When you’re feeling distracted, torn, scattered, or any other adjective associated with chaos, there’s one simple thing that you can do. When it comes down to how to focus, use your goals to guide your decision making.
Don’t have any goals? Why not?
Goal setting is a great way to give direction and purpose to your time.
I know, I know, you don’t want to add another thing to your plate. You’re already busy and distracted. You don’t want to have to throw goal setting into the mix too.
So why don’t you do this then… Instead of getting even more overwhelmed, try a little rephrasing. Goal setting? No, let’s call it prioritizing. What are your priorities? What are the things that mean the most to you? That if you didn’t get them done today or this week, you would be seriously disappointed?
Those are your priorities and they are the things that should lead your task list.
I’m reading a lot this year (humble brag). Many of the books I’m reading revolve around productivity and ways that you can better value your time each day. It’s something I’m:
- Passionate about
- Enjoy learning about
- And love sharing with you (hence this post)
One thing I’ve noticed many of those books share, and coincidentally what I do as well, is use goal setting (or priorities, to you) to reign in focus.
Sure, most of the case studies revolve around busy business executives, CEO’s, entrepreneur-types. The career doesn’t matter though: this simple strategy can be applied to anyone, anywhere, at any time.
Let your goals guide your decision making.
You’re the type of person that isn’t just busy for the sake of being busy. No. You want things out of life. Big things. Bold things. And because of that, you probably have taken on more responsibility, more projects, than you could possibly get done in a mere 24 hours.
So, what do you do?
Probably what most do. Bounce from one assignment or chore to the next. Multitask. Answer that email as soon as it comes in. Answer the phone as soon as someone calls. Your day is already jam-packed. You don’t want to get even further backlogged by having other miscellaneous tasks add up (calls, texts, emails, etc.).
That’s backwards though.
What you want to do instead is:
- Start with your most important task(s) first
- Then once that’s finished, work on anything else that you have time for
In the book, Free To Focus by Michael Hyatt, he calls this working on your Big Three. In other words, they are the big three things you need to do today or this week to ensure that you make progress on your goals.
Once those are done, then you can begin to tackle anything else on your list.
But your Big Three is what he suggests you focus on first.
Another example that touches on this methodology is found in David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done. In it, he explains the power of engaging with your work.
He recommends that you examine everything you have going on in your life; observe all your lists, actions, and to-dos, and create a plan of attack for the things most important to you in that day.
He suggests planning out your week ahead of time so that nothing slips through the cracks and so that you stay on top of the various facets of your life at all times.
Both Hyatt and Allen make great points.
How to focus – My approach
That in mind, my approach for how to focus shares elements of the references above, but also takes my own experiences and preferences into account. My approach is a combination of three things:
- Weekly outlining
- Goal setting
- And daily planning
Each Sunday, generally in the afternoon, I sit down and map out my upcoming week. I check my calendar for what appointments I have, I review my various Google Docs that contain all my relevant projects, and from that I create an approximate plan for the week.
Plans change and my schedule is never set in stone. However, creating this plan ahead of time ensures that I am aware of my various responsibilities for the coming week.
That’s one piece of the puzzle.
Another piece involves goal setting. I know I said that goal setting wasn’t necessary to do earlier, but let me explain my process and then you can take from it what you will. Earlier this year, I set numerous goals (mostly short term) across the different avenues of my life. I set goals related to:
- Exercise, etc.
This isn’t a post on goal setting so I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice it to say, I have goals set for nearly every aspect of my life. And during my weekly planning sessions on Sunday, I make sure to build time into each day specifically for my goals.
Which leads me to daily planning.
A series of blocks
With my weekly outline complete, I’ll then create a more detailed plan for each day the night before. So if tomorrow is Friday, I create a thorough plan for that day on Thursday evening.
What does that plan consist of? Two things.
First, it solidifies my weekly outline for that day – by the time Thursday evening rolls around, any appointments or mandatory to-dos for Friday have been generally locked in by now.
Second, it digs deeper into each section of my day. This is where I really gain the how-to-focus-power that I’m after. To make this example as simple as possible, consider my day as a series of blocks:
- Wake up
- Work on QuickBooost (what you’re reading right now)
- Work on my full-time job
- Spend time with my family
- Go to sleep
There’s more to my day than just these six blocks, but it’s not necessary to include that here. Within each block of time, I know what I need to do.
How? Because I’ve set goals for them and make sure to work on those first before doing anything else.
