Do you find it difficult to focus on one task? Do you arrive at the office in the morning with every intention to get that marketing campaign done, or that direct mail sent out, but before you know it, the day’s gone, it’s 6pm and you don’t feel that you’ve done anything productive?
I know how you feel, because it happens to me too.
We’re interrupted on average every 11 minutes throughout the day. But this isn’t the main problem. The bigger issue is that to recover our concentration takes around 25 minutes. Switching activities, like answering a phone call in the middle of writing an email, means that we spend almost all day in non-productive work.
Over the years, I’ve come up with a few strategies to help me focus and get more done. I’m sharing them here with you in the hope that it’ll help you too.
1. The F.O.C.U.S. Strategy
F.O.C.U.S. stands for ‘Follow One Course Until Successful’. This means you don’t deviate. You focus all your time and energy on just one thing. Make sure it’s the one thing that will move your business in the right direction in some way, so you know you’ve made progress.
Really zero in on that one important goal, and pursue it relentlessly until you’ve achieved what you set out to do. Be prepared to let something else go though – you can’t do everything. Figure out what you need to sacrifice to get the job done.
2. Avoid email tennis
There’s only so much you can do on a screen. When there’s a significant challenge, sometimes you have to meet it on the phone, or in person. You may think that by sending an email, you’ve completed the task, but actually, you’ve just prolonged it. The recipient of your email is almost certain to reply and their response will inevitably cause you even more work. The typical user gets 147 emails per day, according to Gmail, and spends, on average, two and a half hours just reading and replying to those emails. Statistically, around a quarter of these, or 36 emails, will be important, and take up a disproportionate amount of a user’s time. I find emails a massive time-suck and I do everything I can to avoid them. Facebook Messenger is my communication medium of choice, as it’s quick and direct, and as it’s real-time, you can get issues sorted in a fraction of the time. If a message or a text isn’t appropriate, jump on the phone, but if you possibly can, get a meeting with the person instead. Face to face can save a ton of time and misunderstandings, so don’t be afraid to get off your laptop, out of the office and get it sorted.
3. The Pomodoro Method
It’s hard to be creative over a prolonged period of time when you’re in the office. When you have something like a blog post to write, or a longer task of some kind, keeping your concentration focused for several hours can be almost impossible. I find it can help to break the project up into manageable chunks, with short breaks in between. Introducing the ‘Pomodoro Method’. It was invented in 1987 by student Francesco Cirillo, who named it after the ubiquitous tomato-shaped kitchen timer. Here’s how it works: decide on the task; set a timer to 25 minutes and focus on the job for that time; when the timer rings, take five minutes off. Each 25-minute chunk is a “Pomodoro”. Repeat three times. Once you have completed four Pomodoros, take half an hour off. Then start again, and keep going until the task is done. This really works for me, motivating me to see how much I can get done in each 25-minute slot, and helping me steer clear of the distractions of email and Facebook. It brings me to a state of focus I find difficult to maintain in longer blocks of time. Try it for yourself and see how it works for you. There are several ‘Pomodoro’ apps online to help you work in this way; here’s my favourite – https://tomato-timer.com/
4. Time blocking
You know you have this big project to tackle, but you keep putting it off. It just feels too big to start, when you have so much else to do. So here’s what I do when I have something big and important to get stuck into. I time block. This means I schedule time in my diary to work on it, and find a way to make sure my environment supports this aim. It also means that I limit things like phone calls and valuation appointments to certain days, to enable me to work uninterrupted for sections of time. I also add ‘red days’ in my diary, at least one every fortnight. These are days when nothing is allowed to be added to my diary. If something urgent does come up, and I have to change my red day, I make sure I book it in again as soon as possible so I get this very valuable distraction-free time back.
5. Use a work-management tool
We use Asana, which describes itself as “the work management platform teams use to stay focused on the goals, projects, and daily tasks that grow business.” It’s a free app (the paid level has extra features) that allows you to allocate tasks and monitor progress remotely, across any device. It means that I can assign say Tilly a task, add a deadline for it, upload any supporting documents or photographs, and check progress on it from wherever I am. Before this, we used email and messaging, but it became hard to keep track of the tasks and projects. Now we can all see what needs doing and when by, in a clear and satisfying dashboard. Whilst checking out alternatives to Asana, I came across this article you might find useful. Or you could just use Asana…
What to do next: Do you get my Supertips? They’re jam-packed full of great tips and marketing strategies just like this one, and best still – they’re free! Get yours here –> www.samashdown.co.uk/samsupertips