When I first had a job in a fast-paced, competitive environment, one of the first things I learnt was how to remain focused when working under pressure. Only some of us have the ability to put our heads down, eliminate the noise around us, and get the task done. There are so many tantalizing distractions to derail us: from email in our inbox, to messages on our phones, the call of the coffee machine, colleagues who want to chat or the dog begging for a walk, if you work from home. So, how to remain focused under pressure? Here are a few of my tips:
1. Prepare Your Tasks a Day in Advance
Take ten minutes at the end of every day to sit back, reflect and write a list of the most important things you need to do the next day. No need to do it neatly, just as long as you get down the information down. This has a dual effect. Firstly, when you leave the office, you feel in control. You know that the next day because you have a set of tasks that you yourself have defined. There will be no – or at least – fewer surprises the next day. You will arrive at the office already knowing what you are meant to do that day. Feeling in control of your work day goes a long way to being focused.
Secondly, researchers have long established how the mind processes the issues and problems in our lives while we sleep. In this case, you mind will (subconsciously of course) be thinking about how to approach the following day’s task as you sleep. As a result, not only will you get a better night’s sleep than if you had gone to bed anxious and unprepared, but you will get a head start on your day in terms of knowing what needs to be done.
2. Review Your List First Thing
After arriving at the office and pouring yourself (note, I did not say “grabbing”) a delicious cup of coffee, sit down and reflect again. Review the lest you created of “to dos”. Is everything still relevant? If it is, it’s now time to prioritize your list. I suggest you divide your list into categories. These could be Urgent, This morning, This afternoon. Or if you prefer, you could divide them up by activity, for example: calls, letters and emails, meetings etc. Whatever way you decide, within your categories, prioritize which comes first. Then as you work through the list, cross off your accomplishments.
3. Do the Difficult Things First
Let’s face it. Some tasks are more fun than others. Some are totally tedious, but need to be done. I recommend that you do the tedious (hateful) ones first. That leaves you a) feeling that you’ve accomplished something, b) looking forward to the nicer tasks, and c) calm enough to face the day.
4. Breathe Deeply
Before starting a task, it’s a great idea to take in oxygen. Seriously. Sending oxygen to the brain awakens it and makes you feel more alive. It’s a good way to eliminate tiredness and stimulate your brain. A few good breaths during the day will help you stay focused and motivated. If you’re nervous that your work colleagues might think you’re a bit “loco”, do it in the restrooms.
5. Being Flexible
Having said that you should make lists and prioritize, it may seem like a contradiction to tell you to be flexible. We are born to be imperfect, and accepting that is key to being able to take a flexible approach to your day. This will take the pressure off you. Not everything happens as planned, so be prepared to stay calm and be agile as the day unfolds.
Staying calm, not succumbing to pressure, and being organized will help you to stay focused at work and keep your motivation up. Remember: prioritize, plan, be flexible and … just breathe.