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Opinion: How to find razor-sharp focus in the age of distraction

You can be productive and creative – but first you need to focus.

Image: Mark Hunter via Flickr/Creative Commons

IT HAS BEEN said that there’s only one thing that all creative genius has in common. From Einstein to Picasso, da Vinci to Beethoven they all shared a common trait – and it wasn’t a massive brain or a wealthy benefactor.

The one thing they had in common was the power of focus, the ability to remove the multitude of distractions of life and focus on the job at hand.

Could you call yourself a creative genius, or would you like to? Well, many years ago Confucius said: “He who chases two rabbits catches none”. Now that’s well and good if you live in the mountains and there are never more than two rabbits on the scene. But the reality is, that most of us have a multitude of rabbits running around and, unfortunately, we all know how those things multiply.

We live in a world where information overload and distraction are part of everyday life. A world where so much is expected of us, where having too much to do has become the norm – if we only had two rabbits we would be doing quite well.

So how do we manage the modern world of distractions and actually get stuff done?

Digital detox

Try a digital detox. Commit to switching off for at least an hour a day. No phones, no iPads, no email. Avoid TV and radio and value stillness.

Not only will the time you spend unplugged help you to focus but it will also make you more aware of the times you are being overwhelmed constant connectivity and noise.

Clear the clutter

Start by clearing the clutter, from both your personal and work life. Clean your desk, tidy your office, clear out the spare bedroom and clear your mind.

Do a weekly ‘mind download’ – get everything out of your head and dump it onto paper. Once all the things you have to do are out of your head you will need to add the tasks to a system to help get them done.

Use a ToDo app like Todoist or Wunderlist to store your tasks. Capture ideas and research in Evernote and schedule work to be done in your calendar. The calendar is one of your strongest tools for beating procrastination. What gets scheduled gets done.

So getting organised will be your first step to greater focus and creativity; but another way to improve your focus is to create habits that will improve your chances of getting what you want…

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Create helpful habits

US President Obama once said: “I never want to make decisions about what I am wearing or what I am eating – I have too many other important decisions to make.”

Habits automate the work we have to do and if we can create more productive habits of being organised we will free up mental space for creative and strategic thinking… and for doing more of the fun stuff.

Spend some time daily to:

  • Remove the distractions (switch off, disconnect, unplug)
  • Remove the clutter (tidy up, clear up, clean up)
  • Create the space in your calendar to plan work to do.

But the most important thing to remember in all of this is to take control.

Don’t play victim, when you say you don’t have enough time, it means that you are playing victim. There are always hours to spare, you just have to want it more than your gadgets.

Show up, schedule time for it and it will get done. Organise the rest of your life and your creative genius will shine through.

Ciara Conlon is a Productivity Coach and author of Chaos to Control a practical guide to getting things done. She helps busy professionals save time and get focused. If you would like help getting organised and setting goals for 2014, Check out her online course Get Set for Success


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