The Power of Focus: Tips for Tuning out the Noise

red squirrel runningFocus is key to achieving goals and getting things done. Yet there are more distractions now than ever to derail us.

Here are signs that you may be too distracted:

  • Busy but not getting the most important things done.
  • Things take longer to complete than they should.
  • Always running late.
  • Late night cram sessions before a due date.
  • Difficulty listening and remembering what people say.
  • Continual multitasking.
  • Overly responsive and reactionary: squirrel-chaser.

Tips for focusing

With so much “noise” and so many potential distractions surrounding us, focusing is not easy. Here are some tips to tapping the power of focus:

  1. Proactively plan. Instead of sitting down at the beginning of the day and immediately checking emails, take the first five minutes at your desk to plan and prioritize the three-five MOST important items to do this day and when you will focus on these. Take Gary Keller’s advice (author of The One Thing) and turn your to do list into a success list.
  2. Make these high priority items visible, audible and/or touchable. Single these out on your to-do list. Write them in a visible spot on your desk or in your calendar. Set up a reminder beep on your calendar. Or ask your assistant or someone to remind you.
  3. Write the low priority items that come to you on a to-do list, too. But mark these “low priority” and set them aside for now. If you’ve written them down, then you’ve just freed up mental space to focus on the other, more important things.
  4. Tune out the noise – literally. Turn off the sound on email, text, phone and other message notifications – unless they relate directly to your highest priority items. See #2.
  5. Set and protect blocks of uninterrupted time. Whether it’s writing an important email, creating a report, or meeting with someone, set a reasonable start and end time. And stick to it. Do what you need to do to give this your undivided attention, if possible.
  6. Avoid multi-tasking. The time and energy it takes to constantly switch back and forth between tasks increases the time to complete each task and decreases the quality. When possible, stay with one task until it’s done.
  7. Be accountable. Tell someone (your assistant, supervisor, team member or family member) what you will be focusing on during that block of time. And ask them to ask you if you were successful.
  8. Be selectively responsive. Instead of chasing every squirrel that crosses your path, let most of them run by – except the ones that directly relate to what’s most important for you now. See #1.
  9. Reward yourself for focusing and not procrastinating. It’s like eating your dinner before dessert; promise yourself an incentive after you complete that task or after you spend focused time tackling a priority.

To realize the power of focus, it’s not just about avoiding the “bad distractions.” It’s about choosing the best from the good and figuring out how to tune out the rest.

Image credit

Joe Baker is a Partner with PeopleResults. As a leadership consultant and executive coach, he helps leaders focus on what matters most. You can reach him at or on Twitter @JoeBakerJr.