Last year I found myself in a rut. Like a student who leaves studying for an exam until the very last minute, I’d been avoiding a major project.
The logical, rational part of my brain kept saying:
“Just break it down. Write one measly sentence … if that’s too much, just write one word! Just do something!”
But the other part of my brain would shout back:
“Yeah yeah … I know this old trick! How about we watch some cat massage videos instead?”
My usual procrastination busting strategies just weren’t working.
I had to dig deep and find a new strategy.
So here’s what I did …
I created a focus force field.
How did I do this?
I fled my normal surroundings and ended up in a small country town that had only a general store, chapel, gift shop and pub. There was no phone reception. No WiFi. It was like being transported back to the 1950s.
It was the perfect place to get stuck into my writing. I stayed here for three days.
Did it work?
Yes, it did!
Thanks to my focus force field, I had a huge breakthrough on my project. I was amazed at how much I could get done in a short period of time when I wasn’t constantly being distracted with text messages and Facebook notifications.
Having experienced the power of focus, I left the little town determined to cultivate a focus force field in my own home.
Let’s face it, it’s a lot harder to focus in your home environment (Netflix? YouTube? Facebook?). But it’s possible to create a focus force field when you need one (e.g. the night before an important test or assignment is due).
Below I’ll show you step-by-step how you can create a focus force field at home:
Step 1. Before you sit down to start working, eat something healthy.
Your brain needs energy to focus. Where does that energy come from? Food. So you have to eat.
And the better the food, the better your energy levels will be.
Healthy, wholefoods are the way to go. Some good snack ideas are:
• Vegetable sticks and hummus
• A piece of fruit (e.g. banana or apple)
• A small bowl of berries
• A smoothie
• A handful of nuts
Processed foods will weaken your focus force field, so it’s best to avoid these.
Step 2. Ask yourself, Do I feel sleepy?
If the answer is yes, take a 15-30 minute power nap before you get stuck into your work. You’ll wake up feeling energised, more alert and in a much better mood. All of these things will help to strengthen your focus force field.
Step 3. Spend a few minutes clearing away anything that could potentially derail you when you work.
Start with the obvious stuff …
Turn it off. Place it in another room (out of sight is out of mind).
Need to use your computer when you work? Use an Internet blocker application to stop you from being tempted by all those cat videos when things get challenging or painful.
I know for myself it’s just too easy to escape to the awesomeness of the Internet when I hit struggle town. But if you can push through the discomfort for a little bit longer (which Internet blocker apps allow you to do), there are huge gains to be made.
Do people in your house disturb you when you work? Perhaps an annoying brother or sister?
Then you need to create a barrier between you and them. Here are some simple things you can do:
• Close your door
• Put up a sign that says something like, “Do not disturb” or “I have a flesh eating disease. Keep out!”
• Leave your home and go work in a library or quiet country town (not always practical or easy to do, I know!)
• Use headphones and wear a hoodie (these signal to others “Leave me alone!”)
A quick note on the headphones and hoodie: these only have signalling power if you don’t wear them all the time. Also, make sure you’re not playing distracting music through them.
Step 4. Get a distraction pad
Perhaps it’s not other people that stop you from being able to focus. Perhaps you’re the problem. You and your own random thoughts (e.g. “I’m hungry” and “I wonder what’s for dinner?”).
This is where the distraction pad comes in handy. Have this pad within arms reach on your desk. Every time a random thought strikes (e.g. “I want to check my phone”), write it down (“Had urge to check phone and Facebook”). As strong as the urge may be, you don’t have to act on it. You can check your phone later on your break. Once you’ve jotted the thought down, bring your attention back to your work.
Don’t be alarmed if you find yourself writing in your distraction pad every 30 seconds or so. The more you train yourself to write down your distractions (and not act on them), the more focused and productive you will become.
Step 5. Get clear on what you need to do for the next 10 minutes.
I’ve noticed students (including myself) faff around and fail to get started with their work for two major reasons:
1) You’re not clear on what you need to do; and/or
2) You’re overwhelmed by all the things you need to do.
Here’s a strategy you can use: write down on a post-it note or whiteboard the specific task you need to do for the next 10 minutes. Remove any other work from your field of vision. For the next 10 minutes, all you need to do is focus on the task you’ve written down. Don’t worry about all the other things you need to do.
Step 6. Give yourself regular breaks
It’s not possible to have your focus force field activated 24/7. Focusing requires energy and your energy levels get depleted over time. So your focus force field needs to be replenished. This is why I recommend working in short, focused bursts (25 minutes) followed by a short break (5 minutes). This is called The Pomodoro Technique (you can read more about it here).
On your breaks, engage in activities that help to replenish your focus force field. For example, have a drink of water, do some yoga stretches, make a smoothie and/or go for a short walk outside.
To sum up
Is there a piece of work you’ve been avoiding? And could a focus force field help you to get it done? You don’t need to head out of town to find your focus force field. You can create a focus force field at any time, wherever you are.
The more times you practice focusing, the stronger your focus force field becomes. What’s happening is this new way of working is creating neural pathways in your brain and new habits that will boost your productivity. But it takes practice. So keep at it!