Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Little Focus is a Good Thing

Some days are harder than others to focus and get work done.  Ironically, all day I was planning that tonight’s blog would be about focussing and yet I’ve been sitting here having trouble doing just that.  The children are running around making noise, my husband and his friend are trying to have a discussion and getting louder so they can hear themselves over the kids.  This is not very conducive to focussing and getting tonight’s blog written…

…Ok, that’s better.  The kids are in bed, the friend has left and my husband is happily, and more importantly, quietly playing Facebook games.  Now maybe I can focus and get this blog done.

So what does it take to focus when you really need to get something accomplished?  Well, right now as you can imagine, I’m thinking environment is important.  Quiet can usually be helpful, but if not possible, as can occur in a busy office, perhaps background music can help.  If necessary and possible, invest in a good set of really comfortable headphones.  You’ll get good sound and the benefit of the noise cancelling feature that many offer.  

Depending on the task you may find certain locations are better.  For example, if you are writing you may find that a window with a view is more inspiring, even if it comes with a little noise compared to a very quiet yet dark basement office.  Try different things for different tasks and don’t be afraid to think outside the box.  There’s nothing wrong with asking your boss if you can use an empty boardroom to review notes or plug in your laptop and work on another important task.  If you ask and explain the benefit, your boss may be only too happy to let you switch locations for an hour, when and where practical.  If you have printed material to review, see if you can use a quiet corner to read, just to get you out of your cubicle or office and in a new environment.  If the material is a little dry, it might just keep you awake.

Next, think about when you are at your peak.  Some people are better at focussing first thing in the morning, others midday and some later in the evening.  Know when you are at your best and plan the tasks that require the most attention to be done then.  Close your door or have a do not disturb sign.  Block the time out in your calendar and avoid distractions.  As much as I believe in breaking down large tasks into small bite size chunks that can be done in short periods of time, some task need your undivided concentrated effort for longer periods of time.  This is the stuff that needs to be planned and done when you can have the optimal environment and are at your peak.  

You need to also know when your lows occur and see if there are ways to improve the lows or at least make better use of the time.  You can plan phone calls or do email follow up during lows, or maybe this is a good time to do tasks that get you up and moving around.   My low used to be after lunch.  I would sit at my desk and often work through lunch to try to get a little extra work done.  The problem was that at 1:00 I would be nodding off, exhausted and drained.  I discovered, thanks to a few friends who started dragging me away from my desk, that if I take a lunch break, I can go back to work at 1:00 and be much more productive.   Working less actually helped me to work better.  Know your lows and see if you can adjust activities around them.  You may just turn a low time into a high. 

Unfortunately tonight I have had neither optimal environment nor am I at my peak.  Oh well.  We can try our best, but there’s always another chance to try again.  Maybe tomorrow’s blog will be a little easier, if I can get some better focussed time in to write.


  1. I can't even listen to music if studying... but I cook well to it!

  2. I agree. I find it depends on the activity. Some activities are better to upbeat fun music, some are good with just instrumental music in the background and somethings just need our full attention. Of course if there are distractions you can't get rid of sometimes the music drowns it out and is better than nothing at all.