About a year ago I came up against my biggest obstacle in my career as a freelance copywriter.
I had just taken on a big name client and I was so excited.
“This was it.” I thought, “My big break!”
However, no matter hard I tried, I just couldn’t be productive enough to keep up with all of the work involved.
What was wrong with me?
Staying focused took Herculean effort.
Everyday I had to force myself not to get sucked into email, clickbait, and other computer distractions.
With my family buzzing around outside of my office door, and a million chores to do around the house, it seemed impossible to separate my personal life from my professional life.
And without a boss to breath down my neck every minute, it was all too easy to forget about my work priorities.
The truth is, I had a big opportunity to make a lot of money AND bolster my reputation, but I blew it.
I felt an unbearable amount of guilt for letting my client down. I was so ashamed that I didn’t take another client for months.
Instead, I started a long and crazy journey to figure out how to stay on task, get more focused, and become more productive.
After this big client screw up, I sought out professional help to find out if there was a reason for it all.
While on my quest for more productivity, I paid a visit to a psychiatrist.
The doctor diagnosed me with ADHD.
Learning about my condition accidentally put me on an accelerated course to becoming a productivity expert.
I learned more and more ways to stay focused and productive, and I even invented several of my own original strategies.
It wasn’t long before I realized that other work-from-home professionals could seriously benefit from what I’d discovered.
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Why is it so hard to focus when you work from home?
For years, I’ve been running into other work-from-home professionals who keep saying things like:
- “If only I could stop procrastinating…”
- “I keep putting off the important things…”
- “I keep losing track of the big picture.”
- “I keep getting distracted by email and social media.”
- “It’s hard to stay focused at home.”
- “I just can’t get enough done.”
Whether or not these professionals have ADHD like me, I sure felt like I could relate to their struggle. In fact, working from home as a freelance copywriter WHILE having ADHD only helped me to see the problem more clearly.
I’d come to understand the nature of distraction and procrastination, what’s more, I knew that my techniques would be even more effective for people who didn’t have ADHD.
MYTH: You Need More Motivation
Some people say they’re not productive because they aren’t motivated enough. I think that’s flat out bogus.
Do you mean to tell me that you don’t want a better life for yourself and your family? You mean to tell me that you don’t want all of the security, luxury, fun, adventure, opportunity and fulfillment that more productivity can create?
I’m going to take it as a given that you already have all the motivation you need to be more productive. Not only that, I’m going to challenge you to completely rethink the notion that you don’t have enough motivation.
If you keep telling yourself you aren’t motivated, the implication is that there’s something fundamentally wrong with you for not being productive.
You might conclude that you’re lazy, stupid, a loser, or that you aren’t worthy enough for your goal in the first place.
Isn’t that crazy?
Here you are trying to find the motivation to be more productive, but you only end up deciding that you’re too defective to be productive in the first place. This type of thinking is not only wrong, it’s counterproductive.
Having ADHD qualified me to be the best possible judge for the productivity strategies that really worked. First of all, I really needed solutions that were guaranteed to work because my career depended on it.
A lot of folks are okay with getting attached to a gimmick that isn’t all that effective, but not me. My criteria was simple:
I would only consider a productivity hack to be truly worthwhile if it worked as well as my prescription ADHD medication or better.
This is what I discovered…
There are three ways to really move the needle when it comes to being more focused and productive.
- Energize your mind and body
- Minimize the distractions in your environment
- Eliminate the #1 time thief in your life
How your mind and body influence your focus
I’m already assuming you know that sleep, exercise and nutrition have a major impact on your ability to focus and be productive. As I learned more about ADHD, I learned more about why these elements are so important.
Basically, we all have a hormone called dopamine. The more dopamine that we have available to us in the brain, the easier it is to focus at will. Sleep, exercise, and nutrition all have a powerful impact on the amount of dopamine we produce everyday.
Now, there are lots of ways to improve these three key areas immediately. I’m kind of a mad scientist, so most nights I sleep with an eye mask and earplugs, and I track my sleep quality with an app called Sleep Cycle.
I also eat a low carbohydrate breakfast with lots of protein and fibre, and I take fish oil everyday because some studies indicate that works 40% as well as Ritalin for improving mental focus…
But the biggest productivity breakthrough came in the realm of exercise. I invented a very simple workout which has worked wonders for improving my mental clarity and focus. I call it…
The Pomodoro Workout
You may have heard about the Pomodoro Method before. With this technique you’re supposed to alternate between work and rest for twenty five minutes and five minutes respectively. Thousands of people (including myself) have confirmed that it’s a great way to keep focused and productive.
I’d been using the Pomodoro Method for a while with good results, but then I thought of a way to make this technique even more powerful.
One day I was devouring another ADHD book and learning about the connection between exercise and improved focus. The book suggested that exercise was one of the best ways to give your brain an instant shot of dopamine, and therefore, an instant boost of focus.
