Strategies for finding focus

posted April 20, 2017

Free Your Mind

Lauren Byers

You know the feeling. A deadline is drawing near, but that frantic motivation that comes in the 12th hour just won’t kick in. Meanwhile, you’re reading up on the latest PR faux pas or watching that late night clip that’s been trending in your newsfeed all morning.Between nonstop iMessage and Slack notifications, any number of workplace distractions, and an inbox that compounds exponentially every hour, who can blame you?

Find your motivation.

Alright, time to focus. But where to begin? Maybe you drop a block of time on your calendar. Surely you’ll get it done if you set aside a full 2 hours to complete what is supposed to be a simple task, right?

Speaking from personal experience… not necessarily.

Sometimes it’s so hard to find focus and motivation that the task itself seems to take on a life of its own, growing in your mind and becoming more and more daunting for no good reason. Call it procrastination. Call it writer’s block. Call it A.D.D. Whatever you call it, we’ve all felt it. The silver lining? Because we’ve all felt it, there’s a wealth of tips and strategies for overcoming these feelings and finding your motivation. 

Set yourself up for success by breaking your task into manageable, bite-size pieces.

People have a tendency to overestimate, or catastrophize, tasks. When we do this, we convince ourselves that completing a simple task is as impossible as writing a book. Psychology Today reminds us that “in reality, challenges, boredom, and hard work will not kill you.” Procrastination, however, is linked to stress. The important thing here is to remind yourself that not only are you capable of completing the task at hand, but that you’ll feel so much better once you do. Simply putting yourself in the right frame of mind is an important step 1 to overcoming self-sabotage.

Do less.

Research confirms that we aren’t the skilled multitaskers we believe ourselves to be. Daniel Weissman, a neuroscientist who conducted testing at the University of Michigan, explains that “even simple tasks can overwhelm the brain when we try to do several at once.” This is because, contrary to what you might think about multitasking, we aren’t actually doing two things at once. In reality, our brain is switching from one task to another very quickly. In some situations this may get the job done, but not without a significant loss in efficiency.

According to Entrepreneur magazine, “one study showed that when people were interrupted to respond to email or IM, it took about 15 minutes for them to resume a serious mental task.” Not only does this slow you down, but the fact that a 30-minute task that now takes 45 minutes to complete can contribute to negative feelings and stress. So, when faced with a task that requires your full attention, give it your full attention.

Change your point of view.

I mean this quite literally: change your surroundings. Just like a new haircut can reinvigorate your week, a change of scenery can reinvigorate your creative thought process. You can force a physical change that then creates a mental change. In one of our blogs from 2016, “An Open Letter to Creatives,” we urged you to “get out.”

Get out of your desk.

Get out of your office.

Get out of your own way.

Don’t take for granted the power of a nap, a walk, a breathe of fresh air. The Muse founder Alex Cavoulacos says she’s “found inspiration just from sitting at a colleague’s desk and seeing the office from a different perspective.” So what are you waiting for? Play a little midday musical chairs, cart your laptop outside for some sun, or consult your favorite office pup to remind yourself that you are magical.

Have you found your own magical cure for a case of writer’s block? Let us know! Asking for a friend…