How to Stay Focused: A Procrastinator’s Guide

Here’s the thing about staying on task — it’s really hard. Or at least it can be. By hacking our habits, especially those we’ve formed to adapt to the constant stimuli and technology around us (one of the most common points of distraction), we can set ourselves up for success.

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The Pomodoro Technique

In case you weren’t already familiar, the Pomodoro Technique is a lifesaver. The idea behind the technique — named after the Italian word for tomato—has to do with setting incremental amounts of time for a given task. Specifically, tasks are measured in 25-minute intervals. Have to finish a report? Do the laundry? Send some emails? Calculate how many “pomodoros” it’ll take to complete a given task. We’re far more likely to focus on and stick to a goal of committing to 25-minutes of work versus an ambitious all-nighter. When completing a given task, ask yourself how many pomodoros it will take to complete. Doing this will help set realistic timeframes for how long a task will take.

Schedule Tasks by Theme

Another way to stay focused is to set a theme for any given day. For instance, let’s say you’re an entrepreneur. List the main functions you need to complete during any given week. While there are definitely quite a few for this particular role, some of the basics might include: networking, improving your product or service, delivering work to your clients, etc. Itemize the most important tasks you need to complete to keep your business on track, then assign them to a given day. For example, Tuesdays at 10 am are generally the best time to send an email due to the high open rates. Maybe Monday should be the day that you would draft and schedule new business proposals to go out the following morning. Tuesday can be a “response day” spent answering emails, engaging on social media, scheduling posts and so on. Instead of buying into the idea of multi-tasking, which only moves the needle a little bit at a time and can cause serious fatigue, setting daily themes will help you make significant headway across your major business goals. The former CEO of Evernote even defers to themed days for staying consistent all week long.

Group Tasks by Threes

Atomic Habits is an excellent book focusing on identifying and establishing winning habits. If we approached our habits scientifically, we would look at the variables that cause us to behave a certain way. Let’s say you spent the night binging Netflix. The next morning, you wake up late, groggy and ill-prepared for a presentation that completely slipped your mind. By 1 pm that afternoon, you decide the day is a wash and you succumb to another Netflix marathon, this time fueled by a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. While blowing off steam is a normal and necessary part of recalibrating, it’s generally more fulfilling to do it with intention rather than as a byproduct of unending stress. While we know an atomic or winning habit will be helpful in the long run — in this case going to bed early — we don’t always do it. After studying our habits and pitfalls, the book recommends performing winning habits (i.e. those that set us up for success) in groups of threes. By grouping habits, we overcome the inertia our brain puts in place to protect us and keep us in our comfort zone. Hate doing the dishes? Group washing dishes with something more favorable like checking the mail for your latest order from Amazon. Sandwiching an unfavorable habit or task between two more favorable ones helps overcome that inertia and move you along.

Create an Ambiance

Finally, if all else fails and you still find that you’re opening yourself up to a lot of distractions, like constantly clicking through Instagram stories or social media generally, turn to audiobooks. Audiobooks give you the feeling of engaging with someone without being too intrusive. Amazon’s Audible has a great selection of the latest bestselling works, and All You Can Books has a selection of over 40,000 free books. Both libraries not only offer a sort of insightful white noise in the background to help you stay focused, but they also offer up valuable information to keep you on your game for whatever topic you decide to delve into.

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