There’s a great tool I’ve used for years to force myself to focus on one thing at a time: the Action Machine by Derek Franklin.
I choose my one to three things to get done that day (see this post for more on that) then set the order of the focus blocks.
A “focus block” is simply a block of time focussed on only one thing. Experiment with how long works for you. I work best with 50 minute focus blocks, so my timer is set to:
1 x 50 minute focus block
1 x 10 minute relax block
1 x 50 minute focus block
1 x 30 minute relax block
The four blocks put together form a “timer block”.
Each focus block relates to one particular thing I want to get done. The two blocks in a timer block could have the same focus, or be completely different. It all depends how long the task will take.
You need the relax blocks between the focus blocks to get the most value out of the focus blocks. During the focus block, if you think of something that needs to be done, just write it down on a pad and go do it during your relax block.
The key here is that until that timer runs out, you don’t do anything other than the thing you said you were going to focus on.
Before you hit go on the timer for the focus block, turn your phone off or to airplane mode. Close your email and shut down your browser (save the tabs if necessary). Even if your focus block requires the internet, closing your browser allows you to clear all the distracting websites begging for you to check them out.
Get a drink of water, tea or coffee, go to the toilet, whatever you need to do so that you can just sit down and do whatever you decided to focus on. If you need to eat, do it before you start or hold off til the next relax block.
The timer has an almost magical way of forcing you to keep going. I often find myself getting distracted around the half hour mark, but as the timer hasn’t gone off, I have to push through that. I end up doing a lot more productive work that way.
There’s a bigger break after the second focus block to give you time to eat or do other things that take a while. If you’ve focussed during the two focus blocks, you’ve well and truly deserved an extended break!
Once the bigger break is over, hit the reset button, then start again on the next task.
One of the best things about the Action Machine is that if you’re working on your computer, it’s REALLY hard to ignore when the timer goes off. It has a cool alarm tone (which you can change if you like), but even if you have the sound off, the Action Machine brings itself in front of whatever you’re doing. You actually have to click it to acknowledge the timer has gone off if you want to go back to whatever you were doing.
The reason I recommend the Action Machine over, say the egg timer method is that you only need to set up the timer block once. You can even set up different timer blocks if that’s what you need. You don’t have to adjust the countdown timer whenever you move to a different block.
This is not a system for people who work away from their computers. But it’s perfect for us web-workers or writers. It’s also great for office workers, if your system administrator will allow you to install it. If they don’t, just run it off a thumb drive.
So go check out the Action Machine and let me know how it goes for you.