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How to Stay Focused and Achieve What You Want


Jan. 21, 2020 Psychology Today

What’s more, wanting to do something is step 0. Step 1 is getting started, and that doesn’t happen without a calm mind and a view of what lies ahead. The steps beyond are all about creating a setting that ensures persistence. It can be very easy to lose track of priorities, and fatigue and stress are enemies of progress.

If you’re committed to making strides in your personal and professional life this year, you should focus on using productivity tools. They simplify your thinking, streamline processes, and save time. Organizing what lies ahead can also ensure your efforts are aligned equitably among your goals. So use these three techniques to improve your chances of success.

The Science of Writing Things Down

There are distractions all around us. The information and general inputs are ever-increasing. Responsibilities, distractions, and to-dos accumulate by the hour, but the length of a day, along with brain capacity, remains the same.

For certain, you cannot rely merely on yourself to sort everything you need to get done in a day or even in a moment. Using a capture tool can be very helpful. Rather than a traditional to-do list, a capture tool is a dumping ground for the to-dos that come to mind throughout the day. Before closing up shop in the afternoon, you organize those items into your calendar to the best of your abilities and toss the list.

Science proves that this helps in a few ways. First, the act of writing something down frees your subconscious of its hidden efforts to track the task. Second, science shows that just writing something down causes your brain to process them into the first stages of organization. Now in a digital world, why am I advocating for the ole pen and paper? Well, third, throwing out the list provides psychological closure to the day. Finally, turning the page to a blank sheet and putting tomorrow’s date on it is the symbolic action that pulls you into the next day.

So why not use a smartphone? The psychological effects of points three and four in the previous paragraphs are missed, and anyone who has a phone knows that they are Petri dishes of distraction. So do yourself a favor. Go back in time, and get yourself a nice pad or diary book.

Prioritizing Your Tasks

Not having an organized calendar is like not having goals at all, and the items that go into that calendar should have some higher level of priority. But priority is dangerous business at the end of the day, when you will be tired and inclined to delete valuable items in haste.

So as soon as you start your next day, give the calendar entries you made the day before a sanity check. This will allow you to sort your priorities with a clear mind and will give you a nice view of the day ahead to set the stage. Be realistic with your time. It is much better to work slow and steady than to torture yourself with the stress of always being behind, which makes you prone to error. 

If you get to a scheduled item and can’t fit it in, immediately reschedule it. Don’t’ let it get lost in the past. And don’t torture yourself over a postponed or incomplete task. This self-belittlement is more behavior that will give you disdain for the journey and cause error-prone stress.

It also helps to take a sanity check over your calendar at the beginning of each week. Look for things that have been lingering—for instance, that have been postponed three times or more. Ask yourself about them:

  • Does this need to be done this week? Punting a task into the future, when genuine, is a way to prioritize.
  • Do I need to be the one to do it? You’d be surprised at how much great help you can find from colleagues or independent contractors on Upwork.
  • Does it need to be done at all? Many tasks end up on your capture tool when you are in a frantic huff that make no sense at all when clear-minded.

Employing the tactics already stated here will likely help you to avoid a lot of toil and stress, but always working is a perfect recipe for eventually halting your efforts.

Creating Balance

A Deloitte survey revealed that 77 percent of respondents had experienced burnout in their current job. Burnout is synonymous with complete stasis and a perfect foundation for disease and lower life expectancy. I am the biggest proponent of getting things done you may ever find, but remember what they say about too much of a good thing?

Another secret enemy is a cluttered workspace. A messy desk is not only a detriment to how others see you but how you view yourself. Achievement requires you to mentally puff your chest out and lead with your chin. Keep an organized workspace. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and disorganized when you have a messy work area. Take time to clear off your space so you can focus on what’s in front of you and what you’re working on. 

Fresh air and movement are also important. Sitting in the office all day isn’t good for you physically and slows you down mentally. Reminding yourself to take a break (which may feel unproductive) will increase your attention and ability to get things done. And if you are one of those who absolutely can’t leave the office for whatever reason, walking while working has been shown to improve cognitive function by 60 percent.

There is an art to writing a book, getting a promotion, or becoming a top sports competitor. What we fail to realize, however, is that there is an art to the approach we take to organizing and executing on this art that is needed to accomplish these things. Someone can sit in front of you and give you every task you need to accomplish whatever you want in life. But if you aren’t methodically about what you choose to do, when you do it, and how quickly, it won’t matter that you know what to do. So take heed to the techniques I’ve described.

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