here’s what I can do in five minutes, or in ten, and I’ll be back to do a better job when I can really focus.

I used to promise myself all sorts of things. I would catch up when I finished school, when my baby slept through the night, when my kids started school, when we were on summer break, when I cut back at work, when my kids left home… when, when, when.

The truth is, time never cooperates like we need it to. The time that I promise myself, the opening you see on your horizon…when you get there, there’ll be some task you didn’t anticipate that needs your attention.

That’s life.

So how do we focus? How do we get anything done?

There’s a lot of research now to show that most of us are not so skilled as we thought. We don’t really gain efficiency by trying to multi-task.

Most people don’t do well under extreme pressure. I think that’s a myth we tell ourselves so we can feel better about operating in that mode.

My personal formula? I like to use small and manageable goals to help me focus and to make definitive progress.

Why small?

Well, small is doable. Small is friendly and approachable. A small task I can probably do in an hour, a day, or maybe a week. Small doesn’t overwhelm.

It’s important to project a major milestone…write a book, launch a website, name big goals you set for yourself. You need the grand vision for your life too.

But you don’t write a book in a day, or even a week. You don’t complete a degree or build a business overnight. Most achievements of size require prolonged time and effort.

Begin by naming the big thing you want to accomplish.

Then make your list of steps to get there.

Then break your steps down even further.

I like to have three to five tasks I can name each week that will move me forward in a significant way.

You can create micro-tasks for each day…again, no more than three to five.

I’m not talking about the daily tasks of life, of course…don’t distract yourself by listing your grocery run in this group.

I’m talking about tasks that are specific to a larger goal.

You can set one to three goals, or areas of focus, for your year. Then just begin to break them into manageable bites, by the month, the week, the day.

Next, create check points for yourself. Perhaps weekly or monthly, look at your small goals and make sure your on target. Are there changes you need to make to your overall plan? Assess your progress and adjust if you need to.

By working with small tasks, making incremental progress, you easily build on your day-to-day work, and you can correct mistakes or adjust for changes as you go.

I feel a sense of accomplishment when I complete my day and know I’ve done my tasks. Then when I review my week, I feel even better. I see real progress.

Another key for me is working with an accountability partner.

By committing to being accountable to someone else (I do this on a weekly basis), I’m keenly aware of my progress as I move through my week. I want to feel good about what I have to share with my accountability partner. We report to each other, and support each other with positive feedback. Since my partner and I live in different states, we typically text our bullet points…goals for the coming week, and status of goals for the current week. We mark each goal as completed, partially completed, or not done.

Accountability works like a charm. It isn’t about competition; it is about wanting to live up to my commitments, to myself. If I’m on target with my daily small goals, it’s really simple to document my progress to my partner each week. The summary of my work also gives me an easy way to look back over time and refresh my memory on what I’ve done, or to recognize a problem area…if I’m consistently failing to complete a task, maybe there’s an underlying issue I need to address.

Focus isn’t difficult when you have tools to help you. Over time, it becomes easier to fine tune your process and to gain momentum. Instead of losing steam, losing track of where you’re going:

  • set small goals to complete on a daily / weekly / monthly basis
  • create a reporting / accountability plan with a friend

These tools will step you to the next level of your project with ease. It won’t be effortless, but it will be manageable.

At the end of a year, you’ll be amazed at what you’ve achieved!

How do you focus yourself? Please share your methods in the comments.


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