5 Tips To Supercharge Your Focus

We all have a limited ability to focus - about 4 hours a day or up to 90 minutes at a time, according to experts.

As a busy therapist, your time is valuable - so how can you get the most out of that time?

In This Episode, You'll Learn:

  • Some of the biggest distractors (and they're not what you might think!)
  • How to set up your physical workspace
  • How to minimize distractions
  • How to do deep work
  • Why single-tasking wins every time
  • How Pomodoro Technique can help you get more out of your time

Resources Mentioned In This Episode:

Focus Club

Click for full episode transcript

Uriah   Hello, and welcome to the podcast! I'm joined today by my co-host, Tracel. Exciting to talk to you again today!

Tracel   Yeah. I'm happy to be here.

Uriah    Yeah! So today we get to talk about five tips to improve your focus, which is something I think you and I both as well as everybody listening to this can always improve from time to time, right?

Tracel   Absolutely. You can always learn new tricks too. I mean, I feel like I'm pretty productive, but I'm always looking for a hack, as they say, a life hack.

Uriah   Yeah. Yeah. For sure. So my question for you to start off with is when you think about the times when you try to get things done and really get focused, what is the number one distraction that gets in your way?

Tracel   If I'm being honest, it's my phone.

Uriah   Sure.

Tracel  It’s my phone. Like, any notification, a text message. It's my phone.

Uriah   Yeah. Definitely. I would say for me, my first answer would have to be email, and that could be on my phone or my computer or anywhere else. But if I pop into my inbox at any given time, I'm immediately taken away from the thing that I should be doing.

Tracel  Right. Because how many times do you think this will take me just…I can answer to this. And the next thing you know, you've answered ten of them!

Uriah   30 minutes later!

Tracel  And you’ve lost a half an hour or more!

Uriah   Exactly! I’ve heard it said that your email inbox is somebody else's to do list for you.

Tracel  Ooooo I like that! That would be good to keep in mind.

Uriah   I know - it kind of is. So the goal here at Productive Therapist, and with this podcast really, truly is to help therapists get more done so that you can have more fun. Get the work done, make the impact that you want to make on the world and then go do other things and enjoy your life. Right?

Tracel  Right.

Uriah   So you can't be focused all the time. There's all kinds of studies out there that show that we actually have a limited capacity to intently focus. It's actually about 4 hours a day. Honestly.

Tracel  Wow.

Uriah   For most people. And not more than 90 minutes at a time, which is interesting. So they say if you work more than a certain amount of time in a given day, you have diminishing returns. So the importance of actually focusing when you have the energy and the ability to focus is super important. So the first thing we're going to talk about, actually, I'll list all five tips, and then we'll go through them one by one. So the first one is to set up your space. The second one is minimize distraction. Number three is write down your goals or intentions. Number four is commit to single tasking. And then number five is work in focused bursts. So Pomodoro technique - we can talk about that.

Tracel  Okay.

Uriah   So the first one, I know that you and I talk about this sometimes, but is really setting up your space - your physical space - to be conducive and ideal for getting things done. What are some things that you do to create a space where you can really be focused?

Tracel  Well, it's better if I'm in my office. There’s times - just because I need a change of pace - I’ll be in the living room, which causes more distraction! But wherever I'm at, my space has to be free of clutter; otherwise, it makes me crazy. And then I'm like, oh, you know what? I should be cleaning. I should, you know, and then I'm just distracted.

Uriah   Definitely. Yeah. I'm really particular about setting up my space. Even when two weeks ago, I traveled to Los Angeles to go to a conference, it was kind of funny to me, it’s funny to myself the amount of things that I brought to set up my little desk in the hotel, but I literally - I’m holding it up right now - I literally brought my leather mouse pad, my mouse, my external keyboard. I brought a big stand that puts the laptop up high.

Tracel  Wow!

Uriah   I brought, like, a tripod for my microphone. All this… I had my own little set up in the hotel room, so I'm kind of meticulous about that, as far as my desk and my chair and lighting and everything. And for me, too, sometimes when I really want to be focused, I put on headphones; especially if I'm home, where my family could be coming through the office space or whatever, and they're noise-canceling, so I can't really hear them, and they know that I'm 'in the zone.’ That really makes a big difference. So I'm going to do something on the podcast that I've never done before. We're going to take a quick pause, and I'm going to play an audio from my good friend and business coach, Katie Read, on how she sets up her space.

