Putting the Focus on Focus


Yesterday I sat at my desk thinking about a project I’m putting together. My mind jumped from idea to idea, unable to really land on something firm where I could come up with a solid plan. I stared out my window, watching the snow melt for a few minutes. Oh, look, squirrel!

Finally I got up and took a walk back to the lunch room. I peeled a couple of Halos, filled my water glass, and looked over the crossword for a couple minutes. The smell of the citrus and taking the time to distract myself from my task gave me a new perspective. I wrote in a few answers on the puzzle, washed my hands, and went back to my office to lay out plans for the project.

Everyone has difficulty with staying on task now and again. Here are my top tips for getting and staying focused.

  • Do one thing at a time. For years we were told that we had to multitask if we were ever going to get ahead and get things done. I call BS. When you’re committed to one thing and a new idea pops up (very common for me!) it’s easier to pause and evaluate it when you’re not doing several things already. Just keep in mind the original task at hand. Make notes on new ideas if they’re not going to be immediately implemented, you don’t want ideas slipping away.
  • Do the hardest or most creative thing first. For me writing comes easiest in the morning. My brain is wide awake and the ideas come pretty fast and furious. I am most able to concentrate on more difficult things then, too. In fact, I rarely do difficult math past ten in the morning—at least if I am counting on accuracy in the numbers. That’s just how I’m wired. Laying out the most difficult tasks first enables you to get that part out of the way and focus on the rest of the project.
  • Allow yourself the right amount of time. It can be tempting to schedule tasks back to back, giving yourself minimal time to finish them if they all run smooth. But what happens when there’s a hiccup? If you don’t have a little buffer of time in between or adequate time allotted in the first place, you have just set yourself up for failure.
  • Be careful with your noise distractions. Certain tasks require me to have silence. Other times I like music fairly loud to stimulate my senses and bring about new ideas. For example, when I wrote my last book I listened to Dire Straits and R.E.M. so much I’ll probably have to give them a nod in the credits! But when I found myself twisting and turning through the climax of the story, I needed that familiar music in the background to keep me in the moment and undistracted by a new song. It also gave me enough noise in my office that I wasn’t distracted by outside sounds. Right now writing this piece, I have only the sound of a snoring Schnauzer and pouring rain. Balance.

Our brains are wired to be excited when we’re multitasking and there are lots of things going on to stimulate us. You can train it to be productive and focused on one thing at a time to get big projects mapped out and accomplished. It just takes getting to know your triggers and what works best for you.

Oh, squirrel!


Roxanne Wilmes is a freelance writer, author, ghostwriter, and thirty year survivor of the restaurant and hospitality industry currently with AmericInn Hotel & Suites.


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