Focus Hard and Get More Done in Less Time

Today there was no power at my place just after 8 am in the morning. I had finished my daily exercise and taken a cold shower. Yes, cold shower. I know many of you will dread this in Bangalore but I like the shiver I get from the chill in water gushing out of the shower.

Back to what I am trying to lead up to – no power meant no internet for next six hours. First thought that came to my mind was- gosh, how would the day be. Then I thought of trying out the productivity hack I have been thinking about for some time. I realized I have the battery in my laptop to last for 3-4 hours. I can finish the most important writing task that was dragging on for past few days. I went ahead and completed the piece in less than three hours, which under normal circumstances will have taken me three days or possibly more.

How did I do this? The simple answer is:

I worked distraction free.

Intense focus

What is the reason for lack of focus?

We have been overcome by the desire to be a multitasking superman. This is the bandwagon everyone has been jumping on to in the last decade. As multitasking flourished, our focus died.

Mine certainly did.

So what is the solution?

Learn from wily economist-cum-socialist Vilfredo Pareto. Vilfredo is the first name of the man behind 80/20 Principle, aka Pareto’s Law. You must learn to figure out your most important 20 percent tasks that will have 80 percent impact on your life, career or business. It will come from your goals in life. If you do not have written goals have them as soon as possible. Without goals we are like rudderless ships.

Follow these time tested steps to get your focus back

Figure out what matters to you.These will come from most important goals you have set for yourself. These are the actions that will spin your wheels toward your fortune. If you can’t decide, just think of the tasks you fear the most and you get old feet as you think of doing them. Those are likely the most important.

 Break it down: Every big goal can be broken into more manageable tasks and sub-tasks. Try to break it into as many smaller tasks as possible. This helps us psychologically as it reduces the enormity of the goal (when viewed as a single chunk).

 Choose top 2-3 core tasks each day. Complete these, no matter what. Think you have earned your dinner if you manage to complete them. These tasks must inch you toward your important goals.

 Do them first thing. Or eat that frog first. Whatever be the actions, do them as early as possible in the morning. This is the time when you are at your creative best. Writing is my most core task these days and I do it first.

Practice batching of tasks. Batch similar activities together and complete them all together. This way you can utilize the learning from the first set of tasks into subsequent sets. You will astonished to find how much of a time saver this one practice can be for you.

 Do not jump to anything else until you complete your core tasks. Unless something is life threatening. Stay offline. Do your research beforehand. Do not take calls during those hours or put your phone on airplane mode until you crush through the important. If something is important, the call will call again.

 No multitasking please. Do one thing at a time. Multitasking is not cool. It’s ineffective and compromises the quality of output. No surfing during phone calls, reading during meals, chatting while writing.

Turn off all sources of interruptions (email and notifications). Make sure nothing else gets your attention when you are doing your core things. Believe that your list of tasks is the most important things to do at that time. Just because someone decides call or email you, doesn’t mean it’s more important. Those things can wait. I know how hard it is to resist the temptation. But the pay offs are huge.

Don’t check email in the morning. Checking mails first thing in the morning is terrible way of starting your work day. This puts you on a loop of reactive actions. It means you are not in control of your life. It also shows you are working on priorities set by others, unless, of course, checking mails is your most important task for the day. I doubt if this is the case for any of you.

Batch your emailing to two times a day. Well after you have completed your core tasks. You could schedule the first one for just before the lunch and the next one for the evening. If you absolutely need to check a mail or a few mails search only for those and do not start checking other mails.

Give more time for each task. We all know things always tend to take longer than we think. If your core task will take you 60 minutes, then block out 90. Actually schedule it on your calendar. If you manage to complete in 60 minutes, you will find yourself with some spare time in your hands–how awesome (and rare) is that!

Take breaks and reward yourself.We are wired to intensely focus up to an hour at best. Take a short break every 30 or 60 minutes to refresh yourself. I like watching squirrels playing on trees from my balcony, as an example. Find your own fun way to get you free and clear.

Try the tricks.

You will get so much done that you will be amazed. You’ll get more done in a day than you were doing in a week, with time left over to enjoy the beauty of life. You will have time again to “stand and stare”.

When in doubt, ask yourself “Am I wasting my time on trivia to avoid the important?” If you are honest. You’ll get the answer. Correct yourself then.