How to Stay Focused and Motivated in 2021
Struggle to stay focused? Need some extra motivation to get through your larger than life to-do list?
Luckily, you’re not alone.
We all struggle with this in some form or another.
But finding a solution is actually pretty easy — provided you understand what’s going on and why it’s even happening in the first place.
So to help you find a way to stay focused and boost your motivation, let’s start by taking a look at what’s going on. Then we’ll dive into some practical ways you can fix your focus and motivation going forward.
Ever wonder why it’s so easy to lose your focus throughout the day, even when you’re working on something that you absolutely love? Or what you can do to push through all that to start getting more done?
Well, as humans, we’re complex creatures.
On the one hand, we’re naturally curious. We want to explore different things as soon as they grab our attention. This makes us easily distracted, pulled away, and, as a result, either making more and more mistakes or just taking forever to finish anything.
And our modern lives have just exacerbated this problem even more. I mean, there are flashing lights and shiny objects in every single direction we look! So it’s completely understandable that staying focused is something that more and more people need help with every day.
On the other hand, our mind, in an attempt to subconsciously protect us, will justify every single thing that pulls us away. It will make an excuse for us every single time we procrastinate something or just avoid something altogether.
Because of this, staying focused on the task at hand is simply finding a way to put your mind over matter.
In other words, to stay focused on whatever it is that you’re doing, you need to retrain your brain. Luckily, you don’t need a mad scientist to help you out here. A few simple adjustments are all you need. Then, you continue making those small adjustments day in and day out until they become a habit.
And I completely understand that doing that is easier said than done. Which is why I’m here. To break it all down for you and help you get it done.
The Importance of Staying Focused
So first of all, we need to understand why it’s so important to stay focused.
And I’m sure half the people reading this just rolled their eyes. But I’m serious!
It isn’t just a matter of never feeling like you get anything done. Because there are a bunch of layers here, and once you understand each of them, it will be easier for you to fix them.
Make Fewer Mistakes
So first of all, yes, staying focused does help you get everything done. You’re able to bust through your to-do list, knocking off one thing after another.
But at the same time, you end up making fewer mistakes simply because you weren’t pulled away a million times from whatever it is that you’re working on.
Because think about it. Every time you’re pulled away from something, your brain disengages with it. So, when your attention is back on that task, you either have to get your brain back up to speed or just wing it. Which, of course, results in sloppy work with a ton of mistakes.
And mistakes are even more time consuming and costly to fix after the fact.
So you can avoid them by learning how to improve your focus.
Waste Less Time
Multitasking is also the worst thing you can do for your productivity.
And you could very well say that you aren’t multitasking. That your kid pulled you away. Or a client called and you had to stop whatever you were doing for a minute.
But, when you’re allowing your attention to be pulled away like that, then you are actually multitasking, even if it doesn’t fit the standard definition of that word.
Multiple studies have been performed on how much time you lose when you’re multitasking. Whether that’s trying to do multiple things at one time or switching back and forth between different things at the same time, the verdicts the same: It kills your focus and your productivity in the process.
Which, of course, results in a ton of wasted time.
Get More Done
Not only that but when you’re spreading your attention between 5 or even 10 different things, it’s taking you 5 or 10 times as long to get anything done.
When you instead focus on just one thing at a time, you get that one thing done. You don’t leave it half finished and come back to it later. You just do it and get it done. Then you move onto the next thing, do it, and get it done. And so on.
And I know that sounds incredibly simplistic, but that right there is the key to getting a ton done every day.
But, of course, you have to be able to stay focused on that one thing at a time.
Why is it So Hard to Stay Focused?
So if you know all that, why is it so hard to stay focused then?
The easy answer? Monkey brain.
And we’ve all been there! Our lives are crazy busy. We have a gazillion things to remember to do. And all of that stays moving around in your brain if you don’t learn how to quiet it.
Learning how to quiet the monkey brain is easier said than done, too. And everyone will have their own preferred ways of doing it.
