Struggling to focus? Find what works for you
Don't fall for articles suggesting "THIS ONE THING ALWAYS WORKS" or the "MUST DO TECHNIQUE USED BY ALL CEOS"... Finding things that work for you takes a bit of exploration and support.
As part of our ongoing series of articles on tackling lethargy, we’re looking at five ways to help restore more energy during coronavirus.
Many of our members have been reporting they’re simply struggling to get motivated to do work - the long weeks of lockdown, without an end in sight, with the same four walls around us every day, are taking their toll on our focus, our attention, and our motivation. It’s unsurprising perhaps, as many of us work hard to enjoy life - being able to go out, see friends, have a nice meal at a restaurant, go dancing and drinking, see a movie - but if those things are out of reach, and we have nothing but work, motivation can easily decline.
But our lack of motivation right now is more complex than just not having anything to look forward to - weeks of even low-level stress and concern about work, our health, and in recent weeks heightened tension from protests, all eat away at our ability to concentrate on tasks, or get into a state of flow.
Even if returning to a physical workspace might be on the cards, or the new business pipeline is picking up - it can feel that so much harder, because we’ve had so much time where focus and motivation has been so challenging - that coming out of lockdown is creating anxiety for many.
We’ll be looking at post-lockdown anxiety in the coming weeks - but for this week, let’s tackle low motivation, with a really simple technique called the Eisenhower Decision Matrix.
The original Eisenhower Decision Matrix is a simple square divided into four parts along two axis: Important and Urgent. So the top left box is “Important and Urgent” (probably things you should be doing right away), and the bottom right box is “Not Important, Not Urgent” (possibly things you shouldn’t be doing at all). You can read much more about the prioritisation technique here).
When it comes to low motivation however, it can help to look at your tasks on a similar matrix, but using slightly different axes: “Valuable to me” and “Exciting to me”. So in the top left box, you have things which are both valuable and exciting, and in the bottom right you’d have things which aren’t valuable and aren’t exciting - but this is where things differ. Rather than jumping on the things which are the most exciting and valuable to you first thing in the morning - do the opposite. Get stuck into the stuff which is valuable but not exciting. It doesn't matter what the labels are - you could say "worth money"+"want to do", or "important"+"i enjoy this", but as long as it is a combination of both importance and desire - you're on the right track!
Getting the important and valuable tasks which you don’t want to get done first means you’re using your energy on things that you probably don’t want to do, but need to get done; and then - when you’re flagging for energy, you have the things you really want to do, to look forward to. Your mental energy might be flagging, but here’s a task you’re excited about.
We tend to prioritise the things we want to do, and enjoy doing - but if we defer the tasks we aren’t looking forward to, to when we already have low energy - the chance of getting those tasks done is minimal.
Turning things on its head, and saving the best until last, means we’re doing the important work whilst we have energy, and giving ourselves more energy by having things we want to do subsequently.
If each of your tasks are sorted into these boxes, it also helps you to identify work which might be worth considering why you’re doing it at all - or to challenge your own definition of what valuable is - this can even help you figure out if a piece of work is good for you and your career development, and manage your own workload - so you can remove the work which isn’t adding value to your portfolio or pocket.
It’s worth pointing out that we don’t all have our energy in the morning, and flag in the afternoon - some of us are not great in the morning, and start to come alive later in the day. Design your schedule around when you have energy and can focus, rather than making the mistake of getting big chunky things done in the morning, if actually you’re more of focus in the afternoon kinda person. Keeping an energy journal can really help. Just set an alarm four times a day (early morning mid morning, mid afternoon, late afternoon) and note down what you’re doing, and how you’re feeling from an energy, motivation and focus perspective. Over a couple of weeks, you’ll spot your own patterns.
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