Each of us have our busy lives and in this world of constant distractions, how can we stay focused on our goals? This article discusses several techniques I have found to work.

For me, there are always several things constantly competing for my time – articles to write, business opportunities to explore, links to follow up, my daily work, personal commitments etc. In my experience whenever I try to work on many things at the same time, none of them actually gets done.

In response, I’ve incorporated the following techniques for staying focused into my work patterns:

  1. Having well defined goals. I can’t stress the importance of this too much. Having goals which are well defined along good guidelines is key. I’ve found writing my goals down really helps. Whenever I get distracted, I read my goals and I’m reminded of what I am trying to do and why.
  2. Breaking things into bite sized chunks. Having broad high level goals are good but having an actionable plan is essential. A plan can identify how you can get from where you are to where you want go. Breaking goals into smaller actionable chunks (tasks) is great – it gives me motivation to start and allows me to get things done in one sitting.
  3. Prioritising constantly. To figure out which task I should be working on, I prioritise constantly. Some tasks are more important than others. Some tasks are more urgent than others. I’ve found that working on urgent tasks followed by tasks which have the greatest impact to work well for me – urgent tasks allow me to get things done on time and important tasks allow me to maximise the benefits I receive.
  4. Tracking progress vigorously. Each of us wants to improve our lives. However, it is easy to start with good intentions but more difficult to sustain commitment. I’ve found that by tracking my progress, I have more visibility on what I’ve done and can better gauge how much effort is left.
  5. Planning ahead without fail. Concentrating on the remaining effort can help reinforce commitment. Some might think they’ll get discouraged, however I haven’t found this to be the case because my tasks are bite sized and easy to finish. I’ve found it really helps to look at my goals and task lists periodically, so I can assess how much time it’ll take to do something and determine the best time to sit down and work on it.
  6. Rewarding myself when warranted. By all means focus on what’s outstanding, but also take stock of what’s done. I always reflect on what I’ve done, whether it is reading a post I did awhile ago or looking at the ticks I’ve made alongside my task lists. Whenever I accomplish a logical piece of work, I always reward myself. It really does help with maintaining motivation.
  7. Having positive patterns in my routine. I’ve found having good habits and positive patterns to be instrumental. At the moment, I can consistently get more done. As these patterns continue to establish into a routine, I’m finding that I can better judge the periods of the day in which I really need to focus and work.
  8. Removing distractions as best I can. The best way not to give in to temptation is not to have the option to. What seems to work for me is making the distractions difficult or inconvenient to access. Because it takes too much effort to indulge in the distraction, I find it is less likely for me to give in.
  9. Blocking out some time. In a previous post I wrote about waking up early and consistently. You don’t necessarily have to do this but I’ve found that having quiet time, set aside specifically for accomplishing a given task, to be very productive. I also tend to be more focused in the morning after a restful night.
  10. Keeping the results clear in mind. Instead of concentrating too much on the task at hand, sometimes I put some attention on the feelings I ultimately wish to experience. By focusing on the results, it is easier for me to maintain my motivation especially when working on things that I am not by nature motivated by.
  11. Enlisting my family and friends for help. I communicate with my family and friends about my goals all the time. Not only have they been helpful with gentle reminders whenever they see my behaviour is not consistent with my goals, but they also give me constant incentives to work at my goals and succeed.

Here are some examples of how I have applied these techniques to my blogging:

  • Having a goal to write 120 articles in a year.
  • Working on 3 articles each week, or 2 paragraphs in each sitting.
  • Prioritising bill paying before working on writing tasks.
  • Tracking the number of posts I have done each week.
  • Planning the topics for future articles in advance.
  • Taking time out to do searches on Technorati and Google.
  • Waking up at 5:30am and working on an article before work.
  • Asking my wife to wake me up if I fail to get up on my own.
  • Unplugging the Xbox to remove distractions.
  • Watching TV to relax my mind after completing an article.
  • Visualise the growth in subscribers to my feed to maintain motivation.

These 11 techniques can be applied to any aspect of your personal and professional lives. If you find you have trouble staying focused for whatever reason, try applying some or all of these techniques. What works for me may not necessarily work for you, so don’t be afraid to experiment. If you have any techniques which work for you that I have not listed, please leave a comment.

