What is a typical day like for you?
I know for me there’s an opportunity to get distracted almost every minute.
On any given day I have 20 unread emails, 40 Facebook notifications, and 5+ text messages.
To add to that, there’s always an opportunity to get pulled into the negative. A friend wrote something disturbing on Facebook, and someone at work was passive aggressive.
I have to tell a friend and/or confront these people right now. Right?
Wrong! (But that’s what’s happening in my head.)
Technology plus daily life make it hard to stay focused. Even worse – all the distractions are so draining.
Learning to really focus is critical in making progress with your goals. Focus is about becoming the “captain of your own ship.”
It’s a skill that’s absolutely necessary if you want to be more in charge of how you feel. And it starts with better understanding what’s going on in your brain.
Here are four ways to focus, boost your energy and reduce burnout.
Start with Gratitude
I know you know that gratitude is powerful, but I find I need it most in the moments when I just don’t feel like being grateful.
The past week has been especially tough. As I hear my son crying in the next room (time to wake up!), I just want to stay in bed. I don’t want to go to work, and I don’t want to deal with any responsibilities. (We all have these days regardless of what’s going on in our country.)
However, I find that waking up with this mentality actually makes me more tired. My focus is on the exhaustion, the negative, all the bad things happening around me.
On the contrary, even while peeling my eyes open, it’s when I can muster up the gratitude to say inwardly – Damn, I’m so grateful. Another day, and my son is in the other room. I get to spend some time with him this morning – that my exhaustion seems to subside.
My mind shifts from “I’m so tired” to “I’m looking forward to the day.”
What are you grateful for today as you wake up?
Take Inventory of When Your Energy Peaks
This is hard to do sometimes.
You’ll need to spend some time taking inventory and tuning into the activities that make you feel good and the ones that deplete you.
For example, I’m most alert in the morning after I’ve had my cup of coffee. At that point, I haven’t been inundated with social media, email, and meetings, all events that tend to deplete my energy. Therefore, I schedule my most important project around this time, one that requires me to think deeply and be creative.
How do I prioritize which project is most important?
Stephen Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People developed a time management grid that breaks up our activities into four areas:
- Urgent and important
- Urgent and not important
- Not urgent and important
- Not urgent and not important
Activities that fall in the first quadrant should require immediate action.
The second quadrant is for long-term strategizing, the third is for activities that someone may want now but aren’t critical, and the last is for activities that result in little value.
Although I like this framework, I also prefer breaking out my tasks in two simple columns: Important vs. Urgent.
Important tasks are any activities that will push my work forward in the most meaningful way (e.g. if you’re a writer, brainstorming and writing about a meaningful topic) and urgent is anything loud and distracting like email and text messaging.
After you identify your “Important” activity for the day, spend whatever bulk of time (e.g. two to three hours) required to complete it. This ensure you’re thinking deeply and being productive.
Leverage Daily Interruptions
If you’re anything like me, you hate interruptions. But, they have a purpose and you can learn to use them to your advantage.
What interrupts your day?
Maybe you have an errand to run, or a 30-minute meeting to take. These are opportunities to fit in other “urgent” tasks that don’t require a lot of deep thought but can take time and energy.
The constant back and forth of smaller tasks, including thinking about them does suck up our energy without us even realizing it.
For example, have you ever checked your email 20+ times in an hour to make sure your inbox is at zero?
Leverage interruptions to make time for these activities, including social media check ins, text messaging your friends, etc.
That way you get your fix without compromising your most important work.
Managing your energy and focusing can be difficult, especially in the beginning when it’s not yet a habit. It’s much easier to check Facebook rather than focus on the big project in front of you.
So how do we make this a habit?
One of my favorite books is The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, and James Clear, a blogger who focuses on building habits for success, often quotes his work.
James Clear shares the three R’s required to form a habit.
To get through a difficult project, you need something to look forward to – a reward.
Don’t skip this part! It’s one of the most important things you can give yourself to build a habit because rewards feel good and motivate you to take the action again.
How do you want to reward yourself after a day’s work?
In Conclusion: Be Strategic and Focus Your Energy
To improve your focus, take stock of your day and your activities, not just the physical tasks but also how you’re feeling. What energizes you? What drains you?
Make it your goal to feel energized during the day.
And as I always tell Work Bigger members – success begets success. Take time to reward yourself and celebrate anything you accomplished today. You’ll find yourself experiencing more wins.