Eight easy ways to restore focus + productivity
let's be honest
...Suffer from “shiny object syndrome”? You think “I should do that thing,” (click click click) and before you know it, you’ve been scrolling through Facebook for an hour.
...Have a big goal and don’t know where to start, so you just…don’t?
There are just too many paths you could take, and heaven forbid you pick the wrong one, so you just... don’t pick any of them.
...Know what you need to do, but just can’t get yourself to freakin do it? You keep yourself busy with other tasks that feel easier, smaller, or less risky.
When you struggle with motivation and staying focused, it can feel like fighting an uphill battle with yourself. Fear, self-doubt, distraction, or a sense of overwhelm becomes like an invisible wall you just can't pass.
If this sounds like you, all you need to move forward is a little patience with yourself, and the right tools.
You have what it takes, and what you're experiencing is normal – and solvable!
It is really, really hard to get past a focus and productivity problem through sheer will power alone. So I am NOT going to try and talk you out of procrastinating
But there are techniques and strategies that actually work. Some of them provide a small boost today, others will have a slow-motion impact over the next 10 years, and others can completely change your way of being within a few days.
Taken altogether, they can help you correct course, refresh your focus, and give you new levels of motivation and productivity.
Here are 8 easy ways you can reverse the cycle of distraction and restore your focus and productivity:
1. appreciate your successes
Take 5 minutes to record a few of your successes from last year. Did you start a new business? Take a class? Learn a new skill? Meet a new client who was a joy to work with? Build your website? Discover your passion? Try something out? Did you fail and learn something from it? Did you struggle and survive?
Make a list, and make it as long as you want. Just give yourself some free space and a little time.
Then, take a minute to review your list.
Look at that! You did quite a lot, didn’t you. Well done!
Taking time to note your own accomplishments teaches your brain that even small progress is worth celebrating. When you look at a list of things you did, acknowledge yourself and your efforts with kindness.
Reflecting on PAST SUCCESS SETS THE STAGE FOR THE NEXT ROUND OF ACHIEVEMENT.
2. write down your goals
There’s something almost magical about writing down a goal. You may have had the eerie experience of writing a goal and then re-discovering it years later and realizing you actually achieved it, and didn’t even remember writing it.
Writing down a goal, even once, embeds it in the neural network of your brain, leaves it to percolate in the back of your mind, and influences your decisions even subconsciously. Over time, you shape your decisions in the direction of your goal, without really having to think about it too hard.
Give it a shot! Take five minutes and write down your big goal – whether it’s a goal for the year, or for the next five years, or for your life, or all of the above. But be careful what you wish for! This is a powerful exercise.
Writing down a goal, even once, influences your behavior on a subconscious level.
3. visualize what you want
Visualization is used in sports performance, business, and even in treatment for chronic pain and other ailments. Basketball players who visualize doing free-throws can improve their accuracy almost as much as players who actually practice, just through regular visualization. More than 3,000 hospitals in the U.S. use visualization therapy to help patients with managing pain and discomfort, like the side effects of chemotherapy.
Visualization therapy isn’t magic. It's neuroscience. When you imagine something happening, the same parts of your brain light up as if that thing were actually happening.
When you focus on a desired outcome, it starts to feel more natural, more inevitable, and your brain gets used to experiencing it happening. Your neural networks are activated in specific patterns leading to that outcome, and it becomes more practiced.
It’s a lot like dreaming. The biological purpose of dreaming dates back to our caveman days. Dreams prepare us for situations when we may have to outrun a predator or fight for our lives, even if we’ve never experienced that situation before.
It’s like practice, even when you aren’t actually practicing.
Visualizing the desired outcome gives your brain practice at making it happen.
If you struggle with focus, visualize yourself easily staying on task without getting distracted. Imagine yourself feeling peaceful and relaxed, and effortlessly focused on a single task, until it’s complete. Imagine not having to struggle to stay focused – it just comes naturally.
You can also visualize the outcome you want. If you want to publish a successful book, imagine your book lining the shelves of your favorite bookstore, and people approaching you in the aisles to tell you how much they loved reading it, and asking you to sign their copy.
There are hypnosis apps that can lead you into a relaxed and suggestible state, and then guide you through this exercise, to deepen the effects.
Try this for a few days, a few minutes at a time, and see if staying on task begins to come easier to you.
4. remove a barrier
If you aren’t familiar with community-based social marketing, the basic gist is that if you want to change a behavior in a community, you need find out what is stopping people from doing that thing. And to do that, you need to ask them.
You work for city government and you want more people to recycle. So instead of guessing why people don't recycle, you go ask people why they don’t recycle. You learn that the bins aren't conveniently located. You fix the problem in one neighborhood, get a 40% increase in recycling, and scale up that solution to the whole city because you know it works.
So, here’s how this applies to yourself.
Look for things that are keeping you from doing what you need or want to do. When you think “I should do X,” but you can’t get yourself to do it, ask yourself why? What's the big deal? And let yourself answer in a few sentences. The answer will give you information about what the barrier is.
