Now that you understand the why of our 30 Minutes of Focus Challenge (see part I), it’s time to look at the how: how can you carve out half an hour of completely uninterrupted time when you’re under constant attack from notifications, social media, and email?
The Saent desktop app can help. Start with Saent’s special set of Challenges to build towards creating this half hour oasis of calm in your day, based on the following principles.
1. Small steps
Humans are ambitious creatures. We want to learn, grow, do more, have more, and be happy, all at the same time. This is not a problem per se, but we combine it with a flair for optimism when it comes to our own capabilities. This combination is dangerous: instead of starting off with a 20 minute weekly run and gradually building, we try for an hour right away (guilty as charged). Instead of consistently meditating ten minutes a day, we irregularly aim for 30.
Being overly ambitious when trying to build a new habit is a recipe for failure. We come out of the gate strong, but when we hit the first bump in the road, we fall and don’t get up. The antidote is simple but not easy: pace yourself. No matter how eager you are to bring that new routine into your life, remind yourself that consistency is much more important than intensity to build a lasting habit.
So it is when working towards the lofty goal of an uninterrupted half hour per day: getting there is not easy, so start with five. If that goes well, move to ten. Then to 15, and so on.
As brothers Chip and Dan Heath explain in their must-read book on behavior change, “Switch!,” a new habit is much more likely to form (and stick!) when you specifically plan and visualize when and how it is supposed to take place. Saying “I’m going to focus for 30 minutes per day” is not likely to work as well as saying, “I’m going to focus for 30 minutes every morning at 9am.”
When will you most likely be able to carve out this uninterrupted half hour for yourself? Ideally think of an exact time (e.g., “on weekdays at 11 am”), but if your schedule is always changing, connect it to a specific activity instead (e.g., “always right after lunch,” or “every day before I check my email”). The more specific you get the better. For example, you can also add a location for increased chance of success (e.g., “every day on my daily commute at 8:30 am,” or “every day when I sit down at my desk with a fresh cup of coffee, before I check my email”).
One of the first slogans we had on our Saent landing page back in early 2015 was: “Give your willpower a break.” While anything difficult requires at least some of your willpower (and behavior change is always difficult), there are ways to make things easier.
Think about what’s most likely to interrupt your distraction-free time: your phone, email notifications, a colleague who always comes by for chit-chat, music, games. Whatever it is, get these attention-sucking vampires out of the way.
Turn off your phone, use an app like Saent to block digital distractions, move to a coffee shop or visit a park if you need to get away from a talkative coworker — do whatever it takes!
Concentration is like a muscle you can train: when you use it a lot, it gets strong. When you never use it, it weakens.
Working towards our half hour of daily focus is already training in itself. But you can try using your focus muscle at other times as well: answer emails for 15 minutes straight; read an entire article without clicking through to somewhere else; concentrate on a conversation you’re having without glancing at your phone.
Whatever it is you’re doing, almost any activity is a chance to work that focus muscle. As long as you’re only paying attention to the one thing you’re doing, you’re giving yourself a concentration work out!
5. Make it social
Peer pressure usually gets associated with people bullying others into doing something they don’t really want to do, yet it can also be put to use for more positive purposes.
Instead of making a silent commitment to yourself, let your friends and colleagues know that you’re taking this challenge. Announce it on Facebook, share it on Twitter, tell them over lunch. Whichever way you go about it, keep tip number two in mind: the more specific you make it, the better those close to you can help you out (e.g., “I’m going to spend 30 minutes of uninterrupted focus time every day after lunch”). Ask your friends to keep you honest and call you out if you slip from your goal.
You can make this social mechanism even more powerful by taking on the challenge together with someone else. In our app Saent, we have a special feature (under, surprise, “Challenges”) that allows you to take this challenge together with a friend at a set time each day (this Saent Challenge is coming soon!).
No more excuses
You’re all set now! Remember:
- Start with small steps.
- Make a specific plan.
- Eliminate distractions and temptations.
- Train your focus muscle whenever you can.
- Invite some peer pressure onto yourself.
Lead image via Flickr, Mark Hunter