How to Focus When You Just Can’t

Planning & Time Management for Execution

Woah. Things are changing every day and all of us are in uncharted waters. One of the things I’m hearing from my clients and business friends is that focus is a little hard to come by. Whether it is because news is coming at a breakneck pace or your new ‘coworker’ makes repeated, subconscious beeping noises while working on his school work at the seat next to you (or is that just in my house?), you may be having a harder time focusing.

I’ve been working from home, with kids, for 9 years and I wanted to share a few tips on how to find focus, even when it seems impossible. 

1. Don’t Focus:

My first tip to find focus is give yourself permission to not focus right now. Remember, this is new territory for ALL of us, your family included. As much as my son cheered when he heard there was no school, they don’t totally know what to do with all this unstructured time either right now. We’ll all settle into a new normal, give yourself grace right now. If you are working less, working odd hours or just not interested in working…thats ok.

And if your partner isn’t used to working from home, or working at home without childcare, cut them a little slack too (but also set some boundaries…more on that in a bit!)

2. Set small schedules:

I have put aside my normal weekly planning in favor of daily planning. Each day I write out the time chunks and fill in when we’ll do school-ish stuff, work-ish stuff, screen time, outside time etc. And I try to be really flexible right now, but I’m starting to see what type of schedule is working for us. Working in small chunks and allowing for shifts, is really helpful. I made you a two versions of a daily planning page you can down load here and here.

3. Focus on one thing at a time in small chunks:

Whereas we might have sat down to a 6-hour work day or 2 solid hours between calls and just moved through our long to do list, now is the time to pick one specific task and one small chunk of time (like 20 minutes.) This is also helpful if you have younger kids at home who can only play independently for a short time. Match what you are trying to do to the time you have, instead of being frustrated you don’t have more time. I think our frustration ramps up when we feel like we should be able to conduct ‘business as normal’ in these unnormal times. 

4. Limit Social Media/News:

Things are changing rapidly, but we don’t have to endlessly scroll. We already know that social media can be additive in the best of times, now we are training our brains to constantly pick up our phones and then scroll for hours. Take apps off your phone or set an alarm to go off when you can check in with the news. Also, pick your news source and get your information from there. You don’t need to read the same story from 5 different news outlets.

5. Use triggers:

Now we are getting into the brain science of focusing. Tether activities you are already doing, with activities you want to do. Decide that after you set your kid up with breakfast, you’ll check email for 15 min. Or go for a walk, then do a 20 min work session.

You can also create a trigger. Light a candle when you want to focus, blow it out when you are done with that session. Your brain will start to know that the lit candle means get to work.

One of my favorite triggers is music. When you need to focus, put headphones in with specific music that tells your brain it’s time to focus. I like music without words for this. I like the app Focus@Will, I also made you a focus playlist for Spotify. (Also, having headphones on lets others in your house know you are focusing and I notice when I have to take the headphones off to answer a question, they notice they are interrupting more 🙂

6. Sit at your desk, or a specific place to work:

As tempting as it is, it’s hard to focus from your couch, bed or even your dining table. I know I’m doing more work at my table since my kids are here doing school work too, but I’m trying to do the tasks I need less focus when I’m sitting at the table, then do more focus work in smaller chunks at my desk. Sitting at a desk or other specific place is a trigger too! (Plus, the ergonomics of your bed/couch make it really hard to focus!)

7. Create Checklists:

It’s hard to ask our brain to do too much right now, especially remember everything you need to do or all the steps needed to do something. This is a great time to create a system or a checklist of things you do, so you only have to think about how to do something once, then you just have to follow the list the next time. 

8. Enlist help:

Lets face it, it’s hard to focus when you have your kids around. Whether they are toddlers literally crawling on your head, or middle schoolers asking for their 1 millionth snack of the day, it’s hard to focus with extra expectations on you. If your partner is home also, it can be equally frustrating if their work calls seem to be taking priority over yours, or if you hear your spouse chit-chatting while you juggle a baby and a webinar. Have an honest conversation about how you want to split your time. Perhaps they are responsible for kids until noon, then you take over. Or you juggle kids during the day, but they take over the dinner/bedtime routine and one weekend day. Remember, this is new for all of us, having a written out schedule that can be referred back to can help.

And enlist the help of you kids too. Talking to them about what the schedule is and when you are available for them, even if they’re little, can be helpful. 

And remember, we can do this, we will fall into a new sense of normal. This won’t be easy, cut everyone – mostly yourself- a little slack. But we can make it work. Work will get done and we’ll be that much better for it!

Related Post: