Doing The Work - How To Stay Focused
The planning, research, and organizing are for getting yourself to this point. The work is any task or goal you want to complete. Doing the work is easy. You just do it. If you want to exercise, go to the gym. If you want to lose weight, just eat healthier. Yet, for how straightforward it is, there are an endless amount of diet programs, an endless amount of exercise programs, and an endless amount of productivity tips. If doing the work was easy, everyone would do it.
In practice, doing the work is difficult. The brain prioritizes immediate gratification over long-term goals. It tries to persuade you to take an easier path - to procrastinate. You must override this feeling and remain focused on the essential. While there is no magical formula, we can tackle this problem by splitting it into two parts:
- Starting the work
- Maintaining a steady pace of focused work
Starting The Work
Starting is difficult. Every day, anytime, you are about to begin a task, there is a good chance that you will feel resistance to start. It’s natural. Internalizing this phenomenon is helpful because it should give you the confidence to battle through the initial discomfort. When the resistance comes, you will welcome and expect it. So repeat after me: “Starting is difficult. I will have a difficult time starting, but I committed a time to do the work, and I will do it.”
However, once you start, you usually have an easy time to keep going. The beginning is often the hardest. To utilize this, even if there is not an inch of your body that wants to do the work, make a rule with yourself: go through the motions and work for at least 5 minutes. That’s 5 minutes more than 0 - at least you tried. You will often find that the 5 minutes give you enough momentum to keep going for hours.
Maintaining a Steady Pace of Focused Work
Always aim to be 100% focused on a single task. No multitasking. If you get distracted (and you will) get back to work. Doing anything unrelated to the original task opens a window of chance where you may lose focus, so your job is to minimize those possibilities.
Focus on the process, not the goal. If you run a marathon and keep thinking “23 more miles to go,” “22 more miles to go,” you will quickly demoralize yourself. Instead, run mile by mile, celebrate the little wins, and before you know it, you will have crossed the finish line.
Time your work and rest (also known as the “Pomodoro technique”). Set up a timer and work for 1 hour, then take a break for 15 minutes, and then repeat. Timing your work and rest is a great way to keep yourself accountable. A timer makes sure that the work does not get cut short, and that the breaks do not go on for too long. Additionally, the structure helps with motivation because it splits tasks into manageable chunks - placing focus on the process, not the goal.
“The most significant constraint, as with all kinds of exceptional performance, is mostly likely to be our willingness to do the difficult work required.” — Geoff Colvin
- "The War Of Art" by Steven Pressfield
- Must read. An insightful perspective on the persistence that is required to do great work.
- “The Practicing Mind” by Thomas M. Sterner
- The book presents a simple framework on how to maintain a steady pace of work.
- "What is Actually Required For Success?" by James Clear