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My preschooler’s secondhand iPad totally crashed the other day because there were over 10,000 videos and pictures of random things like the ice cream he ate, the people he hung out with—even the washing machine’s digital screen (for some reason he likes watching the red, LED-lit numbers descend).
Has your brain ever felt like that? You have so much going on in your work and personal life that by mid-day you just feel like you’re going to crash? Throughout the day my brain can sometimes feel overloaded with “to do lists,” people, phone and text interruptions like the overloaded iPad, preventing me from being able to think clearly and focus on one task at a time.
That’s probably why I feel less stressed in the mornings than in the afternoons. I’m starting off with a clean slate, but then as the day goes on my mental bandwidth gets overloaded with information. (I discuss information overload in my ebook Fifty Shades of Simple: How to Prioritize in the Age of Information Overload here.
So how does one regain more clarity and focus throughout the day?
Here are 5 ways:
1. Know your top 3 MIT’s (most important things) or MIA’s (most important actions) for the day.
Plan these the night before so that when you wake up the next morning you could get a head start on your day. This is perfect for keeping you grounded and can act as a “GPS” in case you get distracted while multitasking.
Write out your MIA’s in an old school planner, or if prone to distraction, take one post-it note with three of your top tasks written out along with an empty square next to it so you can check it off at the end of the day. Place it somewhere near your computer so you’ll see it front and center. You could also use a white board for this too if you have it handy.
If you prefer having things digital, you could type in your top three things on a blank Google doc, Google Calendar’s “task list,” or productivity apps like Evernote, Trello, TeuxDeux or Wunderlist.
The Hybrid Method:
For me, I’ve used a mix of both. I’ll write first because I don’t always have my computer up and running or it’s just easier to write on paper than single-letter type on a mobile app. For whatever reason, I feel I could better connect with the listed item in a meditative sort of way. Studies show you’re also able to retain information better when you write things down as indicated in this Fast Company article. Then I’ll also have info on my digital calendar as both a double reminder, and for back-up. The purpose is twofold: I’m better able to get stuff done and in the event I accidentally delete an appointment, I know it’s also on my paper calendar as well.
This may seem like doing double the work but it’s how I stay focused and what works for me. There’s no one way to organize and everyone has a different way of working, so definitely pick and choose what works best for you and your situation.
I haven’t done this myself, but I know others who choose to use “schedule in” planning and don’t bother writing lists. Once they have a “to do,” they immediately decide on a time slot in the calendar.
Sure there are always lots of things to do everyday and “to do” lists are almost always longer than they need to be, but if you know your top three items and complete them, at least you got the most important things done to move the needle forward in work and life.
2. Learn to say no.
“No” could mean many different things other than verbally saying “no” to commitments. It could mean not allowing “push notifications” on your iPhone, or saying “no” to an event you feel obligated to go to but would rather spend time on what’s more important to you such as your “MIT” or what and who you value the most (people, relationships, etc.). No means literally saying “no” to other opportunities that pop up until you get your priority tasks done for the day.
Another way of saying “no” is decide that some things are going to either get dropped or suck badly while you stay laser focused on the things that really matter for that particular day. I got this idea from Meredith over at Swim Bike Mom. She has this “sucky rotation schedule” where the things above the line on her “to do” list get done in a prioritized order while others below the line go to the back burner or don’t get the same time and attention as the priorities on the list.
3. Take a meditation break.
Even for just 5 minutes. I’d written about this in a Success magazine article here, where I interviewed a meditation expert and neuroscientists. Practice staying present and breathing intentionally with a focus on now in order to feel a sense of calm throughout your day. See meditation or yoga as a clearing away of the mental cobwebs like you would delete away all the miscellaneous docs that are open on the desktop on your computer. It resets your mental bandwidth again so you could get refocused and centered. Lately I’ve done a brief three-minute meditation here from the late Jamie Zimmerman who I’ve had the privilege of meeting at World Domination Summit.
4. Have a morning routine.
You know that old axiom “pay yourself first?” How about give yourself the first few minutes of the day and get into the habit of doing whatever will keep you grounded or focused. Tony Robbins calls it the Hour of Power over on Youtube. (or Thirty Minutes to Thrive or Fifteen Minutes of Focus if you don’t have an hour). (Hey, you could plug a few minutes of the above meditation during this time too if you want!)
I usually journal, do a spiritual practice, or take a few minutes for creative work. If you’re new to journaling or having a writing practice, start with The Artist’s Way author Julia Cameron’s morning pages. I don’t personally write three full pages a day as she suggests, but do write something whether half a page or one full page depending on time constraints it can help declutter your mind and keep centered. Do what works for you.
5. Take time to declutter your physical space.
This doesn’t have to be the full-day affair, and some people say they thrive in chaos, which is fine but if you’re feeling overwhelmed, it probably doesn’t help that you have physical clutter around you. For 5-10 minutes, pick a small corner in your house like tidying and recycling newspapers in your kitchen. Or dump the contents of your purse out and throw out gum wrappers and odd and ends you don’t need. Or you could start deleting a certain number of files on your computer everyday. Every week I go through my emails and old documents and see what I could trash to free up some memory space. For extra assistance, Kathy Peterman (whom I interviewed on my podcast) also has a digital declutter challenge here.
Hope this has been helpful. With these five tips, you should be able to better focus throughout the day. Which tip will you work on next?