Whenever you started to feel mentally foggy, the author recommended doing one minute of jumping jacks. It didn’t take long for me to put two and two together. Soon I added mini workouts to my Pomodoro routine, thus the Pomodoro Workout was born…
The Pomodoro Workout is the best strategy I’ve come across for consistently maintaining a laser focus all throughout the day. I work in the classic Pomodoro style: 25-minute intervals of work and 5-minute intervals of break, but there’s a twist!
During my break, I normally do a low intensity workout for 2 minutes. Some of the workouts I do regularly include jumping jacks, squat jumps, lunges and pushups. After one to two minutes my mind is fresh and energized.
Truth be told, there’s hundreds of plyometric workouts to choose from and you should go with what you’re most comfortable with. Look no further than the Plyometrics Wikipedia page for all the inspiration you need.
Now keep in mind that you don’t have to break the biggest sweat ever. You just have to get your heart rate up slightly for your brain to start ramping up its dopamine production.
Minimizing distractions in your environment
If you want to get more productive, you’ve got to learn what some people call ‘the flow state’. This state of mind is characterized by three criteria:
- Your mind is totally relaxed
- You’re totally gridlocked to your work
- You’re in a highly creative state of mind
Unfortunately, you can’t get into this state if you’re stressed out and there’s lots of distractions in your work environment. I have a works-every-time trick that always helps. It’s called…
Total Distraction Lockdown
Here’s what I do:
Whenever I sit at my computer, the first thing I do is ensure that all click-baity websites are blocked right away. I use an app called Self Control. It’s fantastic. It blocks me from any website I blacklist. My list includes every social media website and most news websites. I usually set my app to a 3½ hour timer. Once it’s on, there’s no possible way to get distracted by those websites – not even if I delete the app or restart my computer!
For step two of the Total Distraction Lockdown, I get some noise cancelling headphones so I won’t get distracted by any noises. I still found myself getting distracted by noises because I didn’t invest in the fancy $300 headphones, so I started wearing earplugs AND headphones. With both, I’m certified deaf!
With both visual and auditory distractions at a bare minimum, I added a third step to my Total Distraction Lockdown routine: these soothing study playlists.
Instrumental music is extremely good for getting relaxed, quieting the mind and getting into a steady work rhythm. When combined with the Self Control app and noise cancelling headphones, I’m able to get into a deep state of flow virtually any time that I choose…
How to eliminate the number one time thief in your life
I believe there is an invisible thief of our time and productivity. Every single day we rub against it like sandpaper, and it adds friction to lives and slows us down. Eventually, all of those lost seconds snowball into an avalanche of wasted time. That dastardly thief is your memory.
Before I learned about ADHD, sometimes I’d waste a good hour per day searching for things that I’d misplaced.
I’d lose my keys, my phone, I almost never had a pen when I needed it, and there were a whole host of office supplies that I could never seem to find, such as rulers, staplers, glue-guns, etc.
In addition to losing stuff around the office, I could never remember my schedule. Looking back, it makes perfect sense that I was a chronic procrastinator – I was like the Tazmanian devil bouncing from one thing to another.
If you can relate to what I’m describing then I’ve got good news. You can put all of those days behind by…
Firing Your Memory
We’ve all heard the old saying that the shortest pencil is better than the longest memory. I do whatever I can to avoid using my memory, and instead, rely on systems and technology.
Yes, calendars and to-do lists are very important, and I use them everyday, but Firing Your Memory goes way beyond that.
I don’t try to remember ANYTHING. Nothing. Nada. Instead I use the Reminders app on my phone to do all of my remembering for me. I have my reminders organized into several categories. This makes the app exponentially more useful.
My first category is called To-Dos. These are basic reminders for any one-time task or appointment that I may want to do at any time in the future. For example, remembering to call my bank next week…
The second category is for Daily reminders. These are great for establishing daily habits. For example, I have a daily reminder to stop drinking coffee after 3p.m.
The third category is for Recurring reminders. These are for reminders that happen in consistent but varying intervals. For example, I have a weekly reminder to review my household budget.
The fourth category is for Birthdays and Anniversaries. That pretty much explains itself. Now I get to remember my niece’s birthday without fail every year!
The fifth category is for Expiration Dates. That way I remember to renew my various documents like my driver’s license before it becomes an emergency.
Also, stop wasting time looking for lost items!
To avoid losing things, I’ve made everything really difficult to misplace.
I tie everything down!
Like my house keys:
And my tools and stationery (I bought a bunch of snap-release lanyards here):
I also keep a Tile tracker on my keys so that I definitely never lose them. Check it out on Amazon. The Tile tracker also keeps track of my cellphone so I can’t ever waste time looking for that either:
When it comes to Firing Your Memory, these tips are only the tip of the iceberg.
The bottom line is, if something’s impossible to forget, then you don’t have to waste time trying to remember it. I’ve internalized this principle in every aspect of my life and I estimate that I’ve reclaimed between one and two hours per day of lost time.
Guest Author: Anton Volney is a direct response copywriter and a LinkedIn profile writing expert. He can help you attract up to 50% more clients, customers, and job offers right away with his free eBook, “Look Good On LinkedIn”. Get it here: lookgoodonlinkedin.com/ebook/