Personal – 4 Strategies to Focus and Get Stuff Done

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September // 4 strategies to bring back focus and get stuff done.

My trying to write to this prompt is sort of hilarious.  I’m terrible at focusing and getting stuff done!  Literally all of my adult life and most of my student life I’ve been trying to figure out how to make myself get down to business and do what needs doing, whether that’s schoolwork, work-work, or housework.  It’s so hard, guys.  And I know myself – if I’m given the chance to procrastinate, I will.  So it’s an uphill battle.  What is a girl to do?  The answer is, find tools and strategies that work for you.  What works for me may not work for everyone else, and may not even be necessary for those who have more internal motivation, but it doesn’t hurt.

  1. Chunking time – When I need to focus on something at work, if it’s a bigger project that will take a big chunk of time to complete, I know I will get distracted.  So instead of forcing myself to work for 6 hours straight on whatever, I turn to the Pomodoro technique.  It lets you break down your working time into manageable chunks of time during which it’s easier to stay focused.  If I know I only have to focus on project X for 25 minutes before I get a break to stand up and stretch, get a snack, browse the internet or whatever, I’m much happier to chug along for a while.  The best part of this system is that it is virtually free.  All you need is some kind of timer system (the timer on your phone works great), and thankfully there are people out there who make it easy by setting things up for you ahead of time.  I love the Tomato Timer – that thing has saved my butt and forced me to focus more times than I can count.
  2. Brainless work = time for brain treats – When I’m doing housework, or when I have to do the more data-processing side of my job, there isn’t a lot of mental effort that goes into it.  And for me, that’s what makes me more likely to drift away from what I’m supposed to be doing into the land of distraction.  The best way to make sure I stay focused and accomplish the task at hand is to “treat” myself to something I normally don’t get while working.  For me, that usually means listening to podcasts.  I’m not able to listen to them during more intense, naturally-focusing and deeper level thinking processes because trying to do analysis AND listen to someone talk about something cool do not mesh well.  But if what I’m doing involves a lot of copy-pasting, numbers totaling in excel and the like, bring on the discussions!  I listed some of my favorite podcasts here, but I’m starting to think that perhaps I need to update that list to reflect what I’ve actually been listening to in recent months…watch this space!
  3. Gamifying the task – As kids, my sister and I hated cleaning our rooms, which isn’t a huge revelation.  Few kids really enjoy that chore.  But when forced to accomplish this hated goal, we did something that in retrospect was brilliant: we made it a competition.  Each of the areas of our bedrooms were written down in duplicate on slips of paper and put in a central location between our rooms.  We then would each choose one area (floors, bed, desk, etc.) and clean that area up to an acceptable level.  Once finished, we went back and chose another paper with a different task.  Whoever finished first (with a mom-approved level of clean) was declared the winner.  What did we win?  I … cannot remember.  But the semi-regularity of these cleaning races meant that it was in our best interest to keep things at as decent a level of clean as possible.  Because the cleaner things were to start, the faster you’d get through the race.  It was pretty ingenious for a couple of pre-teens.  These days, I still enjoy gamifying my to-do list, not just cleaning, but work and personal tasks that need to be accomplished.  See my post on Habitica for the nerdy deep-dive into turning your to-do list into an RPG.
  4. Accountability – I am the kind of person who is reticent about telling other people my goals.  And that’s because so often I know I may not accomplish them.  But this is perhaps the wrong strategy.  When you tell someone what your goals are – either for work or personal life – you have made yourself accountable to this other person.  If you don’t accomplish your goal by the time you told them, they’ll know.  For some people, this strategy works – you may feel guilt at the prospect of disappointing your goal buddy, and so be more likely to accomplish the task at hand.  This is a popular topic of discussion in the fitness community when finding ways to succeed in fitness and weight-loss (google “gym buddy”), but it can work across a variety of platforms.  Perhaps you told someone you would have a work report back to them by a certain time.  Or you have friends coming over in a few hours who will see the state of mess in your house.  Nothing lights a fire underneath a person to get stuff done like knowing that the results will be seen and judged by others.

So that’s what I’ve got.  It doesn’t always work for me, but when I need to focus and get stuff done, I use these strategies and can usually knock things out fairly quickly.  I am by no means an expert, so if anyone else has strategies (especially how to motivate for tedious day-to-day stuff), let me know in the comments.  I am always looking for new ways to get myself going!

Details: This post is part of Project Reverb 2017, which sends out monthly (and sometimes daily during a month-long challenge in December) writing prompts for bloggers. If you’re interested in participating, sign up here.

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