But some of the more common are meditation, yoga, and exercise because they train you to control all of that extra mental energy.
And the more regularly you practice yoga and meditation or find the time to work out, the more you’ll learn to control your mind.
When my mind is all over the place, I stop what I’m doing and meditate. Or I go for a run. Or I do yoga. Whatever feels right in that moment.
Then I can get back to what I was doing with a clear head and a clear purpose.
How to Stay Focused
And while quieting your monkey brain can help you stop feeling scattered or all over the place, there are additional things you can do to stay focused.
Because having your thoughts all over the place really is only one part of the equation.
You also have to stop everything else from pulling your attention away from whatever it is that you’re doing.
In other words, you need to prevent your normal distraction from distracting you!
Identifying Your Distractions
And the first step to doing that is pinpointing what all those distractions are.
And I’m not just talking surface level here. Yeah, the neighbor’s dog is annoying AF.
I’m talking about everything from your kid needing something to your clients not respecting your boundaries to all the different things that pop into your head that you don’t want to forget about.
Now, if you already know what all you different distractions are throughout the day, then jot them all down.
If you don’t, or you want to make sure you’re getting them all, then keep a distractions journal for a day or two. Every time something happens that causes you to lose focus, write it down.
Once you know what you’re working with, you can start to find some solutions.
Preventing Your Distractions
And this isn’t going to be a one size fits all solution here. Because we all have different distractions. And the different solutions we find need to fit our unique circumstances.
But what it comes down to is to simply look at all the different things that pulled you away and then find a way to prevent it from pulling you away next time.
For example, if you know that you’re going to waste time chatting with people in Facebook groups, then don’t let yourself go on Facebook while you’re supposed to be working. Yes, networking is always good, but it may help to only go on during preset times.
If you feel like you always have to respond to emails right away, make sure you have a system that deals with this. You could add a line to your contact form or your client contracts that lets people know how long it might take for you to get back to them. For example, 48 hours. Or create Google forms to stop so many emails from coming in. Or create a Zap to respond to people and let them know that you received their message and when you’ll get back to them. Or set aside an hour a day, maybe all at once in the afternoon or twice a day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon, to deal with emails.
If you’re a work at home mom and can’t find those pockets of distraction-free time, then you’ll have to get a little creative. You could go to the bookstore and work while they play. You could go to a McDonalds with a play area and work while they play (most of them have WiFi now). You could join the gym and take them to the free daycare and work (hey, it’s cheaper than daycare). You could get a group of other moms who need a little time to get stuff done and alternate babysitting days. You take all the kids on Monday. Someone else takes them on Tuesday. And so on. Have a helpful spouse? Then head to Starbucks for a Saturday afternoon or, if you want to go really crazy, get a hotel for a night and have a college-style marathon biz sesh.
I get juggling work and family is tough. I’m a single mom with no family close to me, so I had to get a little creative until I was in a place where I could afford to pay for childcare.
Or maybe you have a home office but nobody respects your time or space there. Let your family know what times are your non-negotiable working hours (maybe two hours in the morning or something like that), hang a “Do Not Disturb” sign, and lock the door. They’ll eventually get it.
The point is, though, that you know yourself and what your distractions are. So take a little time to brainstorm some solutions that will work for you.
They may not be perfect. But they’ll be a great starting point. See what works and what doesn’t, and find even better solutions going forward.
How to Improve Focus
And then finally, there are plenty of times where your brain isn’t necessarily racing, but you’re still distracted. Your family isn’t constantly all up in your business, but you’re still not getting anything done.
And while we’ll deal with procrastination in a bit, there are a few things you can do to improve your focus if that isn’t really your problem, either.
Understand Your Energy Cycles
First of all, don’t try to focus during a time when you’re normally drained of energy. We all have our own circadian rhythm and energy cycles. And if you don’t work with yours, you’re just working against it.
Yeah, there will be times when you have to work when you’re tired. And when that happens you’ll have to try something else on this list. But, when you can, try to schedule your working hours during your highest energy times.
