A rocket to the moon with no plotted course will just go around and around in orbit, but a rocket with a plan and a program behind it, which takes into account the prevailing conditions and the mechanics of the mission, will be set to hit its target.
In much the same way, keeping your eye on the prize is key to maintaining focus. You have to regularly check in on your plan, ask yourself how you're progressing and make the moves needed to ensure you're continually heading in the right direction. Attention to your plan drives sustained motivation.
But we often get distracted with all the external forces fighting every nano second of our attention and we distract ourselves, putting things off, placing our 'somedays' and 'tomorrows' on the 'once-we-have-achieved-XYZ' list.
According to a Workplace Distraction survey, nearly three out of four workers admit they feel distracted when they're on the job, with 16 percent asserting that they're almost always distracted.
Putting things off isn't keeping your eye on the prize; it's orbiting the moon; it's lost focus. So how do you tame the distractions that compete for attention, threatening to take you off track?
Get clear on why focus matters
- Why am I doing what I'm doing?
- Why am I really doing what I'm doing?
- How are things different because of what I'm doing?
- What is the impact I want to make?
If we don't identify our key driver, we can easily fall into the trap of distraction. Staying in the action zone takes determination, resilience, a hunger and a belief that what you're doing means something to you. Stephen Covey put this perfectly when he said, "The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing".
Ditch the temptation
Take ownership and set yourself up for success from the get go. Remove the temptation that you know you will face. If you want to improve your productivity at work, turn off social media notifications. If you are on a diet, empty the fridge of the not-so great foods. If Netflix is your temptation, pack up the TV. The less distractions you have, the more focused you will be on accomplishing your goals.
Celebrate the small stuff
Give yourself something to look forward to and plan a little reward for when you accomplish your goal. Having something to look forward to drives motivation and the anticipation of achieving the end goal.
In The Psychology of Rewarding Yourself with Treats, author Gretchen Rubin states that when we reward ourselves, "we feel energised, cared for, and contented, which boosts our self-command - and self-command helps us maintain our healthy habits".
Be kind to yourself
Even with the best-laid plans you are very likely to experience a momentary lapse of discipline and fall victim to distraction. It's hard to achieve 100% every day. If you stumble, acknowledge what happened and move on. Don't beat yourself up and then use this as an excuse to give up - accept, note the learning and move forward. The activity of paying attention to your goals and tracking progress is the element that will ensure constant improvement.
There is no doubt that avoiding distractions and maintaining focus takes effort. At one of Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference, the late Steve Jobs said, "You've got to say no, no, no". To Jobs, focus wasn't about willpower. It was about the courage to abandon 1000 great ideas to meet one big goal - and in the same way focus takes effort to fight off distraction and get the job done.