We are working in times with blurry boundaries between work and life. Since our home and workplace have become one, the temptation to work late nights or weekends is ever more present. This comes at the cost of our relationships, our family, but most often at the cost of ourselves, our sanity.
A question often raised to me:
“How can I manage my time more efficiently? I am always working!”
While there are benefits to working from home (enjoying meals together, no travel time, sweatpants, etc.), our focus can easily subside. Because that is what this is all about, FOCUS. If we can create more focus in our day, we get more done, feel more productive and better about ourselves, and will enjoy our ‘time off’ more.
So… How to increase your focus?
Let me share 5 tips that have proven successful for me:
1. Set your intention
What do you want to accomplish? This week? Today? This morning? By setting your intention, your preferred outcome, you set yourself a goal to work towards to. The key to improve your focus and productivity is to get VERY clear on the outcome. Make your end result actionable and as SMART as possible (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound).
Think Intention vs Reaction. Becoming clear on what you want to achieve will generate a feeling of control and power and will make you less likely to feel at the whim of outside factors and events as they come and go. And feeling empowered generates drive.
2. Check in with your motivation
While you are getting clear on the results you want to achieve, also check in with your motivation: Do you feel excited? Or are you dreading to start?
If the latter, think about what is keeping you from feeling more motivated.
How can you transform the SHOULDS into WANTS? Are some tasks mundane? Can you make them more fun?
Focus on your desired outcome: How will it make you feel when you get there?
Fulfilled? Happy? Productive?
Keep your eye on the ball and work back from that feeling!
3. Manage your time
Now you have set your intention and you checked in with your motivation, how to make sure you keep your focus and work efficiently?
Remember the Pareto Principle: 80% of our results come from 20% of our activities. Doing more does not always mean more results. The crux is to categorize your tasks and prioritize.
First, what are the tasks needed to get to your preferred outcome? Again, be as specific as possible. Can you: 1. Order them in importance? 2. Distinguish between focus tasks versus check-the-box tasks? 3. Short- versus long-term tasks?
Then, prioritize. What needs to happen today? What needs to happen this week? Create an order of when tasks need to be finished, keeping in mind the time that is required for each as well as how high your energy level needs to be. Are you more focused in the morning? Try to plan the tasks that require more brainpower at those times.
If, like many of us, you need to stimulate yourself by setting time limits, time management tools such as Pomodoro or 60-60-30 can proof beneficial.
4. Remove distractions
Especially when working from home, we are easily distracted. There are just too many things to do!
Our brains are continuously playing tricks on us and have a bias towards short-term benefits. Whether it is the laundry pile in the corner, the dirty dishes in the sink or the kitchen cabinet with food… We are always looking for easy gains, to fill an urge to satisfy. It is therefore even harder to finish a long-term task when short-term benefits are up for grabs. So, how to deal with these distractions?
>> Break your long-term task into smaller chunks. Trick your brain by ticking off these smaller tasks and thereby creating that satisfying feeling of having completed something. And refrain from multi-tasking: you get less done in more time and the feeling of satisfaction is often hard to be found.
>> Identify and eliminate distractions. Can you create a workspace that has limited triggers (certain sights, sounds, smells)? Start your time of focus with a filled water bottle, filled belly, and charged laptop.
5. Look for accountability
Time management tools can help keep you accountable to achieve your tasks in set time limits. But it might not be sufficient for you to get things done, or to get started in the first place.
Having someone to report to can make a huge difference. Being my own manager, my own boss, I need someone to keep me accountable. So, I seek someone to report my progress to. Else, I do not get things done and they linger for weeks.
After finding an accountability partner (which can be a coach but also a friend, partner, roommate, etc.), share your daily or weekly intentions with that person. What are you going to finish and how is it going to look like? Discuss what you need from that person (e.g. check-ins, brainstorms, etc.) and have them keep you accountable.
And now, how does this lead to a better work-life balance?
You will soon start to realize that when you are more focused and feel more productive during your dedicated ‘work-hours’, you do not mind as much to relax when you are ‘off’. But this requires you to set limits to when you work and when you do not.
I am often asked what the perfect work-life balance is. How do Elon Musk and Bill Gates do it? How can you become successful yet prioritize self?
Honestly, IT IS HARD.
It requires honesty to self. You must be realistic in what you want to achieve and what you can do in the time you have, but most importantly, what you find important.
Balance is individual. It is based on your preferences and circumstances. So yes, you can have role models, but eventually, it is how you want to live your life.
In one of my previous articles I laid out 3 steps to create your own work-life balance. Even during times of COVID and working from home, these steps are still relevant and will give you the right start to YOUR version of a work-life balance.
How do you feel right now? Motivated to get going? More focused?
Please tell me, I am eager to hear.