Update: I have posted a follow up to this article entitled 18 ways to stay focused at work. In that article, I approached the issue from a bottom up perspective and provide a set of useful things you can actually implement in order to have more productive work days.
I have found the following resources to be helpful in writing this article:

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42 Responses to “11 ways of staying focused”

  1. Branders.name » Blog Archive » links for 2006-06-21 says:

    [...] 11 ways of staying focused Each of us have our busy lives and in this world of constant distractions, how can we stay focused on our goals? This article discusses several techniques I have found to work. (tags: article lifehacks productivity) [...]

  2. Vijay says:

    Great Post. You have given shape to most of the stuff I generally follow, though not conciously. As you said, having a concrete goal is the first thing and all other steps fall into place around this central piece.

    Vijay

  3. Creating a Better Life says:

    The Personal Development Carnival – July 2, 2006

    Wecome to the latest edition of the Personal Development Carnival!

    Jerry Lopper at Purposeful Growth presents The Law of Attraction and how the Universe works
    supermom_in_ny presents Home Based Businesses: What Motivates Me to Succeed posted …

  4. Dave Cheong says:

    Hi Vijay – thanks for taking the time to comment.

    I hope you’ve found this post and others useful. As I mentioned in the post, not all things will work for everyone. The key is figuring the ones that work and apply those. For the ones that don’t, weed it out of your system.

  5. Improve your life one step at a time says:

    [...] The thing about personal development is we build upon each success. Every victory lays the foundation for the next challenge. Along the same lines as the previous example, if your goal is to be an early riser, then discipline is a prerequisite. Set good goals that would develop this first, such as writing a journal to track the things you want to do, removing distractions or generally applying any of the other tips about how to stay focused. [...]

  6. Links for 7-19 says:

    [...] 11 Ways of Staying Focused – Probably my biggest challenge, I need all the help I can get. [...]

  7. Stay Focus | : onetwolearn says:

    [...] 11 ways of staying focused : Dave Cheong shares his tips, which I find some are particularly useful. [...]

  8. Oi You! Here’s how to stay focussed! says:

    [...] Dave Cheong wrote an excellent article – 11 ways to stay focussed (no – don’t go there yet!) It discusses focus at the broad level – how to keep focussed on your important projects throughout the week. But how do you stay focussed in the moment? [...]

  9. links for 2006-07-26 | Musings by Steve Miller says:

    [...] 11 Ways To Stay Focused (tags: advice Article entrepreneur entrepreneurship work tutorials tutorial tips startup self-help productivity personal organization motivation) [...]

  10. Esquizopedia — 11 consejos para mantenerse enfocado says:

    [...] Dave Cheong escribe y reflexiona sobre 11 maneras de mantenerse enfocado en el trabajo, un post muy interesante con ejemplos de lo que ha logrado usando estos faciles consejos. Imprecindible en el complicado mundo de hoy, tan lleno de distracciones y entretenimiento. [...]

  11. michela says:

    Thanks! While there’s nothing earth-shattering here, it’s wonderful to see them in a nice, concise list (in both “focus” articles). Especiall for an ADD-er such as myself…:)

  12. Cleaven Chia’s Edublog » Blog Archive » 2 Jan 2007: And School Starts Again! says:

    [...] After waking up, it’s time to get straight into serious stuff! Dave Cheong, in 2 articles, lists a total of 29 ways of staying focused. In his first article titled “11 ways of staying focused”: [...]

  13. Cult of Secrets » Gigantus Intro Post says:

    [...] Dave Cheong – “A journey from Java Software Engineer to Entrepreneur and beyond”, This is a blog that I had stumbled upon when I was searching for interesting viewpoints on blogs. I think I liked what I read so I bookmarked it. It’s an article on “11-ways of Staying Focused”. [...]

  14. Michael's Thoughts says:

    Daily Report, Jan 25…

    Team Collaboration Tasks in Near-Time … Near-Time added task management capabilities to its collaborative team workspace product. “Task management capabities are integrated with Near-Time’s wikis, weblogs and file sharing services. Members can orga…

  15. The Personal Development Carnival - July 2, 2006 - from Creating a Better Life says:

    [...] Dave Cheong at Dave Cheong | Engineer to Entrepreneur presents 11 ways of staying focused [...]

  16. f adirepo olaniyi says:

    i wanty to lean how to be focused in every thing i do at all time

  17. 11 ways of staying focused « CR says:

    [...] 3 May 2007 11 ways of staying focused Posted by gonesavage under ADD , link  11 ways of staying focused : good stuff!   [...]

