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October 7, 2020

How to Finally Sit Down and Focus



Cameron Kennerly

how to finally sit down and focus

After a series of missed deadlines, professional disappointments, and a great deal of difficulty accomplishing your goals, you’re probably wondering how to sit down and focus.

And you aren’t alone.

Procrastination is a near-universal human condition. Our brains create insurmountable challenges out of simples tasks due to the mental resistance associated with physical and mental discomfort.

In essence, we avoid something we think will be a negative experience.

  • Starting the 10-page research paper
  • Creating the quarterly financial report
  • Running for thirty minutes around the block
  • Finishing your young adult romance novel

The list goes on.

What you need, however, aren’t excuses, shortcuts, lifehacks, or workarounds. The only way you’re going to complete the things you want to do is to teach your mind how to sit down and focus on the task in front of you.

Here’s your step-by-step guide.

Remove the Distractions Before You Start

This may sound easy, but it’s actually a lot harder than you think.

First, you need to sit down and write out a list of everything that distracts you.

Here’s ours…

  • Thirst
  • Hunger
  • Social media
  • News websites
  • YouTube videos
  • Bathroom breaks
  • Texting back friends
  • Cleaning our apartment
  • Random thoughts we need to write down
  • Etc.

And that’s just the shortlist. If you want to learn how to sit down and focus you need to create an environment free of distraction. 

Partly, this means addressing these things proactively where you can (ex. turning off your laptop’s WIFI or powering off your phone). 

On the other hand, it also means mentally preparing yourself to say “no” to these distractions when they pop up.

You won’t always have the time to alleviate every sensation that your brain brings up to take you off task. How many things can you find to clean, rearrange, or “fix” to give your brain the feeling that you’re doing something productive? 

There will always be something else.

So, grab a bite to eat, use the bathroom, and have some water near, because once you start, there’s no more stopping.

Next up…

Put Yourself in the Right Space (Literally)

This doesn’t mean the right headspace (we’ll get to that later), it means getting in the right physical space.

You see, one of the biggest problems with staying focused is that we’re often working in places that aren’t conducive to productivity.

Here’s what we mean:

If you’re working in your bedroom, for example, your brain is already primed to view that location as a place for rest and relaxation. Therefore, its incredibly difficult to put your mind in the space to knuckle down and focus when historically it’s always spent time unwinding in that environment.

Before COVID, one of the best places for productivity were coffee shops, hotel lobbies, and libraries. However, with limited options, you’ll have to get creative with your space. This means opting to either transform a spare room into a home office or making your kitchen your new place of work.

Have a Set Plan

This is easily one of the most important steps on this list because, without a plan, you’ll waste a LOT of time.

Before you begin any endeavor that requires a laser-like degree of focus, sit down, and really consider what you need to get done. Hopefully, you aren’t starting this endeavor under a tight timeline but whatever the situation, split up what you need to get done into a reasonable clip.

For example, let’s say you have a 10-page paper due by midnight and it’s 7 P.M.

You aren’t starting from square one and have finished the research and writing for five total pages.

Perfect, you’re halfway there. 

That means that with five hours before your deadline, you need to write at least one page an hour—or better yet, 1.5 pages an hour with an extra hour for editing and review.

Cool, now keep in mind that plan means absolutely no breaks.

Which isn’t realistic for sustained mental effort.

So, let’s revise.

If you can jam out two pages per hour, you can take a fifteen-minute break after each hour, and you’ll finish your paper with two hours and 15 minutes to spare.

Now we’re thinking smart.

Use the 5-Second Rule

There’s a very simple rule created by a woman named Mel Robbins—she even wrote a book about it.

It goes something like this…

To push yourself out of your head and into action, start by counting down from five (5–4–3–2–1) and then take immediate action towards a goal or instinct.

Due to a combination of fear, stress, or anxiety, we all have a tendency to put off the things that seem unpleasant. We “get in our heads” try to weight out the pros and cons and before you know it, we’ve failed to act and the moment of highest potential is gone.

When sitting down to start a new project, even if you don’t know where to start, count to five and do something. It could be opening a tab to research, writing the first sentence, or cracking open that book. 

The point of this exercise is to create a sense of momentum, and the only way to do that is to break through the initial mental resistance and friction by pushing through it. 

Practice the Pomodoro Technique

This is another classic when it comes to getting things done. The Pomodoro technique is a focus practice that uses a concept called “chunking” to break up designated tasks into bite-sized bursts.

For example, let’s say you need to read through 100 pages of a dense textbook.

The idea of getting through it in one sitting will reasonably feel daunting. And as a result, you’ll likely put it off and procrastinate.

However, breaking it down into reasonable bursts—25 minutes of reading followed by a 5-minute break—you can rewire your brain into taking on large tasks with ease.

Get Into the Zone of Deep Work

And finally, as mystical as it may sound, there is a certain “zone” we all feel when we’re productively locked into our work.

The author Cal Newport calls this mindset, “Deep Work,” where your mind can operate with a high level of efficiency to produce quality work within a short time frame. 

To reach it, Cal recommends a few things…

  • Eliminate distractions
  • Set a plan
  • Make it timed
  • Stop at a designated time
  • Don’t stop

And by adhering to these standards and practicing them, you’ll be able to lock in and focus when the time is right, power through challenging work, and get more done.

Cal believes the human mind is not able to do more than 3-5 hours of concentrated deep work in a single day, so focus, work hard, and make those hours count

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