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Create Your Year of Stunning Success (Part 3): Focus – The Key to Superhuman Productivity

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This is the third and final round of the Your Year of Stunning Success series.

Up to now, we’ve discussed creating systems and getting yourself on a better schedule, two crucial foundational skills that will supercharge all your goals for 2013!

Now, onto the third and final shift that will help you knock all your aims for this year out of the park. Without it, your systems and your schedule will be marginally effective. With it, you’ll have near superhuman productivity. (And who doesn’t want that?!)

Does this sound familiar?

Before I tell you how to get that superhuman quality, tell me if this scenario rings any bells:

You’re working on a new sales page for your website, and you’re done with the first paragraph.

You say to yourself. “Okay, time for a break.” You hop over to Facebook and chat with a few friends and watch a quick YouTube video.

You return to your writing. But suddenly – your phone goes off. Oh, it’s that blogger whose attention you’ve been trying to nab! You quickly return her tweet before putting your phone down.

Now you’re back to the page, and… ugh. You really don’t want to do this. What was that thing you just saw on that one guy’s page last week again?

The cycle continues. Nothing is really getting done; there’s just a lot of distractions.

Can you relate?

The Biggest Problem with Distractions

Yes, you’re busy. And sure, your brain is capable of jumping from one thing to the next, minute-to-minute (especially if you’re a woman). But even if you’re spending just 5 minutes here and there – moments of distraction add up.

Not only do little bits of distractions add up, also consider the time it takes to really refocus on the task at hand. The distraction time PLUS the moments it takes you to refocus can turn into hours hours over the course of the week. Yes, hours. Yikes!

I’ll be honest: focus tends to be one of my biggest struggles. But when it comes to getting big things done, focus is absolutely essential. Tweet that!

If you notice that you’re skipping from task to task but not getting anything really done, it’s time to focus. And I’m here to help you do just that.

5 Simple Tips for Better Focus

Tip #1: Stick to your schedule

Setting a schedule is only effective if you stick to it. When you commit to doing a certain task, you need to stay with it either for the duration of the time slot you’ve created, or until it’s complete.

For example, if you’ve set aside time to write a blog post this afternoon, don’t skip out in the middle of writing the blog post to check your email or hop on social media.

When I do this, it makes a tremendous difference in how much I get done, and how quickly. It also helps my work stay cohesive!

Tip #2: Have the courage to put your own needs first

Do you get distracted by client emails, colleagues asking for help, or friends on Facebook? The drive to make everyone around you happy might be at the root of your focus struggle.

Start noticing when you get distracted and what is pulling your attention away from the task at hand. Is it your family? Your pets? Your inbox?

If something comes up while you’re working, check in to see if you really need to jump up and take care of it right now.

Sure, your dog needs to be let out, but she can wait a few minutes? Your clients are probably wonderful people, but they shouldn’t expect you to reply instantly. Can you wait an hour? Or until morning?

If you have trouble not responding to those requests, this next tip is a MUST for you.

Tip #3: Turn off ALL alerts and notifications

You heard me. Switch ‘em off: your phone, email, Facebook, Twitter, chat windows, and all those computer pings that pop up when you’re working. Close everything but the application, page, or window you need to pay attention to. Yes, turn it all off.

In fact, pause and do this right now. Turn them all off. Oh, wait, maybe you should focus and finish reading this post first. Well, either way — read the post and turn off those notifications on your computer and your phone in whatever order you think is best. Just be sure to do both.

Tip #4: Don’t let a challenge drive your mind elsewhere

It’s easy to get frustrated when we’re trying to push ourselves. For example, the tougher the blog post I’m writing, the more times I catch myself checking Facebook or my email, wandering into the kitchen aimlessly, or sometimes I’ll even do laundry. (Crazy, I know.)

The reason why our minds want to run from the task at hand happens is simple. Challenges can be uncomfortable. Next time you get distracted when you’re in the middle of something, notice if you’re uncomfortable and looking for relief.

Just because it’s uncomfortable doesn’t mean you need to run from it. In fact, the more you can work through the creative discomfort, the further you’ll be able to push yourself in business.

Tip #5: Gently force yourself to focus

My favorite method for dealing with my unfocused tendencies is to leave my computer behind and walk to a local coffee shop with pen and paper. I’ll write a blog post, a sales page, or an email analog style, the type it up when I get home.

When I’m at the coffee shop with only pen and paper, there are hardly any distractions and there’s no laundry to be done or email to check. The best part is that whatever I’m working on gets finished ridiculously quickly every time.

That’s the superhuman productivity I promised. Focusing makes it happen.

Where Will You Start?

Now it’s your turn. Tell me…

What easily distracts you from getting the important things done?
Are there any specific tasks you always have trouble starting or completing?
What steps do you take when you need to bring back that laser focus?

Let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear about it and learn from you and your experiences.