Katie   So what I do to set myself up for success when I need to focus. So for one thing, I turn off notifications, I close down everything except what I'm working on. I will tell my team I'm going into deep work mode right now, like, I'm not around for the next hour or two. The funny thing is, if I have to be creative at all, I have trouble doing it at my desk; I get, like, that’s such a sort of work mode for me, where I'm much more in organizer mode at my desk, sort of like executive functioning skills. So I will typically, if I need to do something creative, like if I need to write a bunch of emails or work on a website. I'll go sit on my bed a lot of the time or just somewhere else in the house just for a change of scenery. Or sometimes - it’s kind of ridiculous - we have an old used treadmill, and I have a board across the handlebars, and I will sometimes, if I have to write, I'll put my computer on there and I'll make it like a walking desk! And sometimes that really does help with creativity. And then when I'm doing that - because sometimes I have trouble typing that way, but I can do, like, voice typing that way. And so that can be helpful, you can just go in later and clean up all the errors, but typically that's it. And it's just sort of like time blocking, basically being like, okay, I just need to focus on this for right now, and I tell my team, too, If you need to do deep work and you want to be left alone, just tell us. Just be like, leave me alone; I'm not answering messages for a couple hours. I'm working on this. And that's what we do!

Uriah   Okay, we’re back. Thanks so much, Katie! So that's a little bit about setting up your space. A little bit different for everybody. Some people need to have certain ingredients, if you will, to make their space ideal for them. I like to actually have a refrigerator right next to me full of drinks and snacks. Honestly, whatever it takes for you to be in a place where you can get things done and not be distracted, that’s ideal, right? Which actually brings us to number two, which is to further minimize distractions. And honestly, distractions can be anything you can imagine. You could have no physical, audio or visual distractions around you, and you could simply be distracted by your own daydreaming, right? Or your own thoughts, whatever that might be. But there are a lot of things that get in our way. It might be a little bit different for you than it is for me or for Tracel, but certainly when it comes to notifications, especially ones with sound, that is a surefire way to take your focus away to something else. So I pretty much have none. Almost none. How about you?

Tracel  Really?

Uriah   Yeah.

Tracel  There's certain ones that I feel like I can't get rid of. I might need to think about that. I probably could get rid of them, but what I'll do instead is just turn my phone on airplane mode so that I can see them while I'm working.

Uriah   The only time my phone ever makes noise… well, it’s constantly on silent, actually, but it will buzz when a text message comes through. But I don't have any notifications for email or for social media for any of those things. So that is helpful. And I was actually in a work session today with the Focus Club members, which was fun. More about that later! And I was telling people that the most recent iOS update - so the iphone software - has something called Focus Mode, where you can actually designate certain times of the day where it's kind of like airplane mode, but it doesn't turn your phone off and you can customize it to who and what you want to come through at certain times.

Tracel  Oh that’s nice!

Uriah   Yeah! It’s a pretty good feature. I'm going to play around with it and probably post some info about how to dial that in.

Tracel  Yeah, that sounds good.

Uriah   So minimizing distractions also, for me, includes literally closing the tab on my email browser so that I can't see messages coming in because I don't know what it is about. Email is like my…

Tracel  Kryptonite!

Uriah   I can't resist it. Yeah, I was going to say my little rat brain, but that sounds terrible! Just constantly going back and getting that hit of dopamine. And then distractions can also be obviously people in your house. It could be animals, as we've talked about before. Any number of things. So you know what your Kryptonite is most likely. And then there's also those distractions that we we want, if you know what I mean. Like the things that when we know we should focus, we want to focus. But part of us wants to go do something else. ‘You know what? I probably should take the trash out.’ Or whatever!

Tracel  You never want to take the trash out, but it is better than the task you're suppose to be doing!

Uriah   Until it's time to write a blog post, or whatever! So really the idea here is set yourself up for success, because if you can follow all these tips, not perfectly, but just reasonably well, you're going to shorten the amount of time it takes you to accomplish that thing that you need to do, which is just better. And then you can go watch YouTube or TikTok - whatever you want, whatever your fantasy is! So number one is set up your space. Number two is minimize distractions. Number three - and this is probably not commonly mentioned, but before you really go into a time of focused work, I think it's a good idea to write down your goals or your intentions, and that could be on PostIt note, however you want to do that. I find that that's useful, and we do that actually in the Focus Club work sessions because it's helpful to set your intention for a period of time and then go actually execute on that with intention. Right?

Tracel  Right.

Uriah   I don't know if you have ever done that, but it's worth trying. I guess in some way the way that I used ToDoist could work for that as well, because actually, do you use the priority, the high priority, medium and low priority flags?

Tracel  Yes, I have used that.

Uriah   Okay.

Tracel  Yeah.

Uriah   Those are useful. And sometimes I'll click a button on there that only shows me my top priority tasks, so that's helpful. And it's usually only about three things. So I recommend doing that because anytime you sit down to do some type of work, whatever that might be, there's probably five or ten other things you could be doing and writing it down just kind of narrows your mindset towards one or two things.

Tracel  I love that idea. And then also, when you can check those goals off, you can feel great because you really have accomplished…you can visually see that you've accomplished something, whether you're doing it digitally or whatever.

Uriah   Yeah, it's true.

Tracel  I think that's a great tip.

Uriah   That's true. I'm going to start doing a little bit more of that. I was doing that a whole lot for a while. Every morning, I would actually pick out a physical card. Did I ever talk about that? I did.

Tracel  Well, I think so…please remind me.

