Personal Time-management System 5: Improving Focus and Concentration (1/3)

By Ryan Douglas

In our last post, we talked about how to make a weekly plan to accomplish your goals. And while planning is an important part of the process, you won’t accomplish much without execution. This is where many of us get stuck.

When it comes time to do the work, we can’t concentrate or stay focused. We often let our minds wander or allow distractions to interrupt our flow. Instead of feeling good about what we’ve accomplished for the day, the mood is just the opposite. Guilt and anxiety over another squandered opportunity.

It’s naive to think that we can remain productive for hours on end without a break. Just like it’s silly to believe we can eliminate every distraction. However, using strategies to enhance our focus and concentration we can strengthen our mental muscle.

Focusing Techniques

A big part of improving mental focus is having the right systems in place. Ones that make it easy to generate results without relying solely on willpower. Trial and error will identify the ones that work best for you and your environment. However, here are three proven techniques to get you started.

1. Pomodoro Timers

A popular focus method developed in the 1980s. The idea behind this framework is brilliantly simple – working in short, focused bursts to increase productivity without losing focus.

You begin by setting a goal. Whether it be a single task or smaller chunks of a larger one. You then set the timer – normally for about 25 minutes. Once the clock starts, you work on that single task and nothing else.

The key being to avoid interruptions at all costs. You don’t surf the web, make phone calls, or do anything else off-task.

Once time is up, you take a short break – usually around 5 minutes. During the break, you’re free to stretch, meditate, take a walk, or whatever else you might like. So long as it’s unrelated to your project.

Afterward, you repeat the process three more times (for a total of (4) Pomodoro rounds). Following the 4th session, you take a longer break of about 15-30 minutes.

The idea is to let your brain cool off and allow your subconscious to work on other ideas before starting again.

One of the main benefits received is seeing where your focus lies. Each Pomodoro becomes a task in your daily activity log – making it easy to identify where you spend your time and on what activities.

You also learn to ignore interruptions and stay focused on the task at hand.

Not to mention developing better time estimates for similar projects. By tallying related pomodoros, you see the total time required for a specific task’s completion, which serves as a baseline estimate for future projects.

2. Scheduling Block Time for Focused Work

Many say the hardest part of achieving a high level of focus/concentration is finding the time to do it. That’s why scheduling specific times for focused work is so important.

Otherwise, the goals you want to accomplish get eaten up by your day.

Focused work blocks is a central theme in the popular book Make Time by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky. These two productivity experts say it’s important to create “blocks” of time designed for working on your top goals and priorities.

And just like with a doctor’s appointment, workplace meeting, or family gathering you schedule these activities on your calendar. Most importantly, you don’t abandon them when other issues crop up.

Knapp and Zeratsky recommend 90-minute blocks of focused work in their book. They say this is just the right amount of time to get into the “zone”, accomplish something meaningful, and step away before losing focus.

That and 90-minutes is all most of us can set aside before life gets in the way.

The specific time of day for your blocks doesn’t matter. Early morning or late evening are the norms but whatever works for you is fine. The authors say by consistently stringing these mini-sessions together, you will make progress towards your goals.

The Elisi app is a great way to schedule your productivity sessions. Using the built-in calendar, you can easily block out periods of time for your focused work. Combined with our habit tracking tool, you always know how much progress you’ve made toward the finish line.

(to be continued)

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