Focus like a Pro: The Simple Way to Really Get Things Done

Multitasking sucks

As my “to do” list grows, I've had a few epiphanies:

  • Everything can't be done in a day
  • Checking email, Twitter, Facebook, Buzzfeed…etc. is a reflex
  • Multitasking sucks

I'm not going to tell everyone to work harder, or wake up earlier. We all work hard, everyone is busy!  What's worse, is it's impossible to do it all, especially in one day. We can try. Often times by “multitasking” tacking several things at one time in an attempt to get everything done in time.

The truth is, humans really can't multi-task…

The truth is, humans really can't multi-task, unless one task is automatic like walking and eating, and/or if the tasks use different parts of the brain. Checking email and writing posts actually requires the same part of the brain (even writing and listening to music with lyrics). According to Psychology Today, it's called “Serial Tasking” doing different tasks in a rapid succession. It's an ineffective way to work. Kids who do their homework while watching TV do worse than kids doing their homework without distractions.

Even though we may not actually be watching TV… the internet can distract us just as easily, and what's worse, it can even be described as “work.”

How often do you sit at your computer thinking, “I really have to focus and get this done.” and 5 minutes later, you're checking email, Twitter and Facebook? Then 20 minutes later… your stats on your blog? Your RSS reader? It's “for work,” right? A job that might have taken 30 minutes to accomplish now takes 2 hours. Where did the time go?

Focus on one thing at a time

Cut out the clutter. Cut out the noise. Give every task it's deserved and full attention. Even when you're checking email…check your email, respond, then close it out. When you're on Twitter, really be there.

For example, when you're writing a post…

  • Close your tabs. Only your CMS tab should be open, and any tab that you are referring to in that post.
  • Turn off your music. Unless it's music with no lyrics.
  • Close your email and any other distracting sites. If you find yourself subconsciously opening these tabs, there are browser apps like Chrome Nanny and LeechBlock which block these sites for you.
  • Put your phone away, or better yet, turn it off. If your phone has push notifications, this can be distracting, and you'd might as well have your Twitter page open… so put it away.

You'll be amazed how much faster your posts get finished this way.

 

Schedule your tasks

If you can, set aside a time of day for your tasks. I schedule my post writing for 10am-12pm and 4pm-6pm every day. It helps when there is a bulk of work to do to have these times set aside, because there is finite period of time to complete the tasks.

 

Be gentle with yourself

If you can't get everything done today, don't stress. Just focus on the important things to do on your list, and get those things done. I used to keep insane “to do” lists, and not everything would be done, things would get pushed to the next day, then the next day and eventually fall off. If something falls off your list, it probably wasn't important enough to do anyway, so don't stress.

There is always tomorrow.

[Image credit: Shutterstock.com]

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18 Responses

  1. The Science of Happy

    I completely agree, I like to think I’m proactive but I often find myself procrastinating accidentally. I’ve found myself procrastinating for HOURS because I’ve gotten engrossed in eBay or other things.

    I also find myself prioritising tasks and grouping them in terms of the location they need to take place. For example, a task that needs to be done away from the comfort of my own room, I will leave until later. Then later never comes. If I just stopped analysing and just ‘do’ the tasks one-by-one, I would get a lot more done. Sometimes you need to stop thinking and just ‘do’.

    For anyone interested, my MAC giveaway is still running!

    http://thescienceofhappy.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/mac-prize-release-birthday-giveaway.html

    Reply
  2. Melissa Cuentas

    Well, I do not work yet but I’m in a English course. My blog is like a full-time employment to me. but you know what, I can have lot of tabs open and never care about them when I’m working on a new blog post because this one is my priority at the moment. On my phone, there’s an app called notes, it’s there where I write the order of my posts, the names of them, and of course, what I’m going to say and so forth. Then, when it comes the day I’m going to share it with my readers, I start working on it, I take my phone and put it on the screen of my computer and start writing the same thing I have on it, when I’m done copying it/writing it on the new post, I just check grammar, and upload the pictures, (it’s just like copy and paste) this way is easier to me, because I do not have to think and brainstorm what I’m going to talk about and I do not waste my time (this is so important to me to keep on checking mails, twitter and more). Then, I just wait for an exact time to publish it and voilá! I must tell that here (in Colombia) we (young people) multi-task while they’re working from home or studying, I do a lot of things at the same time, and I really do not get distracted at all and we do good at school, I focus on every single thing I’m doing and as we say here (in my hometown) “It depends of the situation or kind of person”. 😉 so, not all people or kids will do worse at school. It’s all about how you are, too. and that you must be postive and think about what you’re doing, you want to get it done. And about the phones, if they ring or vibrate, put them on silence and place them upside down. This is what I do! 😉

    Great article/post as usual! XOXO

    Reply
  3. Shug Avery

    I am absolutely guilty of always checking my mails, Twitter, Bloglovin’, Facebook or other sites when I should be concentrating myself on doing my research for my next posts to come or simply write which lead me to post late..

