When a vital deadline approaches, we usually have the ability to summon our powers, concentrate, and get the job done. Remember back in college or, more recently than that, medical school? Were you one of the students who pulled all-nighters before an exam? It wasn't the best way to proceed, and the students who began studying days before probably were less stressed. Nevertheless, your all-nighter indicated something notable: You have the ability to focus as a deadline approaches.
But all-nighters and the resulting sleep deprivation can be harmful to your health. Fortunately, you can employ these proven techniques, which are less stressful or less disruptive, to help you to maintain focus when needed.
1) Get into the space
Mentally immerse yourself in what the task is all about, the level of effort required, and the resources needed to assist you. This mental immersion will help you to start and proceed all the way to the finish line. It seems simple, but once you try mental immersion, you'll be convinced.
Related to the technique above, visualize your task, perhaps as if you were a third-party looking in: You are at your desk, or wherever you happen to be working, you've isolated yourself to minimize distractions, and you’re humming along. You're feeling good, you’re summoning the right level of energy, and by golly you're going to finish. If you can visualize these occurrences, you are that much closer to tackling the project, maintaining your focus, and crossing the finish line.
3) Experience the feeling
Mentally summon what it will feel like once you have fully completed the task. Will you feel good? It's highly likely. Will you have more energy and more focus for what's next? That might occur as well. By experiencing the feeling of accomplishment, you increase the probability that your mental and physical faculties will be aligned to help realize your desired accomplishment.
4) Bargain with yourself
You’ve probably done this throughout your life, and perhaps haven't recognized the value of applying this approach to bigger and more challenging tasks. Also known as the ‘grandma principle,’ bargaining with yourself works like this: After you have finished a task, give yourself some type of reward. The reward might be a chocolate bar, a walk around the block, a telephone call to a friend, and so on. The reward is not necessarily huge; it is merely enough to incentivize you to maintain focus to achieve the completion you have in mind.
5) Build up your concentration
If you're only able to sit still and focus for about five minutes, on your next round, strive to reach 10 minutes, then 15, then 20. When you reach the 20-minute level of focus, you attain great gains in productivity. Happily, each of us has the ability to focus in 20-minute blocks.
6) Time your breaks
Once you have built up your concentration,set your cell phone timer for 20 minutes. Then maintain focus until the gentle alarm sounds. As such, you've got a built-in system for focus and productivity. You know you can endure for 20 minutes. You also know the phone will indicate when 20 minutes have passed. When the time is up, take a break, turn to something else, or reset the timer.
As you start timing your break, often you become eager to set the clock for another 20 minutes, because it is internally rewarding when you’re making great progress.
7) Practice mindful meditation
The meditation of which I speak is something you might do in the morning or the evening—not necessarily close to the time when you're tackling an important task. A five- or eight-minute daily meditation can help when you need to maintain focus. Why? Meditation aids in calming the mind, not merely after you meditate, but throughout the whole day. If you meditate for many days on end and make it a regular habit, a cumulative buildup occurs that is all to your favor!
Jeff Davidson is "The Work-Life Balance Expert®" and a thought leader on work-life balance issues. He speaks to organizations that seek to enhance their overall productivity by improving the work-life balance of their people. Visit breathingspace.com for more information.