Picture this: a young woman picking up momentum in her career, starting a marriage or new family and juggling several commitments on the side, all while squeezing in time for her personal “passion” projects.
If this is you (or anyone you know), it’s almost guaranteed that you are always on the hunt for more ways to be productive and get focussed in the little pockets of time you have to get things done. For me, this passion is Naturally Whole, and I’m still tweaking my habits daily to be able to zero in on what needs to be done and execute it to completion.
Enter a handy little system I’ve developed called the Five Pillars of Focus. These are the principles I try to keep in mind when I set out to get something done:
I’ve listened to dozens of productivity podcasts and one of the most valuable things I’ve learned is that if you want something to get done, put it on your calendar. If you have a favourite to-do list app, use the calendar function to set yourself a due date. If not, the regular calendar app on your phone works just fine to quickly plug in an important to-do.
BONUS tip: Don’t just set yourself a “due by” date. Set yourself recurring reminders leading up to the date as well for planning purposes.
Own Your Why
Before you try to dive head first into a task, take a few moments to dig deep and reflect to remember why it is you’re even trying to do this specific thing. Why is this so important to you? What will the positive outcomes be if you can complete this? What will happen if you don’t?
Owning your “why” will keep you motivated and help you push through any mental blocks or walls of resistance that pop up along the way.
Clarify your Intentions
Once you’ve set aside some dedicated time for your project and reinforced your “why”, it’s important to set an intention for that time and be crystal clear on what it is you’d like to get done during your work session. This practice will narrow your focus so you can prevent the other 50 million things you have to do that day crowd your brain.
Write down the top three things you’d like to get done within your allotted time period in order of importance (e.g. I want to reach out to 15 people about promoting my product/service). It’s okay to stretch and challenge yourself a little bit, but if you only have 45 minutes, setting a goal of writing 20 blog posts in that time is a recipe for disaster.
Pick goal #1 and break that down into four or five actionable steps. Start at step 1 and continue until you can cross your goal off the list (or until time is up). Being able to start with an end objective in mind keeps you running on a straight path. You won’t get caught up in “where do i start, what should i do now?” because you will have already mapped out the road to your end goal.
Never underestimate the power of a tidy workspace! Before you get knee-deep into your to-dos, take a few minutes to clear your desk or office of any trash, loose pieces of paper, books haphazardly strewn about, mugs…you get the point. There’s nothing worse than trying to pound out an article or report with nagging clutter lurking in your peripheral vision. I know, I know– you just want to begin already, but trust me, it’s far better to take a few seconds BEFORE you start than to constantly be distracted by the mess.
Finally, after all this elaborate prep work, there’s only one thing left to do. Yup, you guessed it— time to jump right in! Fortunately, there are a few great tools and techniques out there that will help you stay efficient and on task. In the fitness world, HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training. The philosophy is simple — hard work for short bursts of time (with small breaks in between each set) = a much more focused and effective workout than one long stretch of moderate intensity exercise. Twice the results in half the time. The catch is that you have to pay for it. Anyone who has been to a CrossFit class will tell you that those workouts can be the most excruciating 15 minutes of your life, but the payout is phenomenal (which is why we keep going back).
To apply the HIIT principle to your workflow, use the Pomodoro method to set yourself 25 minutes of intense work and 5 minutes of rest for three rounds. During the “work” sets, don’t let anything hold you back. If you’re writing, don’t filter yourself, just let words flow onto the paper (or screen) and use another period of work to edit. If your task is meal prepping, put on some music and chop away for the allotted time and take an Instagram break when the alarm goes off.
If you’re struggling to get through your to-do list, try using the five pillars of focus method to finally crack down and get productive. You’ll be crushing your goals in no time!
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