When most of the tasks we have to do are more involved, yet we haven’t established focus momentum, we jump from thing to thing without actually completing much.
This tends to be accompanied by a bit of anxious energy or overwhelm around having a lot of options for what to do. But often we’re lacking some clarity on what is most important. Sometimes it all feels important or it all is important.
Especially with more complex priorities, a secondary challenge comes when you aren’t sure how to get started with that individual task.
The irony of this situation is that we have so much to do that we feel like we don’t have time to stop, assess, and set things up so we can get zoned in.
Here are some simple steps to recenter and move forward. This focus launch list should take about 20-30 minutes but will save hours of wasted time and effort.
The Focus Launch List
Pause everything (and I mean everything) and take a bunch of deep, slow breaths. Silence your phone and put it far away, close your eyes and push the CO2 that has been chilling in the bottom of your lungs for the last two hours and let your house plants have it.
2. Grab a Notebook & Pen
Turn to a new page and leave it open next to you, pen uncapped, ready to roll.
3. Clear Work Space
Take five minutes and remove everything from your desk that might be a visual distraction. Papers, post-it notes, memory cards, books, empty coffee cups, etc.
As you go, make a note in your notebook for anything you don’t want to forget if you find a post-it note with grocery items on it. Don’t list the specific grocery items, just write something like:
Grocery Shopping, list on post-it note in desk drawer
You don’t have to throw things away, just note them and store them away
4. Clear Digital Space
Close everything on your computer. Save any unfinished work, bookmark browser tabs that you don’t want to lose and close them. Even if you’re going to open something right back up in a bit, close it for now. By the end, you should be able to restart your computer safely without losing any work.
Similarly, if there was something you’re in the middle of that you need to come back to, note what it is and where to find it in your notebook.
Respond to Janelle, main email inbox
5. Clear Brain Space
You likely have some things listed already, but take everything else bouncing around in your brain and write it down in the notebook now. Don’t think too hard about it, just jot down any concerns you have on what’s going on right now.
I haven’t shaved in three days
Did the dog go out yet?
Library book needs to be returned
This doesn’t have to be exhaustive, just let any concerns you have flow on to the page. Your computer has to use its processing power to keep all those extra applications running at the same time—closing them frees up more juice for the task at hand. Your brain needs the same thing.
6. Sort Notes
Sure, you haven’t shaved in three days but unless you’re showing up to a photoshoot later, another day might not be a big deal. This page is your beehive—it’s busy, chaotic, and relatively disorganized, but it’s all there.
Identify two things: a quick win and an urgent/important today task.
Quick win: walk the dog
Important: write investor update letter
7. Momentum Play
Go do the quick win right now and if it’s something that doesn’t require a lot of mental processing, use the time to think through how you’re going to approach the important thing. What’s the first sentence of the letter? What information needs to be included? Visualize yourself crafting this letter.
8. Affirm Success
Cross out the quick win task that you just completed and yell, “BOOM!” or maybe do a stupid quiet dance or something to not scare your dog or neighbors. Yes, actually do this. You made progress, celebrate it. Next!
9. Set The Stage
Flip to a clean page in your notebook and write the one task at the top. Jot a few quick notes underneath reflecting on any considerations you had while doing whatever your quick win was.
If on the computer, open the one or two things you need to complete the task and if it’s something like writing take those notes from your notebook and dump them into the page so you have some guidelines to start with.
Go to the bathroom. Get a glass of water. Airplane mode your phone. Tell any co-habitating humans that you’re going to be zoning in for the next 90 minutes. Turn on BlockSite or whatever distraction-killer you use. Start a kitchen timer for however long you’re going to work for. If your work period aligns with one of our focus group times in the community—all the better.
10. Do The Thing
Build off of whatever guidelines you created to start with and expand on them. Don’t sit with a blank page/spreadsheet/whatever, just add something. Copy and paste this paragraph into it if you need to.
Start now. Don’t make it perfect; put clay on the table so you have something to sculpt.
11. Dump Distractions
You’re going to think of things. You’re going to think of the funniest tweet you’ve ever twote, and you’re going to want to tweet it right now. You may not.
Write said tweet in the notebook which should still be open on your desk and get right back to it. Dump it from your brain and move on.
You’re going to remember a grocery item you forgot to put on your list. Dump it in your notebook and go back. Don’t hang on it, just release it.
12. Repeat The Process
At a certain point, you won’t be writing in your notebook anymore and you’ll overcome the discomfort required to enter a flow state.
Sure, this focus launch list might have eaten 30 minutes of your day but you just got 90 minutes of focused work done, likely in a flow state that multiplies output by 2-5x. If there’s more to do on the task, throw your hands in the air like you’re the 2x world champ, take a short break, and set up again for round two.
If the progress you’ve made is enough for the day, play ‘Celebration’ by Kool & The Gang on Spotify and take a break. Or you can always go back to your list for another task and continue with the momentum you’ve built. After two or three of these 90-minute blocks, you’re done!
While the explanation may be lengthy, each of these items on the focus launch list usually only takes a minute or two. This is how you can save your day, calm the bouncy-ball brain, and make forward progress on important work. Respect the process by giving it the space it needs, and you will reap its rewards.
You know, it’s the whole “If you don’t have time to meditate for one hour, you should meditate for two” wisdom.
Good luck, and have fun with it!