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Linda Ursin

I definitely do this. Facebook being the main time thief, and it’s not just five minutes here and there. Especially if it’s a boring task that needs doing. I’ve been trying to stick to the schedule, but it’s hard. Haven’t been able to do it so far. Especially since my husband keeps sending me other things to do every day.

I could probably need a swift kick in the rear on a daily basis, but I can’t afford paying anyone for it.

I do manage to get my blog posts out, but bookeeping and other administrative things are lagging behind. The same goes for a couple of other things I should have done (mending clothes, hanging curtains, housework, painting that picture, doing a protection ritual for the bedroom etc).

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2 Sidsel Dorph-Jensen

Great post Jenny!
I have this scenario whenever I start a writing process where I’m not totally clear on the out come:
I’ll sit at my computer. type the headline. look out the window. Breathe.
Then I’ll go get a cup of coffee to ‘help me focus’. then I’ll sit some more. write a paragraph or two. window looking. then I’ll go in ‘search for inspiration’ via google and end up on facebook. two hours later lunch time!

Changing location is a really good tip, Jenny. I’ll have to try that.

I try to focus on how I’m going to feel when I’ve got the job done. A bit like going for a run: getting ready and the first 5 minutes is the difficult part for me, but I feel amazing after that.

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3 Jenny Shih

Love your honesty, Sidsel!

You’re totally right that at first it’s killer, but then it feels amazing to stick with it and get stuff done. Thanks for that reminder.

I, too, fall into that late morning “coffee will help me focus” trap far more than I’d like to admit!

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4 Adrianne Munkacsy

Sidsel, sometimes when I start writing and find myself easily distracted, I ask if this is something I really feel like writing about right now. If it’s not, I usually shift my editorial calendar around a bit and pick something that amps me up. Another option is to write freely without worrying about the outcome. Let yourself be long winded and see where your writing takes you. Sometimes this process reveals a thought or topic that you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.

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5 Maria Watson

HI Jenny,
I’ve been following your blog for a while now, what you write always seems to sum up how I’m feeling or what I’m going through and immediately helps me feel better, todays post really reonsated so I just had to leave you a comment.
I’m just starting up online and even my ‘about’ page is presenting problems for me!!
I know deep down that its resistence, fear of change etc and that I need to eliminate distractions, get on with it but I seem to get stuck in the research trap, reading other peoples ‘about’ pages, making comparisons and deleting what I have written.
Writing is pretty new for me as I’ve worked in a left brain number crunching career for 16 years. I know I can do it but it doesn’t stop me analysing, doubting and deleting.
I set myself times to work and before I know it I’m washing pots, perusing facebook and last week I found myself digging out my cats toys from when they were kittens to see if they wanted to play (cute but not at all productive!!).
To bring back focus I have to ban myself from researching, limit the blogs I read to my favourites only and not ones that I’m using to make myself feel inferior and use my own, authentic voice and write, then I get back into flow.
Keep up the great work Jenny, love it!! :-)

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6 Jenny Shih

Good catch, Maria. Falling into the “compare and despair” trap is a dicy one and so easy to do in the online world. Read a few blogs or about pages to give you inspiration, then trust that you know the right answers for your business! You can do it!

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7 Marissa

Jenny — these are great steps. Lately I have been challenging myself to turnoff the cell phone, email etc. Not always easy (even though it should be!). Thanks for bringing out the point about creative discomfort. It is a very real thing! I find sometimes by breaking those projects into very, very small steps I am able to get myself through the discomfort and into the creating! Great series of posts!!

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8 Jenny Shih

Yes – creative discomfort is a very real thing!

Love your idea of breaking things into small steps – small bits of discomfort are much easier to handle than the big ones!

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9 Andrea

Wonderful post! Thank you Jenny! My biggest distraction is that I decide to do a task and then all of sudden I realize that I should complete something else( let’s say Module 3 from your deluxe edition) and then I switch. At the end time passes by and there is no completion. What I do since 1 week: I have special days. Monday is coaching day, Tuesday Jenny Shih Deluxe day, and so on. That is how I focus no and I experience completion! Love, Andrea.

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10 Jenny Shih

I’m a fan of that strategy, too, Andrea: dedicating certain days for certain tasks. I use that when I take an involved online course as well. I pick one day a week to learn and implement what I learned. Makes sure I get through the information and put it to good use.

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11 ilana

hahaha jenny I laughed when you said you aimlessly wander into the kitchen, and also do laundry!! Oh yes, I do laundry AND do the dishes, and go to the bathroom and do whatever else I can do to avoid what I should be doing! It’s crazy. I have noticed that not only having a list prepared the night before of what things I want to accomplish, but putting time frames next to them. When I have the time parameter next to the task it becomes a kind of challenge (and abit like a game) to stick to it, which seems to work quite well for me. Ok back to my task because reading this post was my distraction!!

