This week's edition of Thoughts From Quarantine deals with something I've been having trouble with more and more each week: focus management.
It's easy to say we aren't productive right now due to poor time management. However, if you look closely you realize that you have plenty of time, you just can't focus during the time you have.
I've got 3 strategies to manage your focus while the whole world is still and full of distractions.
Decision fatigue is a well documented phenomenon. The theory is, the more decisions you make throughout the day, the more you'll struggle to make good decisions. Routines are the most effective way to eliminate a big chunk of decision you make every single day.
The biggest waste of my focus in the last week was deciding what to do next. Since isolation practices started my daily routines have changed. Some I've relaxed due to fewer time constraints (read: gotten lazy) and some I've changed to adapt to new demands (like suddenly having a significant other or kids home all day).
This is not a time to cling to an old routine if it isn't suiting you. Take 20 minutes to write down your new routine for things you do everyday. Stick to it by the letter. You'll save a bunch of time and decision making power by eliminating the need to assess every second of your day.
SHORTER TO DO LISTS
One trap I walked into was overloading my to do list. To be honest, I dove head first into that trap.
Since I can't train my clients at a gym right now, I have traded in hour-long sessions and traffic several days per week for 15 minute check in calls about once per week. I thought with all this extra time I'd be able to do a ton of extra stuff.
I went from a to do list of 5 things per day to 15. Here's the funny part: with a 5 item to do list I got 5 things done each day. With a 15 item to do list I got 2-3 things done each day. It was too much. Juggling 15 items in a day lead to constant project hopping. Each hop took up extra time to get back on task, and even longer to get back into a state of deep work.
Keep your daily priorities focused if you want to stay productive. Be dispassionate and brutal when you build your to do list. Cut anything that is not essential for the day. If you finish your list and have the juice to do more, you can. Simplicity wins.
This has become a more impactful factor every week. My focus is being stolen by my suboptimal work environment.
At the moment I'm working from the couch. I'm slouched over my laptop, which is resting on a giant automan, while facing directly at our TV. Every half hour or so, I look up and see the TV. I lose focus deciding not to take an XBox break, which would drag on much longer than intended. So every half hour I have to refocus, losing as much as 10 minutes of well-focused work time.
Designated work surroundings can help your subconscious mind keep you on task. Without environmental triggers, no part of you is thinking "I'm here to relax/watch TV/play video games/sleep." With isolation in my state lasting at least until May 4th (May the fourth be with you!), it may be time to invest in some kind of tiny home office set up.
However you want to do it, it's time to create a space that is focused on work.
Learning to manage and manipulate your focus is an important skill regardless of the circumstances. Although today we have some especially trying times to work through, this information will be just as helpful when we transition back to our normal lives.
Take the time to study your focus problems up front. Creating appropriate solutions will save you hours each day moving forward. Have patience with yourself while reclaiming your focus. It may not go smoothly at first, but your perseverance will be rewarded.
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