How to focus – Do the most important thing
Take my QuickBooost block for instance. This month I set a goal to publish ten posts. Which, by the way, I did. This is number ten, in fact. Congrats to me!
Now, creating posts isn’t the only thing that needs to get done for QuickBooost. With any business, there are many hats that one wears and a myriad of tasks to complete at any one time. But did I worry about my laundry list of tasks?
Because I knew that, over everything else, the most important thing that I needed to do this month was to create and publish those posts.
Everything else was just bonus.
And with that understanding I was laser focused on what I needed to do.
- Emails would come in: they would go unanswered until the post progress I needed was done.
- I wanted to add something new to Medium: that would wait until my post progress was done.
- Someone left a comment on one of my posts: I would hold off on responding to it until my post progress was done.
Creating the posts came first.
How to focus when feeling scatterbrained
When you’re feeling scatterbrained, then, getting focused is simple. When you want to know how to improve focus and concentration, when you’re feeling pulled in a thousand directions, you just need to ask yourself:
What is the one thing I need to be working on right now to help me reach my goal?
That’s where either setting goals for yourself or understanding your priorities comes into play.
Because it’s way too easy to let whoever makes the most noise dictate your attention – slack notifications, coworkers barging in, friends texting you.
Scrap all of it.
Have a notepad by you that you can use to jot down these distractors and then get back to your most important task at hand.
You’ll have time to revisit that note later. But that time isn’t right now.
Right now is about working on the one thing that will most help you make progress towards your vision of success. Doing it is your highest priority. So if you haven’t already, consider what is most important to you – in all aspects of your life.
Ignore everything else
What’s the most important thing for you to do with your side hustle so that you move forward today? Ok great. Now you’re in the office. What’s the most important thing to move your job along today? Perfect. Now you’re at the gym. What’s the most important thing to help you make progress on your fitness goal today?
Decide on what the most important action is that you can take that will move you forward. Ignore everything else.
Watch how this simple thing will allow you to focus like never before.
Sure, there will still be other things pulling at your attention. There will still be fires that pop up. There will be distractions that creep in. But as long as you continue to focus on the most important thing before anything else, you will make real progress each day and reduce that scatterbrained feeling that’s plaguing you.
Apply this technique and learn how to focus your mind.
Just a coincidence?
There’s another book that touches on this concept as well – The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. I didn’t spend a lot of time on this one, but it seemed to follow similar logic as to what I’ve mentioned above.
Is it just a coincidence that so many productive people all recommend a version of the same thing? It’s possible, but I doubt it.
Especially because I’m talking from personal experience.
The times when I let my goals dictate my actions are times when I actually get meaningful work done. The times when I don’t, I’m right there with you – scatterbrained as ever. In fact, when I chat with people about their workflows and getting things done, it’s always crystal clear as to the ones that will make progress and the ones that won’t.
The ones that get things done are deliberate. They know how to focus on what’s important and they know the one or two things they need to do each day – and they do them before anything else.
How to focus – The forefront of your mind
In your life, when determining how to focus, let your goals guide you. Or at the very least, take a few moments to recognize what your priorities are and use them in a similar way. Put them at the forefront of your mind.
Work towards them before doing anything else.
When feeling scatterbrained, actually, especially when feeling scatterbrained, see it as a sign that you need to realign your work with the direction that you want to go. Refuse to let menial tasks take over your day.
Promise me, ok? Don’t do it!
Instead, decide on what action is most important in that moment. Then do that. Do that and do that before doing anything else.
Equally important tasks
Now, let’s say you’re torn. You feel stuck between three tasks. All equally important, all equally time consuming. What do you do then?
You need to make a judgment call.
Normally if you sit and think about it for a few minutes, one of your tasks will likely stand out as more important than the rest. But let’s say that doesn’t happen. They are all meaningful to you in the pursuit of your goals. What then?
Go with one of these options:
- Start with whatever is most difficult
- Choose whatever task has the closest deadline
- Or pick the one that you’re most excited about
How to focus right now (and moving forward)
Don’t let scatterbrain-syndrome ruin your productivity. Don’t go to bed at night wondering what you actually did that day. Instead, let your goals and priorities guide your task list.
Use them as a tool to help you focus. To block out the unnecessary and focus in on what matters most. On the one or two things that will most help you progress towards your goal(s) in that moment. It’s a simple technique that you can do right now.
So give it a try.
Spend the next five minutes considering what is most important to you and what you can do to make progress in that direction today.
Better focus starts with better clarity. Let your goals guide you and end your day with a smile of satisfaction on your face.