By Mari Krueger
The good intentions are there—sticking to fitness goals, killing it at work, being a great friend, cooking something new. But an off topic text, the black hole of social media, and three shows later, the day is over. Where does the time go? It’s no secret that distraction can be the end of productivity. Here are five tips to stay focused, whether your goals are physical or mental. Because, whatever your goals are, a little focus, goal setting and drive will get you there.
Envision the Future
Start by picturing the end; visualize your goals and be specific. Maybe you want to complete a half marathon, attend a yoga festival, get a promotion, have a tidier space or see friends more often. Maybe your vision of the future means meeting that deadline Friday, throwing a birthday party, or traveling internationally.
Nebulous goals are ok too—being more productive, having calmer mornings, or being kinder. What does that look like to you? If you want to be a more relaxed, mindful person, picture exactly what that looks like. Imagine the fabric of your meditation pillow, the environment around you, the sensations within you when you meditate. Expand that thought—instead of scurrying around packing a lunch, you are having a calm morning because you packed your lunch and went to bed on time last night.
Whatever your goals, hold it in your mind and think it through. With a clear mental picture of where you want to be, it’s easier to get up when that alarm goes off instead of hitting the snooze button again.
Make A Plan
With the vision in place, the challenge becomes mapping out a way to get there. Make a list of everything that needs to be done to achieve your goal, then break it into manageable tasks. Lots of tasks on your plate? Prioritize what needs to be done now, today, this week, this month, and “someday.”
Let’s say your goal is to travel internationally for the first time. Break it down: research destinations today, a plan to set aside enough money, schedule an appointment to get a passport next week, and—bonus—start learning some phrases in another language.
Use a planner or calendar if that helps, or download an app to help you track your progress. Estimate how long each task will take and schedule a block of time to complete it. An ideal way to arrange your time is to eliminate distractions, then work for 50 minutes and take a 10 minute break. Then get back to work!
Your time and attention are just that: YOURS. You get to decide where you spend it and how. Let’s start with the obvious: our phones. To be present and productive, turn off instant notifications. Do that now. When it’s time to focus, turn your phone to silent and put it in a drawer, your bag, wherever is as far from you as possible. Trust that the world and its crises will handle themselves while you focus on your goals.
Identify your top distractions, and be honest with yourself. Need to answer email on your phone, but easily distracted by Instagram? Consider—gasp!—deleting it off your phone for a while. Want to exercise but usually watch tv instead? Unplug the device to keep yourself from falling onto the couch and reaching for the remote. Keep your vision in mind and make it harder to give in to easy distractions. Set limits on social media use until tasks are completed, or limit yourself to catching up on your favorite platforms for a limited amount of time once a day.
Maybe your distractions are people. Share your goals with them and try to enlist their support. If they’re unsupportive of your dreams in general, maybe it’s time to evaluate whether it’s a friendship you want to continue.
And be realistic—if you’re the type of person who stress cleans (and aren’t we all?) build in time for that, too. Studies show repetitive movements (like wiping the countertop) decrease anxiety, and having a tidy space is calming. Plus the added boost of productivity can give you confidence you’re moving in the right direction.
Your best ally in the struggle against distractions is that excellent muscle in your skull. Fuel your brain for success with nutritious foods proven to enhance brain performance. Fortunately, what’s best for your noggin is good for your overall health, too. Start by drinking enough water—getting hydrated promotes mental clarity and helps you think faster and more creatively. We also love the FOCUSAID Energy Blend from LIFEAID as a great go-to source for clean energy and mental focus. Alternatively, blueberries and leafy greens are packed with antioxidants, while flax seeds, nuts, and fatty fish (salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, sardines) are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids—crucial for mood stabilization and concentration. Dark chocolate (look for single-origin, high-cacao percentages for the highest quality beans and lowest amounts of sugar and fat) can enhance mental acuity and contain stress-relieving magnesium. Avocados are full of fiber and good fats. And while all coffee and tea lovers swear by caffeine (and they’re not wrong!) green tea in particular has l’theanine, which studies show increases alpha-wave activity and tranquility, and also helps avoid the post-caffeine crash by releasing it more slowly, so you feel calm and energized longer.
It’s hard to focus when your stomach is rumbling, or you’re entering the mid-afternoon slump. By planning ahead and having a nutrient-packed, brain-feeding snack before big tasks—bonus for adding green tea!—you can give yourself a boost of productivity when you need it the most.
Get Going (and keep moving)!
Got a list a mile long? Sometimes small tasks seem impossible when one particularly worrisome task looms large over everything else—so tackle the big one first. Or maybe it seems like you’ll never get to your main task with all the other million things you need to do—set a timer and challenge yourself to complete as many small tasks as possible within that time, then move on to the main task. One colossal task weighing you down? Go back to your plan and break your task down further into manageable chunks. Spread it out over multiple days if necessary and just do one piece of the job at a time.
Remember, it takes time (usually several weeks) to make a habit stick, so be persistent and patient with reaching your goals. Accept gradual progress as success—jogging twice this week doesn’t mean you’re ready for that marathon, but you’re two jogs closer to that goal than you were last week.
When life comes at you hot, it will be tempting to give in to the overwhelm and give up. Don’t! Keep your vision front and center and keep moving forward. You’ll get there.