  18. Harry Vin says:

    Well done great article/s,

    Yes people do not plan to fail but fail to plan and

    great organisation is the core of operations here

    along with common sense.Motivation is the spirit of

    humanity and we need to affirm this ethos so therefore

    embrace all such positive thoughts leading to positve

    actions with results making good feelings and a sense

    of being in the universe.

    Thank you.

  19. Dave Cheong says:

    Hi Harry,

    You’ve put it so beautifully. Thank you for commenting!

    dave

  20. Stan says:

    Hello Dave!

    Just want to give great thanks for putting out such a wonderfully-productive article! I’ve applied one of your methods of writing a To-Do List and it never fails!(Well I fail when I forget to get my list done first thing in the morning!:P) Will link you to my blog.

    Thank you again!
    Stan

  21. Dave Cheong says:

    G’Day Stan,

    You are most welcomed… Thank you for taking the time to comment. Hope you have continued success and check back in often.

    cheers,

    dave

  22. Michael says:

    Hey nice post.

    I have problems staying focused in general, I mean I am a very thorough person in that I make a good job of the things I attend to, but it’s staying focused on the ones that are most important that causes me problems. Your section on prioritising is a good reminder for me to attend to the things that matter the most as they appear.

    I’m actually a teacher, and it’s hardly surprising that I struggle with priorities because they always change in teaching – all the time too! Its easy to fritter away hours organising lessons rather than actually trying to think about how I am going to teach.

    Trouble arises I think when there are competiting priorities. Take for example the situation where I spent 40 mins collecting folders and jotters for my new classes and figuring out how my new classroom works instead of thinking how I was going to teach the lesson most effectively. These challenges seem to happen all the time in my teaching. If I don’t bother tidying up my stuff or getting things organised I get someone breathing down my back about organisation whereas if I do tidy up and loose valuable lesson planning time my lessons seem to suffer.

    In my teaching being organised physically (room and resources)is constantly competiting for time with being organised mentally (knowing in my mind how to teach and deliver in a concise and focused manner)

    I guess the learning is the most important part and everything else can get done once thats been considered.

    Cheers,

    Mike

    PS You probably realise how unfocused I am by the length of this post, which is proably summed up in the last few lines (lol)

  23. 11 ways of staying focused « AU2BOY says:

    [...] 11 ways of staying focused August 15, 2006 at 4:47 am | In English, Software | Del blog de Dave Cheong Ingeniero de Software Java, aqui 11 formas para mantenerse concentrado en el trabajo, especialmente para los desarroladores de software o de sistemas, las transcribo tal cual en Inglés para que no pierdan su esencia. 1. Having well defined goals. [...]

  24. Productivity at home in your Wealth Creation Secret Lab « positivecapitalism says:

    [...] 10, 2008 Productivity at home in your Wealth Creation Secret Lab Posted by edward under Articles of interest   While working on a article about productivity ,I stumbled upon this one and it had the majority of the same content I was about to write! Its amazing how things work out like that accidentally. After reading Dave Cheong’s list, I have the following to add and emphasize, for a home office: [...]

  25. amit says:

    Hi Dave,

    A truly inspirational and motivational article. Surprisingly you listed out all unseen problem of a less motivated or mentally tired person.Thanks a lot for providing such a crispy note for a focussed life.

  26. addo says:

    Hi Dave,
    great article, i enjoyed it and found it to be quite insightful and practically logical. Like the others(in this blog)have pointed out, you done a great job of untangling the mess of choices and behaviour(good and bad)that ultimately distinguish a focused/non-focused person, a great reference!

    addo

  27. Dave says:

    Great information. These are good practical things anyone can do. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who needs help staying focused.

