Many people are entranced by the latest tool or gadget to help them be more organized and productive.  “I need to get a Smartphone,” or “This app will make my life so much easier.”  But oftentimes it’s not the tool that will help you get more done, but rather how you are spending your time when you are trying to get things done.  Getting things done efficiently requires FOCUS.  However, in today’s world of easily accessible distractions (e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, the web) and constant interruptions (from colleagues, phones, and all the bells and alerts set to remind you of what you need to do next), focus can be a challenge. What follows are six tips for helping you to achieve better focus.

Define Your Goals

– If you don’t have a sense of the big picture of what you need to accomplish, you will have a VERY hard time prioritzing your time.  Be very specific in what you are trying to achieve whether it’s a life goal (“I want to retire by the time I’m 52,”) or a project related goal (“I want to increase my customer base by 25% by the end of the year.”)

Ensure Your Passion

– You spend so much time doing things because you think you should or someone is telling you to.  When you’re passionate about your goals and direction, you are more likely to stay focused on the steps to get you there.

Use Time Blocking

– Schedule time for focused activities.  Turn off all external interruptions, set a timer, and focus on the task at hand.  Time blocks can be anywhere from 40 to 90 minutes, and should be followed by restorative activities in order to keep you energized.

Be In The Moment

– If your biggest interruptor is your own thoughts, use the “Be Here Now” technique.  When you notice your thoughts wandering, say to yourself, “Be here now.” and return to what you were working on.  If your mind wanders again, repeat the phrase, “Be here now,” and bring your attention back to what you are working on.  Keep doing this and eventually it will be habit.

Schedule “Worry Time”

– Oftentimes negative thoughts will creep into your focus time (e.g. “I can’t do this,” or “How will I ever pay for college?” or “I hope Bill returned the call to customer x.”).  Don’t let these thoughts derail you!  Schedule “worry time” into your day instead.  It can be 5 minutes or whatever length you determine, but you need to schedule the time and commit to it.  When distracting thoughts enter your mind, remind yourself that those are for your “worry time” and move on.

Practice, Practice, Practice

– Focus is like a muscle in your body, the more you use it, the stronger it will become.  It may take planning and discipline to improve your focus, but if you commit to the practice you will eventually become an expert.

I encourage you to continue to use some of the great productivity tools that are available to you, and there are some great ones out there.  However, you also may want to take a step back and stop chasing the latest gadget or tool that you think will save your sanity and make you more productive.  Work on your focus technique and relish in how much more you get done!