Here's a real-life example. I wanted to take time every day to paint, but I realized that the clean-up at the end was making me avoid doing it. As a lazy person who hates cleaning, with a busy full-time job, this was a deal-breaker for me every day, and I didn’t even realize it. So, I created a designated painting area that I allowed to remain in a messy state. I could sit down on a whim, paint for 10 minutes, and then walk away without really cleaning up. My studio is a little messier, but now I paint almost every day, because it’s easy to fit in with scraps of time.
So, what little roadblocks are getting in your way? What can you do about them? Look for things you can fix in a few hours. Maybe the block getting in your way is more mental or emotional, in which case...
Remove any tangible barriers that are keeping you from making progress.
5. adopt a new paradigm
Is there a belief that’s holding you back? Maybe you think you’re too old, too young, you missed your chance, you’re stuck, you’re not this enough, you’re not that enough, if only you X, if only you Y, if only you didn’t Z.
Sometimes these feelings are tied up in regret, maybe for something you didn’t do when you “had the chance,” like get a certain degree, or practice a certain amount. Or maybe you just think you’re not cut out for something you passionately want to do.
It’s time for a new paradigm. And it’s going to basically be the opposite or reverse of the limiting one. For example:
Limiting paradigm: I’m too old to start over learning something new.
New paradigm: I have valuable experience and am a fast learner.
Limiting paradigm: I don’t have the right degree to do this.
New paradigm: I'm self-taught and bring a unique perspective to this field.
Replace the thought holding you back, with a new empowering mantra.
Think of your limiting paradigm, and then write down a new paradigm to counter it. Write it in your journal or planner on a page that you flip past often, or put it on a sticky.
This is your new mantra for the next few months, or however long you need to internalize it. Repeat it to yourself from time to time, until it sinks in.
6. retrain your inner dialogue
If your inner critic is noisy and opinionated like mine (always criticizing you and what you do), or if you just struggle with a lack of motivation, here's my best tip for you.
Surround yourself with media and voices that support who you want to become.
Books, podcasts, tutorials, whatever media interrupts your inner dialogue of self-doubt and replaces it with positive thoughts. You don't need to choose media specifically about motivation or productivity – it can be a tutorial in a field you want to enter, or about the skill you want to learn. It can really be about anything that interests you right now and relates to your goals.
Over time, you'll not only learn a lot - you'll also internalize a new way of thinking, and feel more positive and optimistic about your future. You'll feel more motivated and start operating with the same vocabulary and web of ideas and concepts that you've absorbed through your new media diet.
Positive media reprograms your inner dialogue to be more constructive and optimistic.
Here’s my list of inspiring and motivating podcasts that I lean on frequently: 7 Podcasts to Fuel your Creativity and Productivity.
7. take a class
One of the best ways to push past procrastination and lack of motivation is to take a class in what you want to be doing.
When you struggle for a long period of time with focus and productivity, you lose your perspective on how much time things take. Taking a class is a good way to jolt your brain back into understanding how much progress you can actually make in a short amount of time, and flood your brain with new information that you can use in pursuing your goals.
Ideally try to find an in-person class, not an online class. Pick a class with a set time and place away from your computer.
The magic is in getting away from your normal routine, entering a new physical space, and leaving your distractions behind. Immerse yourself in a topic for a solid chunk of time.
Taking a class gets you out of your own head, and gives you more structure.
When you start, you know very little. When you leave the class, you know much more. It’s very good for your growth mindset (critical for your success as an entrepreneur) and it’s energizing to experience learning, especially alongside other students who are passionate about the same topic.
8. train your brain
If you don’t already have a meditation practice or something similar, it’s well worth your time. Scientific studies have found that regular meditation, just a few minutes a day, can improve your focus and productivity, improve your performance, and leave you better equipped to manage distractions and deal with anxiety.
This isn’t just about calming down and being more enlightened or zen. Meditation actually trains your brain to operate differently. It gives your brain practice in staying focused in the face of distraction.
It's like sitting on a park bench, staring straight ahead while people walk by, and not looking at them. It’s tempting to look up at each person, but when you maintain focus on a single point despite the distraction, you retrain your brain to do the same thing in your everyday life.
Meditation trains your brain to stay focused and resist distraction.
Brain scans have shown that meditation practice actually quiets the part of our brains where random and distracting thoughts tend to originate. It improves performance in complex and simple tasks by a significant amount.
You can DIY your meditation if you want – just sit comfortably in a quiet room and observe (but don't try to control) your breath. Allow thoughts to come and go, and when you realize your mind has wandered off, gently direct it back to your breath.
You can make it a little easier on yourself by downloading an app to guide you through learning the basics of meditation. There are tons of great apps for this (I like Headspace!).
Building focus and productivity is just like learning anything else. You need the right mindset, and you need practice. Applying one without the other may give you some small results, but together they can completely change your behavior – and your outcome!
TAKE ACTION (FREE DOWNLOAD!):
DESIGN YOUR DREAM CAREER workbook
Define your career vision
Design your ideal resume
Banish your limiting beliefs
Take inventory (SWOT analysis)
Plan your next steps