Focus is a lot like sitting in a canoe or a kayak. If you don’t keep paddling in the direction you want to go, you’re going to drift off course and end up lost, washed up on shore, or dashed against some rocks.
If you’re in a kayak on a fast-moving river it’s probably a lot less likely that you’re going to randomly lose focus because there’ll be plenty of variable to keep you alert. The rocks, the speed of the current, staying on course, etc. should do a pretty good job of keeping your mind on the job at hand.
But if you’re working on your computer and you’re a browser tab away from drifting off course because you veered into social media waters, it might be a little harder to keep your mind on the work that’s sitting right in front of you.
Focus-On. Don’t Float-Off.
I’ve found it easier to stay focused if I chunk my work into 30-minute increments. Even if a project is going to take all day to complete, I can still use a timer to help me hold focus until the alarm sounds. At that time I can make a note on my project list of what I’ve accomplished, make certain I’ve saved a back-up file, or take a break from working on the project into order check emails, return phones calls, or even check social media feeds.
The trick here is to set yourself a timer for these interstitial tasks just like your important projects. Click down the Facebook rabbit hole all you like, but when your timer sounds in 10 or 15 minutes you have to return to focusing on your project for another 30-45 minutes.
I share a few favorite tools for keeping my mind focused on the important projects in a past article, but I found a couple news ones I’m trying out…
I like this little yellow timer I found on Amazon. I can place it right next to my mousepad or laptop for an easy visual indicator of elapsing time without having to check a watch or phone screen or crane my neck to see a wall clock. I can set the alarm for a quiet beep sequence that automatically stops sounding in 3-seconds (no scrambling for a stop-alarm button!), and the little nob on the front can be turned to show an easy-display red wedge to set the timer, and the red pie shape slows gets smaller and smaller as the timer elapses. When the alarm sounds, I can quickly twist the knob and set my next time block.
And speaking of time blocks…
Check out this thing called a Time Cube.
I’m fond of the yellow cube (naturally!), but they are also available in black, light blue, dark blue, green, purple, red, and white. Each color cube has a different set of times on their sides to fulfill a variety of uses. The yellow cube has 5, 10, 20, and 45 minute sides. The other two sides are devoted to a blank (to Pause the timer) and a control panel side that displays a digital countdown, volume control for the alarm, and lights that flash if you prefer to have a silent alarm (this side of the cube also has the battery port).
You turn the cube to put the timer of choice at the top and the cube immediately begins the countdown. No buttons to push or alarms to program. Turn the cube on its side and get to work!
These tools will help you focus on Paddling
Tools like these can make your time management a little more fun (and colorful), while being simple enough to operate that they will not interfere with your actual work or become a convenient excuse for floating off course like many overly-complicated time management systems.
If you can’t find a simple system to keep you focus and avoid your tendency to float, you’ll find yourself up the creek without a… well… you know…