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12 Jenny Shih

Once and awhile, a little trip to the loo or the kitchen isn’t a bad thing. But when distractions become a habit…. that’s not good! (When I was in college and taking difficult 2-hr exams, I used to take 1 or 2 trips to the bathroom to give my brain a break, especially if I was stuck on a difficult engineering problem. But that was a hyperfocus problem, not a lack of focus problem!)

When I’ve got a ton to do I use the same trick you do – map out what I’m going to work on and when I’m going to do it. In fact, I even block out time every Wednesday to respond to blog comments like this one. That way everything gets done without too much stress.

Thanks for sharing that here!

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13 Diana Dorell

Great tips as always Jenny! I especially can relate to the turn off all distractions. I’ve already identified for me it’s my phone (text message alert and Twitter alert). It’s amazing how much we can rationalize the importance of these, especially when we’re in the middle of a challenging but necessary task.

Another tip that’s helped me that may help others:
#1 Build in time chunks in your schedule that are UNSTRUCTURED (on purpose). It doesn’t have to be long, maybe even 20 minutes, but I find that just knowing I have those small windows allows me to be more productive and focused on the other things and it satisfies my free-spirit desire for freedom and creativity.

Hope that helps!
ps: Jenny, I’m hiring my very first VA and interviewing candidtates via Skype today! Yay for delegating!!!

Love,
Diana

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14 Jenny Shih

The phones are killer!! And those dings, OMG!

Love your addition, Diana – adding in unstructured time on purpose. Yes, it is possible to be hyperscheduled and that doesn’t do well for hearing and following inspiration and intuition, either.

Congrats on interviewing VAs! Yay — so excited for you!!

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15 Jen Vertanen

I *love* the idea of scheduling in unstructured time…thank you! That’s feels like a really great balance between my need to get shite done and my need to just chill out for a moment, lol.

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16 Sara

Jenny, it’s kind of crazy you’re talking about this because my word for this year is focus!

I was working last week and trying really hard not to be distracted and found that I had to literally tell my hand not to touch my phone. And I had to pretend that Facebook didn’t exist on my computer. It was like my hands, eyes, and brain are so used to buzzing around the screen that they couldn’t sit still. I felt like what I imagine someone with ADD might feel. I noticed in these moments – maybe a few hours total – how ingrained the distractions have become as part of my workday.

And they do not do one thing to move my business forward. That’s one of the reasons I chose focus for my word of the year. There are too many good things for me to create and people to serve to regularly give in to distraction and I know that focus will make all the difference in reaching them.

Thanks for another stellar post!

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17 Jenny Shih

What a good word for the year, Sara!

I have a book suggestion for you. I just started reading it and it’s really amazing. It’s called The Willpower Challenge by Kelly McGonigal http://amzn.to/Wn3LeF. And another one is The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg http://amzn.to/V7uyva, which I just finished. Charles talks about how we get sucked into habits like smoking or Facebook and how to break the cycle. Kelly’s book complements Charles’s really well and helps see how we can build our willpower muscles to avoid those bad habits. Totally worth the read!!

Because you’re right – those things definitely don’t help you reach your big goals!

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18 Devani Freeman

Facebook, gmail..it’s all distracting. I also notice that I sometimes do this on purpose when I am avoiding a project. Urg! I’ve got to work on this!

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19 Paulissa

Wow Jenny,

This is such a timely post. I find that when I don’t have a clear vision of what I want to say in a blog post, image, etc that I find ways to distract myself “just to clear my mind”. Except that it doesn’t help me to clear my mind, instead it muddles things more. I have been using a mantra lately that perhaps others will find helpful as well:

This {hour/morning/day/week}
belongs to {project/quality/task/need}.
All else in good time.

It also helps me to have unscheduled time since the rest of my week is regimented with classes, homework, writing, etc.

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20 Jenny Shih

Like that mantra! It’s similar to the one I use when I’m overwhelmed. “Everything that needs to get done will get done when it needs to get done.” [insert deep breath] :-)

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21 Alicia

I TOTALLY relate to #4 – even the laundry part, and love #5 so I’m going to try that out.

Thanks for sharing your fabulous ideas – great comments too!

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22 Rebecca Tracey

Ohhhh, yes. I am guilty as charged with replying to client emails IMMEDIATELY! It’s not that I don’t think they can’t wait, it’s just that I get SO damn excited about my work that I want to respond to them as fast as I can!

must…chill…out. :)

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23 Monika Loryńska

I had exactly the same problem! I thought that answering my e-mails as soon as I can gets more client work done quicker.

But now I think that things like marketing my business is much more important than answering emails and I have to focus on that first.

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24 Monika Loryńska

That thing about coffee shop is really an eye opener. I’ve been thinking to go to coffee shop lately but I never thought about going there with only pen & paper. I just thought that going there with the same computer still won’t let me focus on important tasks. But this is really cool. I’m 95% positive that it’ll be so much more effective! Thanks!

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25 Jenny Shih

Woohoo! Please report back your success!

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26 Dan Fennell

Hi Jenny,

Here’s a test comment to see if your getting email notifications.

Dan

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