  28. Rare Post By Ken McArthur: Getting Cash When You Need it NOW! says:

    [...] Re: Rare Post By Ken McArthur: Getting Cash When You Need it NOW! Ken, I could write a book on these kind of stories. Being a single mom, who has a hard time staying focused on one thing at a time online, and a million things pulling me in every direction offline, I seem to get started and never finished. I know I have the capability to make money. I have done it with my own software products, writing plr, and writing reviews and earning affiliate comissions. In fact the third is what I seem to do best, but by doing this it also leads me in to many directions. Well here is a funny story that anyone who has had trouble staying focused will get a big kick out of. The other night, I was really working hard at trying to figure out just which direction to go since I know I am capable of different avenues. What always stumbles me up, is one little glitch in uploading a script, trying to plan a campaign when I am so tired I can’t think straight……. could go on and on. Well I was getting ready to retire for the evening and I needed some inspirtation. So I went to google and typed in "how to stay focused" It lead me to this article: 11 ways of staying focused I read this helpful article and was looking at the related posts at the bottom of the page. One of the titles seemed really familiar. 7 Simple Ways to Stay Focused I clicked on it. It lead me here: 7 Simple Ways to Stay Focused to What is Most Important to Your Daily Successes by Laurie Meade Lauries Legends Co I just started cracking up. It was an article I wrote myself over a year ago on the exact topic I was looking for inspiration for that night. Staying focused. Everyone I have shared this story with just cracks up laughing, (these are people that know me well, who don’t even necessarily understand internet marketing.) But there was a lesson to be learned. I probably have several products sitting out there on the internet in articles I have written in the past, and could learn what direction to go by studying which ones have been the most popular. In the meantime, I will go back to working on my latest review. Laurie [...]

  29. Alysha says:

    All very valid information. I learned a couple new things that I will definitely incorporate into my lifestyle. Thanks.

  30. Steve Curran says:

    Dave,
    As a software developer looking to branch out on my own I found the information invaluable.
    Keep up the good work.
    Steve Curran

  31. Zoya says:

    Excellent article…thanks very much for posting it,I am having a hard time trying to stay focused in my new real estate business and needed a boost. Your article will definitely help as I have already started to feel better just by reading through this and getting new ideas.

  32. Anirudh says:

    Nice post. Very well written..

    One of the problems that I was and sometimes am facing is that I tend to oversleep. This is not always the case, though. When I have pressing deadlines, all I think of are the high priority things and do complete them on or before time. But then suddenly my energy dwindles away the very next day (of course, when there are no deadlines to be met with) and I keep thinking – was it the same ‘me’ who worked all day long the day before to meet the deadline. Then I think of sleeping even more with the hope to get me energized. However, after I get up, I tend to be sleepy and don’t do much work.

    The key thing that I got to know was to think about the consequences for a given action that I am about to make. But sometimes I just say to myself that nothing’s gonna happen if I sleep just one more hour. I am seeing that this happens to some of my friends as well.

    Anyway, I am back to my planner now!

  33. 60+ Resources For Entrepreneurs To Step Up and Take Charge | Applicant - The Advice Bank says:

    [...] 11 Ways Of Staying Focused : If you are like me, your mind is constantly running in every direction possible. This article might help you focus and reach your goal, sooner. [...]

  34. Bradley M. Witherspoon says:

    Wow!! I have had trouble with staying focused for my entire life. I am now a junior in college and staying focused should be my number one priority, but it is not. I am easily distracted by “the outside world” because I feel I will become a very dull person without the correct balance. I def. do not want to become that guy that works to much. However, I’m trying to put your advice to work. GREAT ARTICLE!–motivation

  35. Denyo says:

    Thanks for a well written post, especially the one about the xbox which is sitting under my monitor as we speak, will have to remove that.

    Regards

    Denyo – UK

  36. Gerald says:

    Great tips,

    We often don’t realise how easy we can get distracted and with a few simple practices we can achieve so much more.

    Thanks

  37. Getting Back on Track! Reaching your goals and staying focussed « Share Stuff says:

    [...] Rule #1 – Have a goal! This, of course, is the most important rule. And guess what – I don’t have one, well I do, but it’s not written down anywhere and to be honest it’s quite vague.  Look at this blog for example. It’s chaotic. It has no structure or come to think of it any purpose. So I found an article on setting goals and about being focussed. [...]

  38. Andrew Feltman says:

    Something I have been using is binaural beats – these sounds are amazing and can help you achieve more energy – better focus – more relaxed and for a good nights sleep.

  39. Corey says:

    I find meditation helps. inner peace. and centered emotions. thank you this has been helpful.

  40. Articles Every Entrepreneur Should Read « xahrs says:

    [...] 11 Ways Of Staying Focused : If you are like me, your mind is constantly running in every direction possible. This article might help you focus and reach your goal, sooner. [...]

  41. Tip of the Week – Stay Focused | expertSEM says:

    [...] So. In hopes that I’m not alone – I decided to cover some tips for staying focused at work for my tip of the week. Being my profession, I took to Google and found some GREAT tips from a blogger/software engineer/entrepreneur Dave Cheong. He has two great posts “18 Ways to Stay Focused at Work” and “11 Ways of Staying Focused“ [...]

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