Regardless of where you work, be it in an office, in a coffee shop, or at home, maintaining focus and motivation can prove difficult at times.
Different than organization or productivity, focus, attentiveness, and motivation require self-discipline, mindfulness, and regularity in order to maximize effectiveness, or else you’ll be right back to square one.
Focus and motivation don’t come easy to everyone, but they can be cultivated, and once they flourish, yield increased performance and professional satisfaction. Check out the following best practices to level up your focus and motivation.
Start by getting organized
If asked, we could all come up with an area for improvement—personally or professionally—and often it starts with organization. With remote work, an organized workspace and desktop are key. If you find yourself chasing around to look for documents, details, dates, and deadlines, you might be prone to getting frustrated or sidetracked (AKA losing motivation and/or focus), perhaps leaving loose ends here and there.
For example, let’s focus on your inbox for a second. It can seem onerous to get your rules, alerts, calendar, and filtering just the way you like it, but think of how overwhelming your inbox can get without any organization in place. Often when starting a new job, the constant bombardment of blasts, notifications, and network noise is a massive distraction. By taking some time to focus on making your inbox work for you rather than the other way around, you can save yourself from future digital headaches with just a few clicks.
- Setting up rules and alerts to automatically sort, forward, and notify you of important emails
- Using labels and folders to categorize emails according to their subject matter or the project they relate to
- Applying flags and stars to mark emails for follow-up or to easily find them again later
- Using snooze to remind you of important emails when you have the time to dedicate to them
- Archiving and deleting within reason, and unsubscribe from senders when their blasts lose value
Productivity, focus, and motivation all go hand in hand (in hand). By incorporating a few tried and true productivity hacks into your routine, you can start to get more out of your workday.
How about starting with the daily highlight?
Instead of filling your to-do list with countless tasks every day, focus on a single must-do that you can consider your daily highlight. Start each day by asking yourself, “What do I want to get done today?” Adjusting your mindset from need to want can help facilitate a feeling of accomplishment where previously you may have felt defeated if you were unable to complete a lofty to-do list. Additionally, this practice will in turn help you better understand your priorities and consider the process it will take you to complete your daily must-do.
A daily highlight anchors where your focus needs to be for the day to ensure that you complete the essentials and also eliminates the endless task list that was probably detrimental to your motivation. The more daily highlights you complete with ease, the more motivated you’ll be to tackle loftier projects and problems.
Utilize Focus mode (AKA Do Not Disturb)
Wondering how to stay focused? Manufacture focus with software programmed into your devices. The whole point of these different modes is to promote better focus, whether that be when you’re winding down for the day, or when you’re trying to get your remote work done. By using these features, you can minimize digital distractions. This isn’t a foolproof practice, but it’s a starting place if you find yourself easily distracted by things like email, push notifications, texts, calls, social media, or the news. Whatever your mindless vice, focus mode can help you start to break your habits.
Or, try other focus-oriented software
There’s an app for everything nowadays. From mindfulness apps like Calm and Headspace to organizational software like Notion and ClickUp to apps like Cold Turkey and Chrome extension Clockwork Tomato – there are infinite resources available for you to be able to take control of your workday however you see fit.
The thing to remember when turning to software is that it’s only as effective as you allow for it to be.
Get to know your “flow”
Prior to the new normal, your hours were more rigidly enforced by the need to be present in an office. Now, in many remote/hybrid workplaces, there’s room for more flexibility. And, if you’ve decided to go independent, you have even more freedom to figure out when and where you work best. After all, one of the top reasons people are choosing to become independent consultants is to pick their hours. That way you can work when you feel focused and motivated and take breaks when you don’t.
Perhaps you work better in short sprints rather than marathons, or, maybe you like to power through and get things done all at once. Maybe you knock the most off your to-do list during quiet morning hours, or perhaps your creative juices start flowing at 6 p.m. You can optimize your workday by scheduling tasks around your peak times for focus and motivation. Try out a few different schedules and see what works best for you. Your schedule may vary day by day, but that’s the beauty of flexible work, especially when it comes to being independent talent.
Know when to call it
This tip goes hand-in-hand with figuring out your flow. There’s a clear turning point in either the workday or with a given set of tasks where productivity wanes and work becomes work. Tasks take longer to complete, you’re seeking any excuse to get away from your desk, and Focus Mode fails to stop you from starting to scroll. In these cases, it can be best to recognize that your productive time has ended and call it a day. In turn, you’ll waste less time trying to force productivity and your bursts of work will become more effective.
Refresh and recharge
When you’re offline, stay offline. Remote work and working independently can make it easy for the lines to become blurred between the workday and your off-hours. Emergencies come up, sure, but if possible, use your workspace, computer, and accounts just while you’re working, and allow yourself the time to unplug and unwind. You’ll be more likely to feel fulfilled in the work that you’re doing if it doesn’t drag you away from family or free time.
Hold onto your progress by building good habits
Like all the professional development tips we’ve shared recently, you have to make these into habits yourself for them to become effective. Otherwise, you’re adding to the already mind-numbing noise that exists everywhere, every day.
One study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology revealed that it takes 18 to 254 days for a person to change a habit, and on average, it takes 66 days for a new behavior to become automatic. That goes both ways—forming a habit and breaking one. So, when figuring out how to stay focused, or when trying to get motivated, keep that in mind as a frame of reference for success.
How to Facilitate More Motivation
Motivation inherently varies from person to person in the same way as it varies day to day. Here are some ideas to help you stay excited about your work:
- Regularly set goals and review progress
- Keep challenging yourself and stay interested in learning
- Listen to uplifting, motivating audio (music, podcasts, etc.)
- Use failure as motivation rather than as a detriment
- Build anticipation – try to find things to look forward to and get excited about
- Look for benefits rather than potential difficulties with your goals and your work
- Try to think differently about anything and everything
- Stay up to date on the latest news
- Explore what drives and motivates you on and off the clock and pursue it
- Find balance – whatever that looks like to you
Understanding your Locus of Control
The locus of control theory refers to an individual’s perception about the underlying main causes of events in their life. Simply put, do you believe that your destiny is controlled by yourself or by external forces?
If you have five minutes, this video explains the correlation between the locus rule and motivation well. The takeaway is that when you believe that you’re in control, you are more likely to be motivated to take action to change your situation.
Whether you’re already an active independent consultant or you’re considering making the switch, you likely are driven by an internal locus of control, motivated by increased flexibility, independence, and control over your workday, your workplace, and what you’re working on. Professionals like you are changing the future of work.
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What will you do with increased control?