Organize Your Day
If you’re working for longer stretches of time, you need to organize your day and add a little structure.
You can’t just say that you’re working from 9 to 3. You need breaks. Your brain can’t work that entire time. And realistically, you know you won’t work that entire time.
Instead, break that time down into smaller chunks of working time, or time blocks, which breaks in between.
For example, from 9-10:30 you’ll be working, from 10:30-11 you’ll be taking a break, checking social media, responding to emails, and so on. From 11-12:30 you’ll be working. From 12:30-1 you’ll be taking a break. From 1-2:30 you’ll be working. And from 2:30-3 you’ll be planning what you’re going to be working on the next day.
This not only gives you the structure to get a ton done but if you’re tempted to go check Facebook or answer that email, you know that you’ll be done with this time block in 30 minutes (or however much time is left) and you’ll be able to push that impulse back until then.
Plan Out Your Work
You should also keep your to-do list organized and schedule in one thing (and only one thing) to work on during each of your time blocks you created.
This prevents you from wasting time deciding what you’re going to work on in the moment.
It also helps you organize your projects so that you’re not jumping around. Because think back to what I said a little while ago, you want to work on one thing, then the next, and then the next so that you’re finishing one thing, and then the next, and so on.
Keep a Brain Journal
One of the biggest problems a lot of my clients have is that they’re constantly thinking of everything they need to do while they’re working. Again, it comes back to that monkey mind.
But in this case, it isn’t necessarily that your thoughts are all over the place. You just randomly think of something and don’t want to let it go because let’s be real here, once it’s gone, it’s gone.
I’m exactly the same way. If I don’t write something down the second I think about it, I forget.
So keep a little notebook on your desk or on your phone. And whenever you’re working (or doing anything) and something pops into your head, jot it down in that notebook.
Then, make sure you come back to that notebook every day to take stock of all the different things you wrote down. If you don’t, you won’t trust the process and will go back to your old, unfocused ways. This is always something you could do during those 30 minutes you set aside at the end of your day to plan the next day.
So now that you have a few tricks to help you stay focused, it’s time to get motivated.
Because you can spend all the time in the world preventing things from making you lose focus and start procrastinating, but if you aren’t really motivated to get the job done, then it’s all for nothing, right?
And I know from experience that when people think of “motivators” they think of their high school track coach screaming at them from the sidelines.
And while that may actually still work today, we, unfortunately, can’t live our lives with some middle-aged dude following us around screaming in our ears to keep going.
But there are ways to replace that in your face motivation with something a little more subtle.
In order to do that, though, you need to understand why that motivated you in the first place.
Because we’re all going to be motivated in different ways and by different things. What’s important to me isn’t necessarily important to you and vice versa.
So, to start, we need to find the source of your motivation.
Types of Motivation
And while there are a ton of different things that can influence your motivation, they’re all one of two things: things that intrinsically motivate you and things that extrinsically motivate you.
So let’s start there, and then we’ll dive into some solid ways for you to boost your motivation — and your productivity — going forward.
So first of all, intrinsic motivation is motivation that comes from within.
Maybe you’re motivated to start your own business because you want a career that lights you up. Because you want to feel good about the work you do.
Or maybe you’re motivated to lose weight because you want to feel more confident at the beach.
Or maybe you want to take a course so you’re more confident at work.
All of these are examples of intrinsic motivation.
Extrinsic motivation, then, is motivation that comes from an external desire.
Maybe you’re motivated to start your own business because you want to prove to someone (or the world) that you can do it.
Or maybe you’re motivated to lose weight because you don’t want people to judge you at the beach.
Or maybe you want to take a course so that you have more clout or authority in your field.
All of these are examples of extrinsic motivation.
How to Stay Motivated
And most of us will be motivated by intrinsic and extrinsic factors in different situations. The key here, though, is to recognize what motivates you.
So pay attention to the different things that motivate you on a day to day basis. For real, write them all down.
Create a List
Then, take that list of everything that motivates you, print it off, and stick it on your bulletin board. Or as the wallpaper of your computer. Or somewhere you can see it regularly.
