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When You Really Need To Focus

When you really need to focus

I’m writing this blog post as I’m wrapping up a major research report – a research task that required me to put everything else to the side, buckle down, and do some major progress.

For most of the time, I have a number of things going on at the same time, and try to keep a lot of plates in the air together.

But sometimes a Big Thing comes along and needs all my attention.

So, when I really need to focus and need to make major steps in my work in a short amount of time, I do the following:

  • Clear my schedule: I try to get a few blocks of at least two hours, and ideally three or four hours on my calendar a few days in the weeks in which I am working on the project. I consolidate meetings where possible, block off time on my calendar, and make sure I have those longer stretches of time to really focus. Of course, I have things that cannot be moved aside, such as most of my pre-planned meetings, supervision sessions, teaching, and office hours. But usually I am able to find about five good chunks of time in a week.
  • Go into superfocus mode: For me, there are a number of things that help me when I need to focus. Sometimes I use all of these together, sometimes just a few of these. I’ll get into the practicalities in the next bullet points, but what really helps me is to simply tell myself “I am going to really focus now”, and then I go ahead and focus deeply.
  • Use noise-cancelling headphones: Depending on what I am working on, I may want to work with music or just background noise in my headphones – but the headphones do really help me drown out the noise from the lectures going on in the room next to my office and the passing by of people in the hallway.
  • Binaural beats: Sometimes I like listening to these binaural beats tracks to put myself in a focus mood.
  • Increased font size: For some reason, I work much better with the zoom of my MS Word file to 120% or 125% than when it is on 100%.
  • Study with me: I like using the pace of Merve’s Study with Me videos. I find pomodoros too short for my concentration span and prefer working 50 minutes and then take a 10 minute break.
  • Forest: In the past, I’ve used the app Forest to block my phone. Nowadays, I don’t feel like I need it. If I need to focus, I will just focus.
  • Switch places: I like to read on my iPad on my office meeting table and then process my reading on my computer on my desk.
  • Sleep enough: I’m not cutting down on sleep when I have a big deadline. Cutting back on sleep to get “more” work done is totally counterproductive for me, so we’re not doing that.
  • Exercise: Similarly, I’m continuing my regular workouts when I’m in focus mode. Getting my exercise in keeps me alert and productive. It’s worth carving out a bit of time in my day to get my exercise in.
  • Take notes on a piece of scrap paper: When I need to focus, I always have a piece of scrap paper handy. I like folding an A4 in two to get A5 size, and if something comes to my mind, I’ll jot it down. Instead of taking action on it, I’ll save it for later – either for during a break, or for towards the end of my day. Doing so helps me stay focused on my research task, and gets the thing that is spooking in head out of my head and onto a piece of paper.
  • Pause emails: When stuff gets really busy, it’s my inbox zero practices that get paused for a bit, until the sky clears up again. For me, this is simply a temporary matter of priorities.
  • A bit less of hobbies: When things are really busy, something’s got to give. For me, in really busy periods I may read a bit less, work less on the myriad of online courses I am following, or craft a bit less. I don’t stop at all, but just shift a bit of time between work and leisure time. Again, these are temporary measures only.
  • Aromatherapy: I like having a nice scent when I need to concentrate.

Here are some of the things that I do when I need to really focus on a big chunk of work.

What do you do when you need to buckle down and focus?

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