I have a problem. I get distracted quite easily. And that is something which is not convenient for someone who works on his own.
Before you make too much out of this. I’m not distracted all the time. It’s not every day. And if I do get distracted, it is during certain times of the day. The afternoon to be specific. I’m great at focusing in the morning. I’m also great in the evenings.
I’m less great in the afternoon.
After lunch, my concentration goes to hell. I’ve lost many afternoons because of concentration dropping off.
This annoys me. A lot.
As a person who has too many things on his agenda anyway, you can see this could be a problem. Especially because I work on my own. If I don’t do the things that need to be done, nobody will. It’s the problem for a solo entrepreneur: finding the inspiration within yourself.
So I’ve started looking for solutions. And where do you go? You go to Google…
The first thing I noticed: I am not alone here. There are tons of articles with solutions on the web. Written by people who have the same problem. But also by people who think they understand the problem and can help you. It strikes me that there are many people giving advice who clearly have no clue. Advise like “delete all your social profiles”, you can find more than often. It’s clear this comes from someone who has no idea what he or she is talking about. Who’s going to do that? Besides that it would kill my work, I wouldn’t want to.
Granted, there are some good ideas out there. I’ve tried many. But most ideas failed for me.
To name just a few:
- I’ve tried to block websites and social profiles during certain hours. This to force myself to work and not get distracted. I just unblocked them…
- I’ve tried a change of scenery. Working in libraries, different places in my house, cafe’s, you name it. It helped only a little.
- I’ve tried to ‘meditate’ to clear my mind; I’m sorry, that’s just not me…
- I’ve tried blocking my agenda for tasks; didn’t work for me, it just made my agenda fuller. And I wouldn’t stick to it.
- I’ve tried to set hard deadlines for myself. To be honest, if it’s just you, deadlines are useless. You need others for this.
- I’ve tried tracking how I spend my time. This just annoyed me even more, that is no solution, it’s just a reminder that you get distracted easily.
And these are just a few of the solutions I tried that failed.
So am I lost?
No. Far from.
Throughout the years, I’ve found a few things that work for me. And though I still have those days in which I can just ‘throw away’ the afternoon. I have become more focused.
Mind you, I’m not a completely focused person now. Unlike what some may try to make you believe, this kind of thing doesn’t go away. It’s something I (and I know many others) have to live with. The only thing I can do is reduce it. Make it less annoying. Hack my way around it. And sometimes even make use of it.
How Bas, tell me how!
I bet you’d like to know how I do this. Which tricks do I use?
Ok, I will share the things I do to make this less of a problem. Maybe they can help you as well. And of course, I’m curious about your solutions (that is if you have this problem).
Here we go
I make notes, lots of them
The first thing I do is making notes. A lot of notes. My mind always goes crazy because I have too many ideas and thoughts. A common way to get distracted is when you are reading. You read something, associate, and your mind wanders off on that topic.
One thing I learned from studying a lot of psychology in the past decade, is that your mind needs offloading. Writing things down means you take the pressure away. So I make notes. Whenever I read something or hear something in an audiobook or podcast, I write it down. I most often use Evernote for this so everything is stored there. But I also make a lot of notes on paper.
I go over these notes on a regular basis to make sure I do something with them. Writing them down makes me wonder off less often because my mind is clearer.
I (try to) prioritize
One of my major problems used to be that I would get stuck in a task all day and forget about the stuff that is important. Funny enough I see this with my children when they are having dinner. If they have to eat something they don’t like, they will eat the things they like first.
That means at the end of the dinner, they struggle. They do not yet understand the idea of ‘save the best for last’.
I can do the same with work. The less important, often more fun, tasks, I do first. Making that I get in trouble at the end of the day, because I haven’t done the important stuff.
I’ve started to be more strict on prioritizing. Trying to do the hard stuff first. I have to admit, I still ‘slip’, but I’ve gotten better at it.
