Life swirls out of control—that's just what it does.
As I write this email my wife is texting me telling me that our 1-year-old daughter refuses to sleep, insists on being carried around all day, and is making an absolute mess of our house. Not to mention that my 6-year-old is sick and our 9-year-old needs to get picked up from tae kwon do class. Through this all, we still have a house to run, jobs to keep (and do well), and a relationship to preserve.
So believe me when I say that I know how it feels to be frazzled. Whether you have kids or not, if you’re like most Americans, at some point you will feel absolutely exhausted and overwhelmed, and therefore unproductive. But it’s bigger than that because over time, that "frazzled" feeling can lead to apathy and even depression.
It’s important to take charge and have a plan to build a sense of inner calm and stability. In this article, I share 10 simple tips I find helpful with the hope that they might help you, too.
1. Do everything with passion.
If you're doing the dishes, do it with passion. If you're writing a report for work, do it with passion. Going to fill up the gas tank in your car? Do it with passion. Spending time with your kids, reading them a story or playing a game? Do it with passion. They'll feel it, and you'll feel it.
This is how you develop a skill of focus: by making everything that you do matter. Your intention on the task at hand will make the receiving party not only feel valued and cherished, but it will train your mind to stay present.
Action Item: Go through your day acting with passion. Every conversation you have, really focus on the person you're speaking to. Every task that you're doing, no matter how mundane, focus your attention on that particular task so that you do it well, attentively, and mindfully. Repeat this for a few days and notice how quickly you're able to build this skill of focus and how quickly it loves you back.
2. Start practicing gratitude.
Learn to be grateful when you receive something or get something. By being grateful, you're training your mind to focus on the present situation. It causes you to become more aware of your present opportunities, of your present relationships, and the steps that you need to take to accomplish your goals.
Be thankful for your hardships. Be thankful for your setbacks. Be thankful for the people in your life, and be thankful for your situation. Notice that by being grateful, you're developing your ability to expand so you start to see opportunities that you didn't see before.
Action item: Think about three obstacles you're facing in your life. Imagine that these three things are preventing you from achieving your goals. Here’s where you’re going to play a massive trick on your subconscious mind. Rather than thinking about them in a negative way, be thankful. Mentally list reasons that you're thankful for those obstacles. This powerful trick will help you build your ability to focus because you're training your brain to look for the good in every situation.
3. Become ruthless with your time.
Our focus is often dissipated because we allow non-urgent tasks to distract us. The best way to prevent this is to have a daily to-do list and work exclusively on the items on your to-do list every single day. Having everything written down will help you determine where you will focus your energy, your effort, and your time.
By preplanning your day, you're developing the skill of focus so that you dedicate yourself to your most important tasks, which you define for yourself ahead of time rather than allowing distractions to come and steal your focus.
Action Item: List out everything that you have to do today, and don't go to sleep tonight until you have accomplished them. If you have not, then carry those action items over to your list for tomorrow, and make sure that you only focus on getting those items done. Doing this will change your life. Trust me.
4. Learn how to master your priorities.
Now that you have your to-do list, the goal is to build feelings of accomplishment and achievement so that you have the confidence to tackle your larger, more complicated tasks. Focus on things like making your bed every day, checking your voicemails and returning phone calls, and clearing out junk mail. Declutter! Doing low-effort tasks like these builds your self-confidence and your self-image by creating a powerful visual cue for you to look at. Seeing these items crossed off on your to-do lists gives you the feeling of a sense of accomplishment. You view yourself as a doer.
These feelings of self-accomplishment and motivation will then carry over to your larger, more complicated tasks, allowing you to focus on those and accomplish them with ease.
Action Item: Your action item is to look at your to-do list right now and cross off everything that you can do in under two minutes. This is a simple trick that I learned from David Allen and his classic productivity book, Getting Things Done. It's extremely powerful because not only will you feel accomplished, but you'll be able to use this sense of accomplishment and channel it to larger tasks.
5. Focus on how you eat.
Most of us eat way too much and way too fast. In this step, be mindful and pay attention to when you eat. Appreciate the flavors and textures. Chew slowly and enjoy your food. It's a very simple technique, but by focusing on what you eat, you not only get the health benefits of eating better, but you train your mind to stay and to remain in a state of focus.
Action Item: At your next meal, sit down at a table and eat. No television. No cellphones. Eat your food consciously and mindfully focusing on how it tastes and how it feels. If you're eating with someone, focus on them and the conversation. Finally, listen to your body and focus on how you feel as you're eating. When you feel full and satisfied, stop eating, no matter what's left on your plate.
6. Get your sleep in order.
If you're tired and not eating well, obviously, you won't be able to have the energy to stay focused on your day-to-day tasks. Eating properly and sleeping properly go hand in hand. Focus on going to bed at the same time every night. Get used to knowing and feeling when your body starts to get tired.
Rather than fighting it by firing up Netflix or wasting time on the internet, get yourself ready for bed. Pay attention to how you feel, and start structuring your day and your evening so that you go to bed when your body is telling you that it needs rest.
Action Item: Plan out your evening tonight. Set a bedtime and stick to it.
7. Create a peaceful environment.
Nothing drains focus like disorganization and clutter. To stay focused, you need to be in an environment that allows you to do that. Being in a messy, cluttered, jumbled location doesn't foster the serenity and sense of calm that will help you to home in on the task at hand.
Action Item: Look at the space around you, whether it's your office, your car, or your bedroom, and work to clean it up and make it orderly and organized and relaxing. If you have kids (like me), then make a game out of it. We give each kid a bag and have them fill it up with junk and toys that need to be put away. Whoever collects the most stuff wins.
8. Reward yourself.
Make a game out of completing your daily tasks. You want to build positive associations around accomplishing your goals because you'll channel these feelings of accomplishment into bigger goals.
Action Item: Think of a reward that you’ll have if you accomplish your goals—don't give yourself the reward until you accomplish them.
9. Focus on your posture.
We've all heard that sitting is the new smoking. Work on your posture. When you’re sitting at your desk, when you’re standing in line at the store, or when you’re at home watching TV, make sure that your head is upright, your shoulders are back, and your spine is neutral. Not only is this good for your health, but it trains your ability to focus.
Action Item: For the entire day, straighten your back, pull your shoulders back, and keep your head upright. Notice how good it feels and do this throughout the day.
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