How do you stay focused when you have to get something done?

I’d love to be one of those people who say that staying focused is almost never a problem for me.  Sadly, I’ve noticed that as I’ve gotten older I have more difficulty focusing on one task or project for very long.  And my level of focus is usually inversely related to how much I really want to do that particular task or project.

One of the most effective things I do to focus is to remove as many distractions as possible.  Even having music playing in the background can be a distraction if a song comes on that makes me want to move, or if the music is so soothing that I want to sleep.  The TV is turned off.  I try to avoid the internet.  I mute my phone.  Even with all of these things it’s still really easy to become distracted when doing a task sometimes.

The other thing I do is bargain with myself and give time limits.  I’ve been known to set a timer for 15 minutes (as recommended by FlyLady) and then reward myself with a break and/or treat.  Somehow knowing that I only need to do something for 15 minutes makes it easier to bear, especially if I know I have something special waiting for me when I’m done.

If it’s a big project I set goals and rewards.  That’s how I lost 43 pounds in 2008 and 2009.  For every 10 pounds lost, I got a prize.  It’s probably the way I’ll lose those 20 pounds that crept back on.  That’s how I convinced myself to finish my Bachelor’s and Master’s – a trip to Vegas in 2007 and to Disney World in 2010.

You might have also noticed that I break larger tasks up into smaller ones.  Lose a few pounds at a time to meet the goal.  Write a few paragraphs at a time to finish the paper/book.  I’ll also start making lists of the things to be done every week: Groceries, work schedule, date night, time with family, time with friends, reading, exercise, etc.  Making that list and checking it frequently during especially busy times helps keep me grounded and makes it easier to deny distractions from taking root.

All of these strategies are nothing new to a lot of people.  I use each one at different times and to achieve different results.  It ends up working out well… usually.  I’m only human, and I do tend to enjoy my distractions, don’t you?


1 Comment

  1. Oh, that’s interesting! I never thought about prizes. I wonder if it would work for me. But I know for sure that setting a time limit doesn’t work to me. I just would be distracted by it.
    If there some things that don’t let me stay focused (like a call from my mom that disappointed me) I write down it on a small sheet of paper. Writing down makes an illusion that that thing is fixed and it doesn’t distract anymore.

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