March 7, 2017

How to create a successful focus routine

Saying no to distraction and yes to meaningful work

How often do you show up with the intent to focus, only to be distracted by the things around you?

I’ve written before about the importance of showing up every day. But showing up every day is more than checking your subscriber count or eyeing up your email inbox only to not taking action. We often participate in these lazy tasks to save the ‘real work’ for another day and fool ourselves that we’ve ‘shown up’.

Whether it’s distractions, procrastination or laziness — what’s stopping you from taking action right now? Why haven’t you taken action on that email in your inbox, or that tasks that’s been on your list for a while? Showing up and taking action helps position you for success. It’s about taking action on the right things to position yourself for a successful tomorrow.

A key ingredient to showing up every day is focus — the time and space where you achieve your best work. Focus is when all your being is dedicated towards productivity. While most of know the importance of focus to do our best work, how come we struggle finding it?

Can focus be spontaneous?

I used to believe focus was a switch I could control — something I could turn on or off at will. Though I soon discovered that without careful preparation my spontaneous focus wasn’t really focus at all. My lack of preparation always lead me to spend the first 20 minutes choosing what to focus on, and the next 20 catching up and finding my starting place.

Often we find ourselves wanting to focus spontaneously, but are too ill-prepared. Our work becomes inefficient. Having a dependency on focus to happen when you feel like itmeans poor planning, lack of preparation and ultimately low quality work.

The best focus times are ones that are thoughtfully pre-prepared. You wouldn’t throw a surprise party for your best friend without any preparation — it would be a disaster! Without preparing yourself for success you’re only setting yourself up to fail.

Like a successful violinist, learning to focus takes practice. No violinist makes it to the top without showing up to practice everyday with focus and intent.

How often do you ask yourself: What’s one thing I can focus on today to get me closer to my goals?

Violinists ask themselves this everyday when they practice. Weaving focus into your daily routine is your fast-track to success. Dedicate your focus time and energy on creating your success instead of consuming others.

A successful focus session takes quite a bit of careful preparation. What environment will you be in? What potential distractions will be around you? Who close to you needs to respect your focus time?

Whether you decide to dedicate your focus time to work or play*, make those around you aware of your focus time. Ask them to respect that focus time is yours — a 100% distraction free time for YOU. 

Focus time is not a time for them to ask what’s for dinner, or tell you about their day. Let them know in advance when focus time begins and ask them to respect that time as yours.

Secondly, eliminate any chance of potential distractions by dedicating an environment to your focus time. This could be your office or a cozy corner at your local cafe. Every time you enter that space, respect it’s purpose. Try and avoid doing non-focus tasks in this space. 

How to create a focus routine

We know that preparing for a successful focus time is important. With that in mind, here’s a few routine steps to help you prepare for your next focus time:

Set an alarm 10 minutes prior to your focus time

This helps to signal your upcoming session and gives you time to prepare. If your focus time is first thing in the morning this could be your morning alarm. From this moment onwards, no more checking your phone — all that does is open up the flood gates to distraction and procrastination.

Create (and perform) your preparation routine

Make this a habit so that it mentally and habitually prepares you for focus time. As my focus time is in the morning my routine consists of taking a shower, getting dressed and grabbing something to drink. For you it could be making yourself a cup of tea or organising your work space to ensure it’s uncluttered —  this gives your mind 10 minutes to prepare for your upcoming focus time. I walk straight from the bathroom to my office, sit down and get to work. No distractions along the way. Ok maybe my cat now and then.

Set a timer

How long will your focus time be for — One hour? Two? Be dedicated and consistent to the time that you set. Changes to this can disrupt your flow over time and making it more difficult to accurately predict the amount of focus work you can achieve in a certain timeframe.

Eliminate distractions

Leave your phone behind — you won’t be needing it. If you’re working on your computer, close any unnecessary programs. Slack, Twitter, Facebook, Email, whatever. Only open up the programs or software that deserves your attention and focus in this moment.

Set an intent

What’s the one thing you can achieve right now in this focus time, to prepare you for a better tomorrow? Consult your to do list and focus on the priority first. If you have a task that takes longer than the designated focus time, break it up into smaller chunks and put it on a do-later list if needed. Don’t overwhelm yourself with daunting tasks and impossible deadlines.

Work with dedication and mindfulness

Avoid falling into the trap of completing one small task and patting yourself on the back for your hard work. You’re only at the beginning. Focus on your intent with full excitement, energy and mindfulness. Are my efforts being channeled to the right place? Am I enjoying this work? Does it make me feel good about myself?

Once your time is up, relax and reflect on your progress. Cross off the completed tasks and review any outstanding ones. It’s likely that new tasks may have arisen during your focus time — add these to your list.

Lastly, prepare yourself for a successful focus session tomorrow by putting a dot next to the tasks to prioritise in your next focus session. This allows you to set the purpose in advance, meaning when the time comes there’s no excuse to procrastinate.

Repeat daily.

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