    I will actually take 1 or 2 weeks of blogvacations to be able to reorganize myself and learn to be focused. Lately I have been stressed because since I am procrastinanting everything it seems like when I have to do the job it’s a never ending task. When I adore blogging it has become more of a chore because of these bad habits of mine.

    Your post will definitely help me focus more. Thank you for writing it !

    Shug Avery of Incognito

    http://www.thinkincognito-eng.blogspot.com

    Reply
  4. Tara

    I’ve found the best way to accomplish goals is to set a loose schedule but make sure your “importants” are crossed off the list.

    I set 6 things per day I must check off at the end of the night. If I miss one, I just carry it over.

    It sets the tone for the tasks of the day and feels good to accomplish as each one is checked off.

    I also find having very solid paper management/organization systems is a big deal for staying organized and focused…. and always going to bed on time.

    Coffee helps… like… A LOT. hahah 🙂

    Reply
  5. Joshua Ladner

    This was a great article!!
    I am an obsessed to do lister!!! I will be closing out the tabs to make it more easier and functional!!!

    Thanks for the share

    Reply
  6. American Debt Project

    My main problem is falling off the blogging bandwagon every now and again, where I stop commenting, reading posts and tweeting. I like the idea of dedicated time for those peripheral blogging tasks that I enjoy but sometimes feel guilty doing, like I’m wasting time. But I think if it’s fun, grows your blog and helps you connect with people, why not? It all goes back to just doing it the way that works best for you. I hope I find that for myself and stick to it 🙂

    Reply
  7. Christine

    I found myself nodding a lot at your description of time being wasted–where does the time go, indeed!
    The tip of turning music off is a great idea. I never thought about how much it might be distracting me from focusing on work..
    I read a lot of Stephen Covey’s time management tips, and he advises to schedule around priorities; not prioritise a schedule. Having a ‘top 5’ most important to=do list is very effective, I find.

    Reply
  8. Hey Mishka

    100%. I encourage everyone to try it this way once just to see the difference. I am sure plenty of bloggers read this post and think “but -I’m- GOOD at multi-tasking!” …but it’s true. It’s just not as efficient as focusing on one thing at a time. It was a revalation when I started working this way!

    Mishka
    http://heymishka.com

    Reply
  9. Arash Mazinani

    This is a great post. I admit there is nothing that I haven’t heard before on there, but we often need it reinforcing to us.

    I find that I’m guilty of a lot of the things you mentioned. From time to time I tend to get lost on the internet and it’s mostly from social media. I’ll be checking facebook, linked in and twitter and then I’ll be clicking through the links to articles and get lost in them. Then 15 minutes will pass and my Twitter/facebook timeline will have changed and the cycle starts again.

    I also find that trying to plan too much in one day often derails me. I tend to under estimate the amount of time it takes to do a task and do it properly. So if I jam in too much I often skim over things just to complete the list when I really could have spent more time on it.

    Reply
  10. Jamal

    Its so true! Even with my tv volume up, i catch myself glancing at it. I think we consider writing blogs and fun and intersting so we think we wont get distracted, but like you said, blogging is WORK as well. I have read everyone elses comments and i will take the adivce as well. Thanks guys

    Reply
  11. Kristian

    Another good tip I found recently for realizing it cannot all be done in one day (but still Getting Stuff Done) is to have two To-Do lists. One is a running to do list- anything you of that needs to get done goes on. The other is a daily one that you START NEW each day (I sometimes just want to add/edit to one I did not finish the previous day but noticed I am much better at getting stuff done if I start a fresh). Review the running list each morning while writing your daily one and only put on so much as one can realistically accomplish. Then you always know what your next thing to be done is!

    Reply
  12. Zahra Lyla Pedram

    This was pretty much an exact description of my day! I get so distracted with other ‘work’ things that I get nothing done. Its just being busy instead of productive.

    I will definitely look into changing that. Thanks for the advice!

    http://www.LylaLovesFashion.com {A fashion, style and beauty blog based between Dubai and London}

    Reply
  13. vicki

    great advice jennine, i always find it harder working with music on but i do have a habit of having the tv on for background noise. but no more! also going to try and implement set hours to do certain tasks. such a simple yet clever idea. 🙂 x

    Reply
  14. Anwell Steve

    Wow! Great tips! I love it when you said, schedule your task. It’s always great to schedule all the things you want to do in a specific day. It doesn’t matter if you need a free time througout the day, but what’s important is you should stick to it, and if it’s time for you to work then you have to follow it. In this latest technology, there are already a lot of project management tools that allow individuals to manage their tasks efficiently and good thing is it’s very available through your mobile phones. Thanks for the post! It’s really helpful.

    Reply