The secret to greater focus and increased productivity is not as mystical as people make it out to be. Improving focus is all about using small tools—or hacks— as you go. In this post, I would like to share some of my best focus hacks with you so you can skyrocket your efficiency. Improving focus is an incremental thing—you’ll always run into distractions, but with these hacks at hand, you’ll be able to power through.
Less Distraction Equals More focus
I realized years ago that I had too many things on my plate. By finding ways to get rid of distractions that didn’t serve the task at hand, I became more focused.
Simple example: if I’m responding to emails, I turn off Skype or put it on ‘Do Not Disturb.’ Similarly, if I’m responding to Skype messages, I don’t get sidetracked by looking at a new email. In fact, as I’m typing this, I see a lot of notifications coming up that are tempting me. By turning off notifications, you can squeeze more focus out of your poor distraction-addled brain.
However, Some people take this advice too literally. They start ignoring people and not responding to important personal calls/messages. That’s not what I mean. There will always be times when you deviate from the plan. But by having a plan in the first place, you are way ahead of the pack.
Batching Your Tasks Equals More focus
Instead of bouncing around all day switching tasks without reason, I put some structure to it. I spend 10-20 minutes processing email. During these 20 minutes, I don’t do anything else. I resist the urge to check Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or respond to Skype messages. I find that if I don’t batch my tasks together, I’ll forever be in a loop of checking email, Skype, calls, Facebook, LinkedIN, advertising accounts, etc.
Our brains aren’t wired to think about 40 things at once. You know how if you have a bunch of people in your house, and they’re all streaming HBO Go or Netflix, your connection slows down? The brain works the same way. You only have so much mental bandwidth. Most people can’t even tap their head and circle their belly at the same time, let alone do multiple important things at once.
Starting Early Equals More Focus
The earlier I start compared to everyone else, the fewer distractions I have.
There’s a period in the very early morning where the streets, coffee shops, and roads are still. Those who are out are, for the most part, calm. As the hours flow, the scene changes, and people take on the energy of wild lions looking for their next meal. I find that amongst this throng it becomes hard to focus.
As an entrepreneur, I have to avoid the urge to get up at noon and be lazy. Getting up earlier than everyone else affords clarity and putting work in before the buzz of the day grows loud is a huge advantage. Often, I get 8 out of 10 of my most important tasks done by 10-10:30 am because I got up early and could focus without distraction.
Being Flexible Equals More Focus
I’m not a fan of the 9-5 life. It’s something I have no interest in doing. In fact, working those hours and not having flexibility makes me resent what I’m doing, even if I love it. And for the same reason, I’m not a huge fan of setting my “work hours” day or weeks in advance. I like to be loose so I can flow and roll with the punches.
I find the more flexibility I give myself, the more freedom I have to be creative, productive, and focused. This eliminates stress stemming from the idea that I have to be at my office at a certain time. The funny part is, I get there around the same time anyway. It’s the aforementioned flexibility that allows me to do that in the first place.
Making a To-Do List Equals More Focus
Know what you need to do and know what you should avoid. It’s that simple. I’ll make myself to-do lists and not-to-do lists. This helps me differentiate between what’s important and what can wait for another day.
I write by hand in a small notebook. I used to use all sorts of “productivity tools” and online systems, but I found these take too much time to set up and maintain. If you have a huge team, these tools can be useful for assigning tasks, though. But for personal to-do list management, nothing works better for me than a notebook and pen.
Getting the Support of a Partner Equals More Focus
By having the support of your life partner and/or business partner, you can focus without worry. Keep them informed of what’s going on and what your plan and strategy is. I can’t stress this enough: if they are on the same page, it makes things go so much smoother.
A common complaint of a lot of entrepreneurs I know is that they don’t have the support of those near and dear to them and that this makes the home and/or office environment stressful. This is a burden you don’t need.
By the same token, I find the more support I give, the more support I get back. It’s kind of like respect. If you want respect, give respect.
All Strategies Require Customization
I have to remind myself that what works for Bob might not work for me. Every strategy needs customization according to the individual that’s using it. You must determine what works for you and what doesn’t.
If All else fails, Be a Contrarian
Some of my greatest success has come from not following the blazed trail. I think a lot of my advice in this post is pretty non-typical, but you may find things that work for you and other things that don’t.
Some of us are just wired differently, and what works for 90 percent of the population might not work for us. The good news is that if you fall into this category, you can literally do the opposite of what’s suggested or try something less typical — and that might work for you.
Brian is an Inc. 500 Entrepreneur, who built the 25th fastest growth marketing and advertising agency in America. Brian is an advisor to many startups and mentor to many entrepreneurs. He is a columnist at the world’s top publications. Brian is the Founder of Influencive and the Founder at BDE Ventures.