Last month, we devoted our attention to the processes necessary to set and achieve our goals, so it only stands to reason that our next topic would be focus. Without focus, you’re relying on luck to get you to where you need to be – not the best plan for success.
Because focus is basically a muscle you can build and strengthen, it requires exercise, and daily exercise at that. If you haven’t worked out in some time, a trip to the gym can leave your muscles exclaiming, “ Hey, we’re sore! Don’t wait so long to work us out again!”
But before you can build up your focus and strengthen your ability to direct your attention, you must first deal with the mass distractions that often get in the way. While distractions vary by person, some of the most common include:
1. Email. Email is a necessity. It’s often the preferred means of communication, as you can attend to messages and requests when there’s time. But that’s not pattern and practice for most of us, with some estimates placing the number of times we check email at as much as 20 times a day!
No magical equation will help you arrive at the correct number, but you can put in place some restrictions to improve productivity and prevent others from running your schedule. For starters, plan your day before checking your email.
When you do check your email, focus only on those messages that matter, which may require you to establish a criteria of sorts to manage your inbox. Both Sanebox and Other Inbox can limit the number of messages that hit your main inbox, moving less important correspondence to other folders for later viewing.
2. Television. On average, we watch nearly 3 hours of TV a day, accounting for half of our daily leisure time. In fact, we spend more time watching television than socializing with friends and family —an activity that didn’t even break three-quarters of an hour.
Not that watching TVis a bad thing, but watching non-value added programming can rob you of your potential. It gives you less time to focus on those things that get you closer to your goals for self-improvement.
Plan ahead for TV viewing. I enjoy college football, and even on a good day, a game can last 3 hours. So, I plan my projects and make sure I’ve finished up important tasks before sitting down to watch a game.
You can also take it one step further and instate “ TV-free” days a few days a week. Start small, of course. Going cold turkey can backfire. Consider beginning with one day a week and expand from there.
3. Internet. We’ve all been swept into that wormhole we call the Internet. One website leads to the next until an hour or more goes by, and you end up spending the rest of the day making up for lost time. Who can do their best work under that sort of pressure?
To avoid randomly surfing, set an actual timer for your search. Use your phone and set it to 30 minutes. It’ll snap you out of that web-induced fog. Also, make a conscious effort not to look up everything that comes to mind. Use apps to block your access to sites for a period of time. Some common distractors are Facebook and YouTube, but you may spend time on other sites. Look into StayFocused for Chrome, FocalFilter or ColdTurkey for Windows, or SelfControl for Mac.
4. Social media. Did you know that the average person checks his or her Facebook, Twitter, and other social media accounts 17 times per day? That works out to more than once an hour while we’re awake.
You know what they say, “ For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction —plus a social media overreaction.” Sometimes, social media is like walking through a minefield.
What’s more, too much time spent on social media can negatively impact your happiness and well-being. It appears the sorts of interactions on these channel s can erode your trust in other people.
Social sites also tend to be places where people feel comfortable sharing a bit too much or going negative. Schedule when you’ll check social media during the day. It may sound silly, but try it for a few days. You’ll find it’ll increase your focus.
5. Idle chatter. We’ve all found ourselves chatting with a colleague about what we did the night before. Connecting with coworkers is important. It also does wonders for morale —as long as the time spent socializing doesn’t interfere with your work.
Establish “ office hours” at work, with specified times for socializing. Keep these times to a minimum. You may also find it easier to limit socializing by wearing headphones or setting a timer on your phone or watch to indicate when social time is up.
Keeping mass distractions at bay provides you an opportunity to focus on the things that matter and allows you to achieve more throughout the day. With each passing achievement, you’ll begin to experience professional (and personal) growth. Decide to eradicate those weapons of mass distraction, so you can grow and pass milestones toward your goals. You may just find you’ll have more time available to play.