How To Stay Focused
The lazy days of summer can be a blast. The kids are out of school, so schedules are freed up. The warm weather invites us outdoors. And with all the events in town—not to mention casual grill parties and volleyball games—there seem to be more things going on than any one person can do. It’s no wonder, then, that it can be easy to lose track of time. But when responsibilities pile up unchecked, those lazy, relaxed days can turn stressful fast. How do you balance your schedule while still leaving time for summer fun?
Ironically, the Internet—the mother-of-all-time-wasters—has some pretty good solutions. Software engineer Dave Cheong has written a number of posts about it on his website. “In my experience,” he writes, “whenever I try to work on many things at the same time, none of them actually gets done.” That’s been my experience too. Whether you’re working on household chores or work projects, it’s easy to get distracted. Recent articles have referred to the myth of multitasking. The human brain is not wired to focus on more than one thing at a time. Walking and chewing gum is fine, because neither requires concentration. But just like you can’t read the news while you’re reading email, you can’t have a focused phone conversation when you’re reading email. One task will suffer. The solution to multi-tasking is what business author Timothy Ferriss refers to as “single-tasking”—do one thing, and do it well.
Former LSC professor Tom Gustafson suggests thinking of long-term life purposes, and then breaking those down into medium-term goals. If your long-term purpose is to give back to the world, think about concrete ways to accomplish that. If you don’t know where to start? That’s simple—your goal is to RESEARCH concrete ways to give back to the world. Don’t know how to research? Research how to research! Once you start getting more concrete goals, look at shorter term ways to accomplish them. If your long-term goal is to become healthy, and your medium-term goal is to lose weight, a good short-term plan is to go for a 30 minute walk every day. By thinking about your purpose, you will know you’re using your time for a good purpose.
Once you’ve figured out what you’re trying to accomplish, look at techniques to save time. Cheong suggests budgeting time. Do things in 30 minute chunks, staying focused on one task, and don’t let yourself be interrupted. Block out time when you won’t be distracted—perhaps early in the morning or late at night. Keep re-prioritizing to make sure the first tasks come first. Build these things into patterns in your life, and ask family and friends to help.
It’s not always easy to keep focused, especially with the distractions of summer. But by thinking things through and taking concrete steps to get the job done, you’ll be more focused and feel better about yourself in the long run.