Uriah   It’s this thing called The Analog. It's just called Analog, and it's basically a really nice wood tray that holds these physical cards that are really thick and they're nice to write on. And you just write down your priorities and you kind of - try to visualize this - but you sort of set the card into the holder and it kind of props it up right next to you, and then you can see your priorities, and then you can physically check them off with a pencil. And I found that helpful. And then I kind of got away from it but I'd like to get back to it because it really just helps me kind of consolidate what's important. So that's number three; number four is related to that which is commit to single tasking. And probably a lot of therapists out there and kind of have some knowledge of the studies that have been done on multitasking, and it doesn't look good for us humans!

Tracel  Single-tasking: that is such a foreign word! I don't understand!

Uriah   Yeah. And sometimes I'll use that at home because at times don't like to buy things that only have one function. When you can have a can opener that also does…that’s actually not a good example. Can openers only open cans! That's a singletasker! But you really can't focus on more than one thing at a time.

Tracel  Right.

Uriah   And when you start doing that, let's say you're trying to write an email while having a conversation with your partner. I can actually do both of those things, to my wife chagrin. I do that sometimes, but I am listening, but I'm not doing either of those things very well!

Tracel  Right.

Uriah  So single tasking is key. Do you ever go into that mode intentionally, or is that something to work on?

Tracel  No, I don't think that I do. And part of that is previous jobs that I've had, multitasking was essential to the job. It just kind of has infected, for a lack of a better word, the rest of my life, but I probably should give it a try.

Uriah   It's not easy to do, but it's worth doing. And if you're working on a computer, I mean, depends on what you're trying to, what your work is, but most likely it's probably on a computer. So I'll quit all the applications or I'll minimize everything except for the one thing that I'm working on. And there's ways you can hide the menu bar and various things on a computer. I mean, it's one of the reasons why I really like my Kindle, actually. I still use an ebook or not ebook, but in an e reader, because when I pick up my Kindle, guess what I can do with that?

Tracel  Just read - that’s it.

Uriah   I just read, I can't do anything else. And so if I'm just alone with my Kindle, I'm like, well, I guess I'll read! So singletasking is key. In our work session this morning for Focus Club, somebody asked, Can I work on two things during this period of time? And I said, Yes, absolutely; but one at a time. So that seemed to be a good direction. So number four is commit to single tasking. Number five is work in focused bursts. Like I mentioned before, there's a limited amount of time that we can actually stay focused and productive, and it's probably less than you think it is. I don't know; some people have more capacity than other folks, and sometimes when you get in the flow, you can be focused and effective for longer. But it's probably about 60 to 90 minutes, honestly. And that's more true if you're doing what they call Knowledge Work versus physical labor. Because I know you do like furniture restoration; sometimes you could probably go into your garage and restore a piece of furniture for 4 hours and be perfectly productive and effective at what you're doing. But if you're reading and answering emails for 2 hours, you're going to hit a point where you're like, boom, you hit a wall.

Tracel  Yes.

Uriah   I think that's really helpful. And some people might have heard of the Pomodoro Technique, which is something that I use from time to time. It's a good idea. Essentially, you just set a timer for 25 minutes. I'm not sure what's magic about 25, but that's the way it was kind of created. Set a timer for 25 minutes, and then you just work on one thing for that period of time. And then when the timer goes off, you're supposed to get up, walk around and take a break for three, four, five minutes, and then come back to work on another burst of time. You can do that any way you want with different amounts of time. But I would say keep it shorter. Shorter is better. Right?

Tracel  Right.

Uriah   Yeah. So those are the five tips. They're not super simple. They are simple, but they're not easy! That's what I'm trying to say! 

Tracel  Yes. Very true.

Uriah   So to recap, number one is set up your space. Number two, minimize distractions. Number three, write down your golden intentions. Number four, commit to single tasking, and number five work in focused bursts. And I know I can say this with certainty that Tracel and I are not sharing this from a place of absolute mastery; it’s more like a work in progress. And the other thing is, the more that you take on, the more you have on your plate to manage, the more you need to flex these muscles and get better at it. I found that true for myself because I've got two businesses and I've got about 28 employees, and I've got about 37 ideas that I want to change! And if I don't really get serious about my focus then I'm tanked, you know what I mean, right?

Tracel  Yes.

Uriah   Yeah. So I just want to take a quick mention of our newest program, which is a membership site called Focus Club. And it's an accountability program for therapists to really help you make progress on your big goals and dreams. It's got some really neat things included in it: monthly work sessions - there’s actually two of those; we’ve got a private community; you also get a quarterly coaching call with me, and you also get access to our VA team to get some one time projects done for a discounted price. There's some other benefits as well. But if that sounds interesting to you, go to ProductiveTherapist.com/Focus. And there's a Founding Member discount for the entire month of October, and we would love to have you on board for that. So there you go. Five tips to improve your focus. And thanks so much for doing this with me, Tracel, and talk to you soon!

Tracel  All right. Bye!

Uriah   Bye.

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