Now take it a step further.
When you have a project to work on or something on your to-do list that you just don’t want to do, look at your list of motivators.
Think of all the different reasons you want to get it done, both intrinsic and extrinsic (one isn’t better than the other).
And then create a list for that project. And the next one. And so on.
This way, whenever you’re losing your motivation, you can glance back at that list and remember why it’s so important for you to stay on track.
Setting goals that you can methodically work towards is a great way to keep yourself motivated and on track.
In other words, don’t set a goal that has a gazillion different steps or some outcome that you can’t even picture in your current life.
Not only is that overwhelming — which we already said will lead to massive procrastination — but it also can make you feel that all the effort isn’t really worth it. Because it’s such a big goal, you may question whether it’s something you can actually do.
Instead, break it down into smaller pieces that you can easily knock out. And then break those smaller pieces down into the different steps you need to take to make it happen.
Let’s say for example that you want to build a million-dollar business. Going straight after that is super intimidating. And there’s a lot of work you have to put in to get to that level.
Instead, set goals that you could hit in a month or two. This will help you build the momentum you need to push through and eventually build that million-dollar business.
For example, working towards $10,000 a month. And I show you exactly how to do this in the Biz Planning Bootcamp, breaking it all down into the different steps you need to take to make that happen.
So yes, by all means, dream big. Then look at setting goals that will help you make that bigger dream a reality. Goals that you’ll knock out one after another, giving you the encouragement you need to keep going and keep pushing through, even when you don’t really want to.\
Give Yourself a Due Date
The next thing you can do to keep yourself motivated is to give yourself deadlines or due dates and then hold yourself accountable to them.
So when you’re going through a project and breaking it down into the different steps you need to take to get it done, give each step a hard due date.
You can do this for smaller stuff, too.
For example, if you want to publish a blog post every week, schedule in time to write a blog post every week. And if you aren’t motivated to write it then, find another way to hold yourself accountable.
One thing that I always do to hold myself accountable to my self-imposed deadlines is to send out an email to my list letting them know when something will be ready.
The only downside to this is that when life happens, I have to own the delay. But I’m cool with that.
But doing this really helps me push through and get everything on my to-do list done.
If you don’t have a big email list, you could always post it on social media. Or send out an email to just one client promising them something by a certain date.
Whatever it is, choose a date, making sure that you’re giving yourself enough time to get it done, and then announce it to the world so that you’re more likely to make it happen.
Change Your Scenery
Another reason people lose motivation when they’re working on something is because it’s super boring and monotonous. Maybe not the work itself. But doing the work.
I get writer’s block from time to time from this myself. Because seriously, sitting there staring at a computer screen all day can become a bit dull.
The quick fix? I change the scenery. I head over to Starbucks to write for the morning. Or to the park. Or even just out on my front porch. Just getting up from my desk or the recliner I normally write in gives me a total boost of energy and I get a ton more done.
Give Yourself a Break
Or, if you’re working yourself down, maybe you don’t need to push yourself harder at all. Maybe you need to give yourself a break.
I do this all the time. If I’m just completely drained, I’ll give myself a self-care day. Or a self-care afternoon. Or whatever I can give myself.
But having that time off where I’m not stressing about everything I need to do refills my energy. It gives me a breather.
Then I come back to it later that day or the next day ready to go again.
And, if I know I need a little me time and I ignore it, I eventually crash and burn. Then I’ll have an entire week where I get hardly anything done. Or everything that I do is just total crap.
Which is just a total waste of time any way you look at it.
So if I can avoid all of that just by giving myself an afternoon off from time to time, then it’s totally worth it.
Have a Plan
And finally, have a plan on what you’re going to do next time you’re lacking motivation.
Think back to why you lose focus. Why you procrastinate.
Plan for your distractions. Know what normally throw you off.
And then remember why it’s important for you to stay on track.
When you combine all of this together and then practice following through, it will eventually become easier and easier.
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