How to Keep Your Focus Razor Sharp


There’s a woman I know, a writer and consultant, who says she’s more stressed out by what she’s not doing than what she is doing. When she’s in the flow of work, she’s consumed by it, productive, engaged. But when she’s not and instead worrying about what she has to get done, she says she “hovers like a gnat around her work, not landing on anything, not getting anything done, and completely stressed out about it.”

This isn’t a workload problem. This is a focus problem. And it’s something you’re struggling with, too. Challenge your current work habits and you’ll do a lot to reduce the nervous buzzing around that stress can create.

Here are some strategies for keeping yourself focused and engaged, rather than consumed by stress.

Focus on One Thing

Multitasking is a myth and a misnomer—there’s no such thing. What you do is switch quickly between tasks, which reduces your focus and accuracy. When you train your focus muscle, you’ll feel less frenzied, be more effective, and fully engage with the task at hand.

Here’s how:

  • Log out for 30 minutes. Even if you live and die by email, do yourself a favor and log out for 30 minutes (or thereabout, more if you can swing it) either in the beginning of the day, or for a period in the afternoon. You won’t believe how much you can get done when you’re not always interrupting yourself to return emails.
  • Work in 90-minute chunks. No one can focus for 8 hours straight—you’re simply not designed to do it. Instead of thinking of your day as two chunks, before and after lunch, focus on really digging deep into a project for 90 minutes at a time on average. After that take 15 minutes to focus elsewhere—whether that involves a brief walk and change of scenery, or even a few minutes watching a funny video. Plan your day so that you can do some of the less metabolically expensive tasks (going through mail, following up on less urgent emails) in between the tasks that require more energy and attention.
  • Don’t react; plan. Planning is the heaviest lifting your brain has to do and so you don’t want to wait until you’re too burned out by the day to do it, says author and expert David Rock. If you get caught up in a whack-a-mole approach to your to-do list or emails, you put yourself in reactive mode instead of proactive.

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