Categories
Productivity

The Power of Focus

Learn how to use focus stacking techniques in your daily routine to take back your work day and get more stuff done.

Do you ever feel overwhelmed? A sense of being out of control of your situation or circumstances?

If you do, don’t be discouraged!  We all feel this way from time to time and it is all too common for entrepreneurs.

A common phrase I hear a lot amongst my coaching clients is: “I have so many irons in the fire” or “I have a million plates spinning at once!”

In other words, these people have taken on a lot of different tasks/projects/responsibilities all at once.  

What ends up happening is quite the opposite of the intent:  In an attempt to get many things done, nothing gets done – because they have become too burnt out by taking on too much!

Even as someone who is excellent at dispensing advice on how to tackle this common misstep in entrepreneurship – I too find myself struggling with the feelings of overwhelm, anxiety, and becoming burnt out to the point of depression.

However, I have developed some techniques for giving myself a quick reset which I would like to share in a sincere hope that it will help others that may need it from time to time.

Step 1:  Become aware of the warning signs of overwhelm.

The first step to eliminating a problem is always coming to terms with the reality of your situation.  Some classic signs of overwhelm and over-stress:

  1. Feelings of anxiety
  2. Lack of interest in things that typically excite or motivate you
  3. Change in mood/behavior
  4. Change in sleep patterns (sleeping more or sleeping less)
  5. Racing thoughts, loss of focus

Step 2:  Be forgiving toward yourself and others.

The second step is understanding that your feelings are just feelings.  As Tony Robbins would say, they are manifestations of “The Mind.”  No one is out to get you.  No one is standing in your way.  

Make it a priority to separate your feelings from the external world around you, and be forgiving of yourself for feeling the way you feel, and likewise, be forgiving of how others perceive the external manifestations of your feelings in your behaviors.

Step 3:  Take Control of Overwhelm by Focus Stacking

Focus stacking isn’t something I came up with.  In fact, it has been a technique that has been used by many highly productive people and “wrapped” under different terms over the years.  

One popular tool that is in essence, a way of focus stacking, is a “Kanban” board.  It looks like this:

 To-Do  Work in Progress  Done
 

To Do Item 1

 To Do Item 2

 To Do Item 3

Take Action Item 1

Take Action Item 2

Take Action Item 3

Completed Item 1

Completed Item 2

Completed Item 3

This is what one of my Focus Stacking boards looks like in my office:

focus stacking whiteboard
My “K-Kan” focus stacking whiteboard.

As you can see, it’s a simple whiteboard that I have divided into sections.  Each section has items in it depending on their current status.  

I prefer physical boards like this over virtual ones, but there are several online tools that I use in conjunction when I am not in my office and need to keep track of things that work quite well.  

Online Tools to Help You with Focus Stacking

You may want to consider signing up to one of these, depending on your specific needs and preferences – the free versions of each should be more than adequate for an individual, however, if you are operating a business with a team greater than the sum of yourself, the monthly/yearly plans are quite reasonable and worth the investment:

  1. Trello
  2. Freedcamp
  3. Asana

The key to successful focus stacking is to not stack any more than 3 items at any point in time.  By visually “stacking” your tasks and projects, you can easily conquer each one methodically and this reduces the feelings of stress, anxiety, and overwhelm associated with multitasking.  

Set Aside Blocks of Time for Each Task

Another key is to set aside blocks of time for each task.  

I try to never spend any more than 30 minutes at a time on one task.    If I cannot complete a task in 25 minutes, I move on to the next task and work on it for 25 minutes.  Then, I rotate the tasks until I have completed each one.

I use a time tracking app on my phone called Focus Keeper (via Apple App Store) to block my time and keep me accountable.  I take short breaks (about 10 minutes) after every 25-minute block and reward myself with a 25-minute break after four 25 minute cycles. 

If you're looking for something that will really hold you accountable  – there is a desktop application like RescueTime that not only tracks the amount of time you spend on websites and applications but will also block them for set periods of time so that you can focus only on what needs getting done without having the temptation or distraction of looking at those funny cat videos 

Conclusion

To summarize, how you deal with your feelings and emotions associated with dealing with too much at once is in your capacity to separate what you can control over what you cannot.   

You cannot control what others do, for example.  But you can control the amount of work you take on, and the output of effort required for each task.   

Mastering this important skill set will help you move methodically forward toward accomplishing everything you want to accomplish in business, at home, and at work.

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