If you find it hard to focus your mind while working on a task, than this is a must-read post.
It probably doesn’t come as a surprise to you that when we want to achieve something in life, we need to focus on it (and stay focused). Even if you are a person that can effectively multitask and happily juggle a number of projects, you would almost certainly get better results if you were to juggle less projects or simply focus on one project instead of many. For most people, focusing on one project at a time is the only effective way to truly succeed in anything.
One major breakthrough I had a couple of years ago, that allowed me to stay focused more than almost anything else in the recent years, was the green dot technique which I have written about earlier. However, the simple hack I want to talk about today is still my favorite go to technique to stay focused.
We are creative beings. When we work on a particular task, even with the full force of deliberate focus, we still tend to get distracted by other ideas one way or another. If we are not careful, these ideas can have the tendency to get us off track.
Regardless whether these ideas that pop in our head are great or not so great, giving them any time of day while we try to achieve something else can be detrimental to our success.
As an example, if I only have an hour per day to write a block of content for my online venture and accidentally come across a very interesting (but unrelated) idea while researching my topic at hand, it would be very easy to just waste whatever time is left in that hour on investigating the new idea further. Down another rabbit hole.
This used to happen to me a lot. It can still happen today if I’m not careful.
So, what are we to do when we come across an interesting idea and we don’t want to lose it?
There is a very simple solution.
It’s called a notebook. Yes, the humble notebook.
Write it down and stay focused on your task
When the notebook idea came to me years ago, I knew instantly that it was a major breakthrough, although I’m sure I wasn’t the first person ever to come up with this.
I’m sure you have already guessed it, but if not, the idea was: write it down so it doesn’t get forgotten and get back to the main task as quickly as possible.
I use it in my day job as a software developer, with great results. It allows me to stay focused on the current task. I mentioned this recently in my recent post on focus.
However, I find it such an important tool, that I want to spend a bit more time on it today.
When I work on something, focus on something, with a deadline attached, this is often the time when some of the most interesting ideas tend to pop up in my mind. Is this the way for my subconscious mind to communicate the new ideas? Is it perhaps a by-product of intense focus on the primary goal? I don’t know for sure. However, I have learnt that there is a very effective, and simple, way of dealing with this distraction.
When I have a seemingly bright idea, while intensely working on a project, I simply write it down in my notebook, in as little detail as possible, and promptly get back to my main focus.
I’m old school, so until not that long ago I have been using a humble paper-based notebook for most occasions (except when developing software – I have always used a digital notepad for this). It’s amazing how many ideas you can fit into a simple five dollar, hundred page notebook.
These days, however, I use a couple of simple software notebooks that serve the same purpose but are much more gentle on our forests (and make it infinitely easier to search for recorded information).
The first one is called Red Notebook, which is a free and open source software I use to just take any random notes as they come along.
The second one is CherryTree which is also free and open source and I use it to record the notes in a more organized manner.
The idea is, when you are working on a project and you get a bright thought pop up in your head, you take a few seconds to write it down and get back to your main focus. The aim is to get back to your main focus before you lose your train of thought, before you lose the ‘being in the zone’ effect.
This can take from a few seconds to less than a minute. It usually shouldn’t take any more than that.
This is not the time to develop your new idea, it’s not even a good time to evaluate your new idea. It’s simply a time to write the idea down so it doesn’t evaporate, it does not get lost or forgotten. Just a sentence or two, or even a few key words, only enough to jog your memory later.
This simple technique does wonders, at least in my case, because I know that every time I have an idea, I don’t have to either dwell on it or remember it. All I need to do in the moment is write it down and move on. Write it down and get back to my main focus.
It’s been working very well for me for many years in different areas and I can’t begin to tell you how many great ideas I would have forgotten, had I not used this simple technique. Yet somehow it took me a while to connect the dots and start using it while working on my current online project.
I can also state with conviction that if it wasn’t for this technique, I would find it much harder to achieve my primary goals. Particularly in my professional life.
This also brings me to another important use of this technique. Many times when I work on something, ideas very closely connected to the task at hand come up to the surface. Ideas that need to be included in the current project. I make sure I write them down in a simple ‘to do’ file.
Any text editor software will do for this, as this is just a list of things to do, or at least to consider, for the current project.
I have used this very effectively for years, in different areas. I use it in software development, to write down the ideas on additional software features and also additional test cases to ensure the software works without any major flaws.
I also used this technique while writing a larger piece of work, such as a report or an ebook or a sales letter. Countless times I would come up with an additional chapter or section, or a piece of information to include.
Before we go, there is one more use for note taking I want to briefly mention. It really deserves a post of its own, but at the same time I feel this post would not be complete without mentioning it if only briefly.
It’s called journaling.
The late Jim Rohn was a great proponent of keeping a personal journal and I credit him with infecting me with this fantastic idea.
Jim used to say: If you find a great idea in a book, write it down. If you hear a great idea, write it down.
I used to do it frequently for several years and then I let it go a little bit. I used to write down anything that stood out for me personally. It could be success-related, health-related, related to money. Anything that I have found interesting, fascinating or useful.
I used to write down quotes from the books I read, seminars and speeches I attended and other sources (this was before the internet).
Recently I started doing this again.
Once you do it for a while you will notice that some of the ideas you have recorded are priceless. However, without writing them down, it’s almost certain that you would not have remembered most of them.
If you haven’t tried note taking yet, give it a go. You will soon discover how liberating it can be. You are likely to start filling your journal with all sorts of thoughts and ideas and you will be able to refer back to them whenever you want.
At the same time you are freeing your mind from having to remember everything, which makes it easier to focus on your tasks.
Note taking in all those various forms worked wonders for me personally. Still does.
Perhaps you have already tried some of those simple techniques already. If not, I encourage you to try. I think you will both like it and appreciate it. Try it and see if it helps you to stay focused and be more successful. I think you might be nicely surprised.
If you liked this post, you may also like my recent post on focus.
Until next time. As always – stay focused.