Ten Ways to Fine-Tune Your Focus on the Job

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Making the best use of your time is closely connected to your ability to concentrate. Maintaining your focus on the most critical tasks is one of the most perplexing challenges you face as you strive to effectively manage your time. Here are ten habits that anchor your focus where your attention needs to be, rather than on the unimportant distractions that so often demand it.

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  • Start small. Concentration is a skill (like weight training) that you can learn. Flexing your concentration muscles requires commitment, regular workout, and a willingness to push yourself a little further, bit by bit.

    Start with lighter weights — the smaller tasks, the less complex projects. And build up your time, perhaps starting with segments as short as a half-hour; then give yourself a break. Then go back to your project. As you build your endurance, you can increase the work periods, working up to a few hours of uninterrupted focus.

  • Seek out a quiet place. The ambient noise of the world around you can distract you, reducing your focus and thereby diminishing the effectiveness of your time management. When you need to concentrate, seek out a quiet place or a quiet time of day.

  • Get an early start (or stay late). Even if you consider yourself a night owl, everyone benefits from getting an early start. You're always freshest first thing, when your day hasn't had a chance to throw any upsets your way. For most professionals, the distractions, problems, and challenges increase as the day progresses. The earlier you begin, the less likely you are to encounter interruptions. You also have fewer issues to consider and a higher level of focus.

  • Adjust your lunch hour. Move your lunch break away from the noon hour — when everyone else is taking lunch — as much as possible. If you get an early start on the day, you may want to break by 11 a.m. If you find yourself on a roll, you may prefer to hold off until 1 or 2 p.m. By steering clear of the busy lunch rush, you increase your odds of enjoying a leisurely break, which means you return to your work refreshed and ready to focus.

  • Take shorter, more frequent breaks. You can't stay focused at high levels for 8 to 10 hours a day if you work in a production-oriented job environment. You can save time at work and increase productivity by working at intense levels and then taking a short break. For most people, 90 to 120 minutes is all their brains can do without some relief. Even by taking a 5 to 10 minute break, you raise your energy, intensity, and focus.

  • Control personal interaction. The workplace can be a minefield for the committed employee who wants to be productive. Personal interaction with others is hard to discourage without coming off as antisocial or being labeled the office recluse, but one surefire way to counter this result is to plan for social time. Schedule your daily social time and seek out your co-workers on a personal level. hen return to your work.

  • If you need to minimize visits from others at inopportune times, put up a sign outside your cubicle that says something like "Please do not disturb — hard at work. Contact me via e-mail or voice mail from [start time] to [end time]; I'll check e-mail every hour on the hour."

  • Acknowledge and dismiss distracting thoughts. Random thoughts can distract you if you allow yourself to dwell on them. Keep a notepad handy, and when something bubbles up to your consciousness, write it down and then forget about it. Because you've recorded it, you're more likely to feel comfortable in letting it go.

  • Reward yourself for success. You probably already use the carrot approach to encourage yourself toward bigger goals: Get that promotion, and you'll take the family on a cruise; make an important sale, and you'll buy that pricey designer suit. But rewards work just as well for reaching the interim steps that help you get to your goal, even on a day-to-day basis. I

  • Tackle the big opportunities. A challenge can motivate you to perform at a higher, more efficient level. When attacking a big opportunity, you're forced to invest time to test and improve your skills, and you have to invest the attitude to improve your future results.

  • It takes the same amount of time and effort to land a whale type of account as a minnow type. In sales, you can focus on fishing for whales while catching a few minnows in your nets along the way to keep your cash flow solid.

  • Maintain a steady pace. Persistence and consistency are traits of successful people. The ability to focus, to stay on track, or even to be plodding with your efforts can help you work through failure and frustration and eventually achieve your goals. If you don't see the results right away, recognize that you may need more time, so invest more time with patience. If you're seeing progress but the results are short, don't quit — keep on going.


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