By special guest blogger — Andre Kibbe of Tools for Thought (Tools-for-Thought.com)
A great strategy for maintaining focus is to to set up visual cues that return your attention to your intention. Cues can take many forms: a photograph that represents some component of your ideal lifestyle, a written goal, an entry on your calendar, or a mind map that graphically details every aspect of a project.
Holding intentions entirely in the head without external reinforcement can work in an environment without distractions, but that’s not a reality for most people. Setting up review protocols helps us keep our eyes on the prize – or as productivity coach Jason Womack once said, “Where my eyes go my attention flows.” Here are a few ways to get your eyes going to where you want your attention flowing.
Make reviewing your calendar that very first action of the morning. Keep your day planner, PDA or printout of your desktop calendar on your nightstand, and review it when you wake up, before doing anything else. I use my smartphone as my alarm clock, with my wake-up alert as a calendar entry; so when the alert goes off, the calendar is evoked automatically.
This won’t necessarily be the only time you review the calendar that morning. It’s a good idea to review it at your work desk when you first sit down, or on your laptop when you first open it. But the idea is to use a visual cue to create a mental focus for the day before your attention has a chance to wander.
Set reminders to reinforce new habits. Behaviors we want to retain as habits are like facts that we want to keep in long-term memory. They need to be refreshed repeatedly.
I used to review my @Office action list rigorously, but frequently neglected to apply the same discipline at home. So I put a reminder in my tickler file to look at my @Home list. I filed the first reminder for two days later, then I refiled the reminder for three days later, then three days later again, then four, and so on in increasing intervals. The only criterion for deciding how far in the future to file it was the question: “When will I start forgetting to do this?”
You can apply the same principle for habits you want reminders of throughout the day by setting alarms on your watch or cell phone, asking yourself when you expect to forget the habit. I’m fond of using Twitter’s timer bot on my phone, sending the text message “d 180 log your activities” – where d sends a private message to the timer bot, and 180 is the number of minutes to receive the reminder from Twitter.
Set reminders for just before the time you think you’ll forget, not earlier. Memory research shows that repeating things when they’re still well remembered has a weaker reinforcement effect than at the brink of forgetting.
Make sure the actions on your task list can be visualized. Tasks that aren’t physical or visible are generally too abstract and unclear to motivate action. Replace verbs like “learn” with “read,” “plan” with “write,” “remind” with “call” or “email,” and so on. Being able to see yourself doing things helps clarify their execution, and reinforces your self-image as a doer.