It was only a few months ago. I was taking 1 to 2 days to work on an article. Nowadays, it only takes a few hours. No, it’s not that I’ve practiced so hard that I’ve become a super productive machine (although that would be pretty cool).
I have been a full-time online writer since 2020. And I had been practicing the whole time. So what is it that has changed? What’s the secret?
It’s a seemingly simple word. But most people have a hard time maintaining it.
I’m talking about focus!
If you can’t focus for too long and are easily distracted, you know how every 10-minute job can stretch into an hours-long nightmare.
But, hey! Please don’t beat yourself over it! It’s not your fault.
That’s how your brain is designed.
The Real Reason Why You Can’t Focus & Are Always Distracted
Research shows that it is normal for your attention to come and go rather than being consistently focused.
This happens to everyone, even monkeys. Instead of focusing on one thing for a long time, your attention works in short bursts.
For example, while you might think you are focusing on reading this whole article, you are actually switching your focus several times per second.
And within those short seconds, if your phone rings, you get a mail, or your ex likes your Instagram photo from two years ago, suddenly you’re off in a different direction entirely.
The same goes for when you are writing. The only thing is, here, the consequences are far more damaging.
And even then, no matter how hard you try, you will get distracted. That is: until you know how to trick your brain into focusing on the job at hand.
Here’s how I do it.
Before Striving To Strike, Find Your Target Points
Now that you know why you can’t focus, it’s time to find out how you are distracted.
Distractions come in many shapes and forms, but when you think about it, you can boil them down to three elements.
- Lack of motivation: If you don’t find a task enjoyable, or have no specific goal, you are more likely to procrastinate, cut corners, or get easily distracted.
- External distractions: Things like phone notifications and noise, can hinder focus on a task. These can divert attention and make it harder to complete.
- Internal factors: Elements like stress and exhaustion can affect focus and concentration, as they may distract with negative thoughts or feelings.
So, if you want to boost your focus and get more things done in less time, you better learn how to block or address each of these elements. And it’s significantly easier than you might think.
3 Words: Know Your “Why”
“Why are you doing what are you doing?”
“What role does it play in changing your life for good?”
“And what if would you don’t do it well?”
Not many people ask themselves these questions. If they did, they would have their skin in the game.
Hey, wanna go for a morning run tomorrow? Yeah, I didn’t think so. It’s good for you and all, but let’s be real, there’s no immediate reward or punishment.
But wait! What if I offered you $50 for the same task? Suddenly you’re all about it, huh? And if your city declares a daily $50 fine for not going for a run? You’ll be cursing them while sprinting out the door in your running shoes.
No matter how smart we think we are, our actions and behaviors are still largely governed by different variations of the reward and punishment model.
Here’s how I set my Why:
- Positive motivator: If I finish my work faster I’ll have more time to work on something else or do whatever I want.
- Negative motivator: The more time I take to finish a job the less time I have to truly relax and enjoy my life. And I can’t buy them back once I waste them.
Find your own positive and negative motivators. Make them as clear as possible. And you will never slack off again.
Block Out Distractions for a Set Amount of Time
Want to boost your productivity using your phone? Good! Put it away! But you can’t, can you? What if you miss an important call or email?
So you will have a pretty good excuse to keep that devious device of distraction with you all the time — even when you could use some uninterrupted blocks of focus. And then you wonder you you can’t focus on the things that matter the most.
No worries. I have just the thing you need.
There should be a feature in your phone called Focus Mode. It lets you block specific apps and websites for a set time. As a result, you focus more on your work without missing any urgent calls or emails.
You can access it through your toggle bar. But if your phone doesn’t have that feature inbuilt, you can also use apps like Freedom to get the same results.
As Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky, the designer of the very Google products that distract you from working, mention in their book Make Time:
When distraction is hard to access, you don’t have to worry about willpower.
Implement Smart Microbreaks
Remember what I said at the beginning of this post?
our brain wasn’t designed to focus on a single thing for an extended period of time. On the contrary, it works better in chunks.
And when you push it against its nature, it breaks down. So let your brain play it the way it plays the best. Take microbreaks.
In these breaks, you take 5 to 10 minutes off and do something else. Play mobile games, listen to creepypasta, shave off your cat’s tell, or draw eyebrows on your dog. Anything other than work.
When you return to work, you will feel energized, curious, and far away from the mysterious Mr. Burnout. (Or it could be Ms. I don’t know the correct pronouns.)
Yes. It’s that simple. Like most things are when you know where to attack. In the end, it all comes down to…Hey! There’s a new Tinder ma…