Right, so let’s assume for now that you’ve sorted out what your long-term focus is, that big goal that is what it’s all for, the reason why you get up every morning with a delightful feeling that your Focus is clear, you know exactly what it is. Otherwise, you’d still be working on it, right, not worrying about the day-to-day stuff? I remember being told during the Strategy module of my MBA that the vast majority of people spend more time planning a holiday that they do planning their life. You’re not one of those, though, are you?
So, here’s some tips on staying focused during the day, especially when you’re in the office or working from home.
Clear the Decks
There is nothing so distracting as an unfinished job, especially if you have a physical reminder of it in front of you while you’re trying to work. Each time you glance at it, it takes just a little bit of your focus, a fraction of your head-space. So clear away all those memory-jogging post-it notes from around your computer screen. Tidy all those bundles of papers-I’ll-deal-with-in-a-minute from the corner of the desk. Store away that pile of business-cards-of-people-I-mean-to-get-back-to-so-I’ll-keep-it-here-on-my-desk. Put it all into a task list and bring it out from storage only when you plan to actually do it.
Block it Out
That brings me to the next tip – block out time in your diary to complete specific tasks, and stick with them until they’re done. You can even block out specific time to deal with loads of small tasks, like e-mail or returning minor phone calls, all at once rather than dotted about during the day when they interrupt other tasks. Be realistic about the time required for each task, and work in decent sized blocks, either 30 minutes or whole hours. It’s far better to have 30 minutes of unexpected extra time at the end of a task, then to spend the whole day playing ‘catch-up’ because a task over-ran.
Sport your Oak
This is a phrase that came from Oxford and Cambridge Universities. It means, declare yourself unavailable. In the late nineteenth century, Oxbridge dons’ studies had two doors, a light inner door and a massive outer door (usually made of oak). If only the inner door was closed, it was acceptable to knock on it and disturb the academic. But when they didn’t want to be disturbed, they would close the outer door – sport their oak – indicating that they were busy and should not be interrupted. And you can do the same.
In a modern working environment – especially working from home – you may not be able to physically close a door, so you’ll need to agree a sign that will mean the same thing to those around you. Some people use signs or cards on their computer screens, others put on headphones – find a symbol that works for you. I often find telling people the story of the Oxbridge dons’ oaks helpful in getting colleagues to respect the sign.
Just putting these simple Focus tips into action will save you hours every week, and massively increase how much you get done.