And the result is remarkable. Once I’ve completed the difficult tasks, I feel less stressed and happier.
It turns out that even though you are postponing, you are still thinking about it. Which makes it a struggle. The sooner you get rid of the struggle, the better you feel.
One way of prioritizing I’ve automated: my e-mail. I have tons of filters in my e-mail which makes that many e-mails go straight into a separate folder. Keeping my inbox relatively clean. This helps a lot to prioritize and stay away from reading and answering useless e-mails.
Time slots and small tasks
One thing I’ve learned is to use time slots. Not time slots that are on my agenda. That might work for some people (blocking your agenda for tasks), it doesn’t work for me. What I do is I break up my tasks into 25-minute blocks.
This means I work on something for 25 minutes and then stop. After the 25 minutes, I either take a break or do another task. I could also choose to add another 25 minutes to what I was working on. This is based on the Pomodoro technique. Which goes a bit further, planning wise.
For me, the planning didn’t work, but this works great. It makes that I am 100% concentrated for the 25 minutes.
Understand when to stop
One big thing for when struggling with the concentration: understand when to call it a day. Sometimes you just have to give in and stop. That’s right, just stop. Go have fun, do something completely different.
I’ve spent way too many afternoons trying to get my focus back. It didn’t work and made me frustrated. Instead now, I stop. I go have fun with my kids. Read a book. Or take a walk. It refreshes and when I am working next time. I go twice as fast.
I know what you’re going to say here: multitasking is a myth. Especially for men. They can’t do it.
Multitasking is possible. You just have to know what to do. For example, I listen to a lot of podcasts and audiobooks to keep informed on developments. Now, this is something you can do with many things. Except for working. I can’t work and listen to a podcast at the same time.
But I can listen to a podcast and do the laundry for example. Or walk, run or drive. So I use that time efficiently and listen to podcasts while doing household chores. And it works! Whenever my focus is gone and I decide I need to stop, there is an alternative!
Playing around with Snapchat while working and doing household chores 🙂 pic.twitter.com/OF47sxajUB
— Bas van den Beld (@basvandenbeld) 7 maart 2016
This is a personal one. But music does help me to focus. But it has to be the right music. Sometimes I need music to wake me up. At other times, I need music to focus. When I want to get a lot of work done, I shouldn’t listen to sing-a-long songs. It should music I can concentrate with.
This means Spotify often saves my life. Or better said, it saves my focus. Spotify, of course, can give me any music I want. But the good thing about it is that I don’t have to choose if I don’t want to. Because they have “moods”. And guess what. One of the moods is… focus!
The tools I use
Oh yes, I definitely use tools to focus. Couldn’t live without some of them. A few I already mentioned. But let me sum up the most important ones for me:
I’m writing a lot. And when writing you don’t want to get distracted by websites you might want to look at. Focus Writer helps me to focus on making sure I work full screen. I can’t see the other sites. There are more tools like this one, but I do like this one a lot.
I mentioned the Pomodoro technique above. Tomato Timer helps me calculate the 25 minutes. Yes, you can do this with your phone, but the setup of this website is so simple, it is effective.
Notes, notes, notes. To offload my brain, Evernote is very, very important for me.
Finally Spotify. For my music of course :).
This is how I focus (more) than I did before. I realize I am not there yet. At all. I still ‘lose’ afternoons. I still get distracted. And it’s still difficult to make it work on your own.
But I do get stuff done. Working on your own is a struggle, but it’s amazing as well!
And now. You.
Now you owe me. I’ve admitted I have a problem. I showed you what I do about it. And I have given you tools to make life easier.
Now I want to hear from you. Comment and let me know how you keep focused. Help me and others with your way of working. And share of course. Tell the world. Because you know what….
EVERYBODY is struggling with this.
People that say they don’t are liars. It’s a universal ‘problem’ because we are people. So we need to share with others. Help each other. Everyone can then pick what works for them. And together we can get focused!
So, now. You. GO.