These days, staying focused on one task at a time is nearly impossible. Think about what you are doing all day: switching between browser tabs and apps on your phone, checking social media and messages and email, thinking about the million things you have to do but are putting off. Anything but staying focused on one task at a time. Fortunately, Leo Babauta of zenhabits has a method for helping you become better at focusing. But don’t expect that what you’re about to read will improve your focus 100 percent. Not even 80 or 50 percent. Says, Babauta, “Just ‘more than now,’ which is more than enough to see big differences in effectiveness in your day.”
The rewards of learning to stay focused on one task
Why should you care about this? Here are just a few of the reasons.
- Your life is too precious to waste, so you want to use your days better.
- You can get more important things done: writing, programming, studying, taking care of finances, creating of any kind, etc.
- You will increase your effectiveness at handling the most important things.
- You will reduce your feelings of stress.
- Select a “Most Important Task” (MIT) | First thing in the morning, before you do anything else, think about what you need to do. What would make the biggest difference in your life, your work? Don’t waste your time in indecision, the point is to practice with one task. This one task you choose for today is your one Most Important Task (MIT).
- Prepare for a 15-minute “focus session” | As soon as you start working for the day (maybe after getting ready, eating, working out, whatever), clear away all browser tabs, applications, and anything you don’t need for your MIT for today. Start a timer for 15 minutes.
- Begin your MIT “focus session” during which you can only do these two things | You cannot switch to focusing on anything but your MIT (no checking email, messages, social media, doing other work tasks, cleaning your desk, etc.). You can only: Work on your MIT Sit there and do nothing. Those are your only options. Watch your urges to switch, but don’t follow them.
- Report to an accountability partner | Find a partner who will keep you accountable. Create an online spreadsheet or use an accountability app your partner can see (Commit to 3, for example). After your focus session each day, check in that you did it.
That’s all, really!
Do just one focus session a day for at least two weeks.
- After six weeks to two months, you should be fairly good at doing two 15-minute focus sessions, and you can add a third
- Then a fourth when that gets easy
- Stop there for awhile, and then add another session in the afternoon.
- Turn off the internet. If you need the internet for your MIT, then close all tabs but the one or two that you need for the task, and don’t let yourself open anything else.
- If you turn off the Internet, keep a pencil and paper nearby. If you have an idea, a task you need to remember, anything you want to look up … jot it on the paper, not on your computer.
- Don’t allow yourself to rationalize putting off the session. It’s easy to say, “I’ll get to it in a bit,” but then you’re putting it off until late morning, and then the afternoon, and finally you’re doing it at 8 pm just to say you did it. This defeats the purpose of the practice. Watch your rationalizations, and don’t fall for them.
- But don’t aim for being perfect. There are some days when you just can’t do it — for me, it’s when I travel or have guests. If something big has come up where you don’t have time, don’t stress about missing a day. Get back on it as soon as you can. Worrying about keeping a streak going is counterproductive.
- If 15 minutes is too long, just do 10 minutes. If that’s too long, do 5 minutes.
- Increase your number of sessions as slowly as you can. There’s no rush to do more. Focus on building a solid foundation.