The science of how to stay focused: Psychology, habits, and

How to focus on something?

Focus / February 1, 2022

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Part 1

Prioritizing Tasks
  1. Write down everything you need to do. If you're feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and unfocused, making a list is the easiest and quickest way to simplify and help you plan an attack. To learn what you need to focus on now and how to put everything else in the background, make a list of the things that are pressing on your mind.
    • Short-term tasks should be things that are urgent. What needs to be done today, or by the end of the week? You decide the time frame, but try to keep it as urgent as possible.
    • Long term goals are also important, but only if you translate them into a list of specific short-term things that you can do. If "Become a doctor" is on your list of long-term goals, and is stressing you out, it's not something that you're going to be able to make happen before lunch. But you can start researching med schools.
  2. Order the list. How you choose to assign importance to the tasks and prioritize them will depend on you and on your list, but there are several ways of going about it and making your job easier. Don't spend too much time tweaking the list, go with your gut instinct and get things in order so you can get started.Image titled Focus on One Thing Step 2 One way is the A, B, C method, which breaks down tasks by:
    • A: Must-do, very important tasks that must be done today. Example: Finish the report today by the 4:30 deadline.
    • B: A task that may not be immediate, but will become an "A" priority eventually. Example: Get all tax documents together in order to file by next month.
    • C: Tasks of least importance, although needs to be done. Example: Shred duplicate file.
    • Organize according to importance. Identify the most important tasks on your list and put them at the top, ranking them according to how critical the task is to you. So, if you've got to write a term paper today, put away your laundry, and return a RedBox DVD, the tasks should probably be in that order.
    • Organize according to difficulty. For some people, putting the most difficult tasks up front and getting them out of the way is the best way to approach a to-do list, while others prefer to start small and progressively get bigger.Image titled Focus on One Thing Step 3 It might be easier to focus more on reading a chapter for your history class if you get your math homework out of the way first.
  3. Estimate how much time you’ll need to accomplish each task. Next to each item, it can be helpful to draw up a brief estimate of how much time it'll take you to actually complete it. Again, don't spend a lot of time calculating, or stressing over this detail. You don't even need an actual number, just break each item into a category called "Quick" or "Slow" so you'll know when to assign each task.
    • If you know you won't be able to complete all your history research in the ten minutes you have to get something started, you can put it in the back of your mind and do something else instead with your time. Start the laundry, or write up a thank-you note to someone you've been meaning to get in touch with. That's using your time wisely.
  4. Image titled Focus on One Thing Step 4Pick the first thing you need to do. After giving some consideration to time and the importance of the tasks, you'll have to put something at the top of the list. Decide what it is that demands your attention right now at this instant and put it there. It might be the most important thing on the list, or the most timely, but whatever it is, it's something that you're going to do and work on until it's finished, or finished-enough for your purposes.
  5. Put the list away. Be confident and secure in knowing that you've made a to-do list and you can put it away and ignore it for a while. Once you know what task you're going to complete right now, having the list looming over you will just be distracting and will keep you scattered. Put the list away, in a drawer, or somewhere else you won't be able to see it. Nothing else matters right now but the thing on the top of your list.
    • Desktop stickies are great little reminder tools for a lot of people on their laptops, but consider hiding them when you've really got to focus on something. Don't be stressing about the party you've got to get organized for later if you're writing a term paper. Put the list out of your mind by putting it out of sight.
  6. Make a "To-Don't" List. Make a list of things that will not happen right now. Although counter-inuitive, removing tasks from your mental list helps you free yourself to do the things that you really need to do. For example:
    • You will have to work late. Therefore, you cannot make dinner tonight.
    • Your cross country meet conflicts with the yearbook meeting. You can't do both.
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