As an entrepreneur, motivation usually isn’t a problem. Getting everything done is a different story. Until I figured out I needed a better system to help me stay focused. When I was writing my book I rarely had fewer than a dozen tabs open on my computer. I had books stacked alongside my desk and magazine articles littered throughout my house after I ripped them out for reference. Ironically, I was stressing out writing a book about how to be less stressed.
Lack of Focus and Stress
Journaling every morning has been part of my life for years as my form of meditation. It’s intentional. It’sfocused. It’s effective.
It also reminded me that multi-tasking doesn’t work. Cal Newport’s book Deep Work reminds us that the rise of technology has destroyed our ability to concentrate deeply on tasks that matter or require more of our brainpower and energy. I realized lack of focus was causing the stress but how could I focus when I felt so many things needed my attention? Newport’s book offers four rules: work deeply, embrace the boredom, quit social media and drain the shallows. I was drowning in the shallows so I started there first.
Drain the Shallows
Shallow work is work that is a time suck and doesn’t require a lot of brain power. Responding to emails, scheduling a doctor’s appointment, wiping down shelves, scrolling through social media for “inspiration” – these are shallow tasks because they take time but don’t need to be done right now.
Prioritize Deep Work
So how does one focus on things that matter and get everything they need done? Prioritizing what matters most requires our brain power first and setting aside the shallow tasks for a time during the day when we don’t need our brain power to be at 100%. What does this mean exactly?
Here’s an example: my most productive time during the day is my morning hours. If anything needs to get done, it will need to happen between 8 a.m. until 11 a.m. I blocked those three hours for my deep work. As I write this column, it’s 9:45 a.m. During that time, I will not check email, visit my social media accounts, respond to texts or check any websites. In the afternoon, I’ll respond to emails, schedule social media posts, read the news of the day, and plan my work for tomorrow.
Find Out What Works For You
While my morning hours are my most productive, my friend is a night owl so she exercises in the morning, responds to email and finishes her routine work throughout the day. She prefers a clean slate before starting her deep work which normally begins after dinner ends. She loves the calm of the evening, she says, when it’s dark outside, her email isn’t growing, and texts from customers or clients aren’t coming in to distract her.
We all know when we’re at our peak. Once you figure out your best time for deep work, honor it by setting aside an hour or two and commit to not allowing yourself to get distracted until the work is done. This includes not giving in to boredom.
Being Bored Is Good For You
Turns out boredom could be sabotaging your focus game. Boredom starts to set in when you’re trying to work through something, it gets uncomfortable, and you want to fill that boredom so you’re no longer uncomfortable. Rather than work through the issue, you pick up your phone, start doom scrolling or you go grab a snack. What you think will be only a few minutes becomes 10 or 30 minutes and by then you’re distracted so when you return to your work, you have to remember where you left off, try to figure out the challenge and then get frustrated when the answer doesn’t come easily.
Being bored isn’t a bad thing. In fact, according to scientific research, being bored can stimulate creativity and problem-solving while giving your brain time to recharge. Distracting yourself by filling the time isn’t doing your body and mind any favors.
Bottom line. If you want to get things done and focus on things that matter, carve out that time and honor it. Tryit for one week and see how it works for you.