10 Commandments for Mastering your Focus at Work
Achieve extraordinary results.
Focus is the Key to Success in the 21st Century.
Bold statement? Yes — but consider the following:
You can probably agree that in order to be successful you should know what success looks like for you and set the goals you want to achieve accordingly.
In order to achieve these goals, you need to identify and work on the projects that have the most impact on achieving your goals.
But in modern times, working on important projects is difficult because we are constantly distracted by other things like email, notifications and meetings.
And if we are distracted, it can take us up to 25 minutes to fully focus on our previous task again.
Consequently, we end up being extremely busy all the time but don’t actually get anything important done.
Ultimately, we end up stressed but unsuccessful.
Now on to the 10 commandments for mastering your focus and achieving extra-ordinary results in your work.
1. Plan your week according to your TOP 3 goals
Take an hour on Sundays or first thing Monday morning to take a comprehensive look at your week and plan for working on your top 3 priorities. These priorities should be derived from your long-term vision which determines your yearly, quarterly and monthly goals and ultimately your weekly and daily objectives. By intentionally planning time for deep work on your most important goals you avoid getting lost in the busy trap and are able to make real progress on the projects that are actually important.
2. Know your WHY
Sooner or later, every goal or project hits a point where it gets really really hard and it takes a lot of energy and motivation to push through. This is also the point where most people loose their focus and just work on something else instead. In order to keep your eyes at the price and relentlessly focus on your goals, you need to know your WHY. You need to know deep down, WHY you are doing it. Why did you set this goal in the first place? How will achieving this goal improve your life?
3. Time-Block like you mean it
Take your deep work seriously and schedule it in your calendar like a meeting. And treat it as one! Don’t just reschedule it the minute you get a meeting request or ignore that it’s there in the first place and just work on something else. The more serious you take your time blocks, the more significant your progress on your goals will be. This will also create an entirely different level of respect for your time — from yourself AND everyone around you.
4. Learn to say “NO”
Focusing on ONE thing will always mean NOT focusing on another thing. You can’t focus on loosing weight and getting fit but go partying with your friends all weekend at the same time. You will just ruin all your hard weight-loss efforts during the week. The same is true for your work: You can’t focus on everything at once. You need to decide what is important (see 1) and say “no” to (almost) everything else. If you need some guidance on how to say “no”: Marie Forleo’s team wrote a wonderful guide on this.
5. Start the day with intention
Focus has a lot to do with proactively choosing what to work on. Checking your email first thing in the morning or being stuck in back-to-back meetings for a few hours can seriously derail your focus for the day — leaving you busy but unproductive. Instead, start the day with intention by asking yourself: If I could only do ONE thing today to make progress on my goals, what would it be? Then, do it first thing in the morning. If that’s not possible, block out deep work time during the day and stick to it. Furthermore, making it a rule to keep mornings for deep work and meetings/email for afternoons can have a tremendous impact on increasing your focus (if you are a morning person ;)).
6. Design your Deep Work Zone
Blocking out time and sitting down to work on your important project is one thing. Actually working on it, is another. There is still “urgent” incoming requests from colleagues, distracting notifications and your own ability to focus on the task at hand. To get the most out of your deep work time, you need to consciously engineer your environment in a way that allows you to fully focus. This looks different for everyone: For some people, it means going to a specific place where they can focus best like a coffeeshop, an empty meeting room or the library. For others, it might be about signalling the people around you that you are in no-distraction mode by putting on your headphones or closing your office door. And for others, it might be certain times in the day like very early in the morning or after the kids went to sleep.
7. Keep distractions out
What are the top 5 things that you get distracted by when you are trying to work on something important? Everyone has their own vices and thus, everyone needs their own “no-distraction strategy”. Here are a few ideas:
If you feel the urge to reply to every email the minute you receive it: Schedule dedicated time slots for attacking your inbox and systematically work through all your emails at once. For the rest of the time, turn off email notifications entirely or use a tool like IFTT to send you a text message when you get an email from a specific email address (e.g. your boss, your investor or a high priority client).
If you are constantly distracted by your colleagues or your boss: There is a few ways you could approach this: agree with them on certain “no-distraction” times, use lunch and coffee breaks to talk things over or agree on which issues and questions are classified as urgent (e.g. when someone else is entirely blocked to continue with their work) and which topics to keep for discussion in your weekly meetings.
8. Use the Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique is probably the most powerful productivity strategy for fully focusing on ONE thing for specified period of time. It works like this: Split your tasks into chunks of 25 minutes. Then, shut off all your distractions and set your timer. After your Pomodoro, take a 5 minute break before starting the next one. Because of its gamification effect, this technique really works like magic. There is even apps that help you using this technique like Focus Keeper and Focus Booster.
9. Take Care of your Body
A tired, pain-ridden and sleep deprived body is a great recipe for killing your productivity as it leads to impaired memory, increased levels of stress hormones and a significant decrease in your mental ability to focus. Thus, if getting stuff done is important to you, prioritise sleep, exercise, proper nutrition and off-time to recharge your batteries.
10. Increase your mental focus through mindfulness
Taking care of your mind is as important as taking care of your body, because a calm, focused and inspired mind is the basis for working productively. Calm your monkey mind with mindfulness practices like meditation, yoga and journaling and get out of your head every week by spending time away from the screen, in nature and with your loved ones.