You’re busy. You have endless responsibilities. You’re trying to accomplish a lot—you have your hand in a lot of projects and groups that you care about. It’s a lot. But you know what? You can do it. And you know it.
It’s just that sometimes all those commitments and tasks and to-dos become hard to manage. It’s not that it’s too much, but the busyness itself brings along its own new hurdles. With so much on our plate we can often lose focus, fall behind, and drop some major balls. But before you start giving up on your goals, consider these three simple ways to improve your mental focus.
1. Get Some Sleep
Have you ever gone to bed late and felt hungover the next morning—even though you’d had nothing to drink the night before? You’re not imagining that feeling. Research has proven that too little sleep for several nights in a row is comparable to a 0.1% blood alcohol level. That fuzzy feeling makes it more difficult to think clearly, make the best choices, and act efficiently.
When we’re in a busy season it can feel counterintuitive to get more sleep. We worry that we’re wasting valuable time that could be better spent. But when we’re overly tired we’re not not nearly as productive as we think. Our work is slower, sloppier and more stressful. Try closing the laptop, setting down the to-do list, and getting a full night’s sleep. We’ll find that we’ll start the next day with renewed energy and focus. We’ll get more done in a shorter amount of time. And we’ll gain confidence in our abilities.
2. Eliminate Distractions
While we might sit at a desk, or find space to be alone when we have work to do, we don’t often pause to consider just how many distractions abound in our usual environments. Everything from emails and texts, the feel of the room, the sounds in the room, to your own physical comfort—all these things play into our ability to stay on track, yet we often give them little thought.
Spend one day jotting down everything that slows your workflow, derails your focus, and keeps you from finding a rhythm. When I did this exercise I was surprised to discover how many small things sapped my time: being cold, being hungry, notifications on my phone, loud music, overhearing conversations, uncomfortable shoes. Some of these may sound silly to you—and I feel a little embarrassingly high maintenance admitting to them! But until we know what distractions are lingering, we’ll never take the proactive steps to eliminate them.
Make a list of your personal distractions, then begin kicking them to the curb. Keep small snacks on hand to curb hunger. Switch your phone to airplane mode. Craft your environment to suit your personal needs—not someone else’s.
3. Have an exit strategy
So much of our focus is zapped by the nagging to-dos, the sudden reminder of a task left undone. While we certainly can improve our mental focus, the reality is that we’ll always have some things popping into mind—the dry cleaning we forgot to pick up, the pile of mail waiting for attention, the project hovering on the horizon. But these reminders are only a problem if we don’t have an exit strategy for them.
To prevent these thoughts from derailing you from the task at hand, keep open lists either on your desktop, in your phone, or on a notepad in your work space. As a task enters your mind, jot it down and immediately let it go. No need to dwell on it—you’re not going to forget it, you’ve added it to your list and it will get done! Placing the task into a to-do list lets your mind release it quickly and stay focused. I keep an open list for work tasks, personal tasks, and groceries, that I add to continuously throughout the day. Create your lists and give those nagging to-dos a place to go.