A few weeks ago I trundled along to Mexico City to attend a conference. My hidden agenda was to grab several hours completely alone in my hotel room, to do some work. Just a desk, my computer, and me. I was determined to complete a marketing task I had been avoiding for about 4 months. This was my real reason for going—to have an uninterrupted opportunity to get down to it.
After the first 10 minutes of peering at spreadsheets and searching for keywords, I got itchy. Should I make a coffee? (No, one is already sitting in front of me). Is there anything on TV? (No, only 1 English channel). Emails? (No, you checked 10 minutes ago). Facebook?
Stop! You’re here for a reason, I scolded myself. To avoid all those distractions. Get to it!
Well, good reader. I got it done. And oh, it felt so good I can’t tell you.
And oh, if only I could escape to a nice hotel room every week or so and do those focus intensive tasks!
The Number One Complaint I Hear
I’ve been a life-coach for over 20 years now, and I can honestly say the number one complaint I get from my clients these days is—I can’t focus on my tasks. I can’t get anything done. I can easily waste a whole day doing nothing! What can I do about this?
Seems a lot of us, especially if we are work-from-home-entrepreneur types, have trouble making ourselves focus on tasks at hand.
The reasons are obvious. Digital Distraction. Modern research is showing that the average person checks his or her phone 200-500 times a day! Ack.
Robin Sharma, one of world’s top leadership experts, who has sold more than 15 million books, says unequivocally, “Your phone is costing you your fortune.”
Sharma goes on to say that we suffer from Digital Dementia—using up valuable ‘cognitive bandwidth’ by being hooked to a screen of some sort from the moment we wake up. We are literally addicted to the dopamine shot that we get from social media ‘likes’, messages, and emails.
We deplete our creativity allotment for the day with news, videos, and articles. Information overload before our day even properly begins.
Oh, this is so me!
Makes you think. Sharma isn’t the only one pointing this out.
James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, says that in his research on productive, successful people, he found there are “no high performance people, just high performance habits” and that the key to high performance is creating an environment where you can concentrate on the one thing at a time.
Swami Vivekananda, the famous Hindu monk, wrote that “The difference between an ordinary person and a great person lies in the degree of concentration”.
The great quarterback Peyton Manning always claimed that the only thing that distinguished him from other players was his ability to focus in his practice. He would spend hours after the other players had gone home, practicing one throw hundreds of times. And that one throw would win him the game.
Our ability to focus Is important, and crucial to our productivity and success in anything.
A Tight Bubble of Total Focus
How do we ordinary mortals make ourselves focus with all the distractions life brings? The answer, says Sharma, lies in creating a tight bubble of total focus—controlling our environment and all distractions so we can sit and work on one project at a time.
No phone conversations, no checking email. Absolutely no Facebook. Ahem.
Isolating oneself for a fixed period.
(Dogs can be a problem. I’m being pestered as I write this to go for a walk.)
But it’s not impossible! And it does require some discipline. (What is that, I hear you cry?) Plus deciding it’s worth it. Do you want to write that book? Paint that picture? Start that business project? Finish that course? Really want to?
Or is life as usual just pulling you along and, well, hmm I think there’s a jar of mixed nuts in the kitchen that hasn’t even been opened, and then I really must email my friend in California who is having all those problems right now, and oh I need to go fix a drink of something. Is it lunchtime already?
I Woke Up From My Stupor
My weekend in Mexico City woke me up. I experienced a rather delicious feeling when I got something challenging done. Way better than watching YouTube videos.
So I’ve started a morning and afternoon Power Hour when I really focus on something challenging until I get it done. Then at least I’ve done something!
And maybe I can’t do hotels every weekend but I could get myself dressed and out the door to work for a while in one of the many cafes in town. Might even be fun.
What could you do to be more focused? Or do you do it already? Share your experiences with me. You’re almost bound to be more disciplined than I am, so you can ‘fess up safely.
PS— I may not be the most disciplined person on the planet, but I am a good coach and can help you with things you are struggling with. In my experience the best coaches are the ones who really ‘get’ your challenges because they share them and have worked on them personally. That would almost certainly be moi.
I was at the beach the other day watching a glorious sunset. Breathtaking.
The waves were gently breaking against the rocks on the beach, the water was aquamarine, there were fluffy clouds in the sky catching the pink light, and flocks of birds were flying somewhere, who knows, to sleep?
A few pelicans were still fishing and would swoop and crash dramatically into the water whenever they saw prey.
Sounds sublime, huh? And yet there I sat, melancholy, and not knowing why.
Then if occurred to me. I was feeling that I ought to be feeling all kinds of spiritual and uplifting emotions. That I was connected, enlightened, with some sort of witchy incantation to the setting sun on my lips. Or standing in some sort of yogic posture with a shamanic fire burning luminously, bidding farewell to the fading day.
No, instead, I was feeling irritated and a bit restless, and annoyed with myself for wasting this beautiful moment. That I ought to be feeling or doing something different.
Ought to. Ought. Roll it around in your head. Is that word ever welcome?
The other day a client was bemoaning the fact that she felt overwhelmed by everything she had to do and it spoilt her joy and wellbeing. She worked on her business from home and had a million ideas and responsibilities that needed to be acted on.
Ever been there?
I remarked that yes, we can be overpowered with too many things to do all at once. And too many things all at once frequently means whatever we are doing, we feel we ‘ought’ to be doing one of the other many things we need to do. We never feel we are doing what we should be doing and the result is frustration about not being good enough, or organized enough, somehow.
On the same beach holiday mentioned above, I was enjoying an afternoon alone on the balcony of our hotel room, reading my kindle, enjoying creative thoughts and making notes. Then suddenly my internal voice pitched up yapping ‘you ought to be down on the beach enjoying it while you’re here! You shouldn’t be doing this stuff when you’re in this lovely setting!’ Dang. There it was again.
Ought, ought, ought. That word trying to wriggle in and spoil my peace of mind. Telling me I’m never doing the right thing—there’s always a million other things that are better, more productive, good for me. Anything but this, Sunshine!
But I caught it this time. Drop kicked it over the balcony and into the sand.
Start noticing if the word ‘ought’ comes into your thinking. It does with me, often. I’m now noticing when I feel I ought to be cleaning the kitchen when I’m sitting on the veranda. Or I ought to be thinking about lunch when I’m working on this blog. Or I ought to be taking the dogs out for a walk instead of whatever I’m doing (now that’s probably true!).
Don’t talk to me about the treadmill. I always ought to be on that.
I’m dropping that word. Or at least taking note when it rears its ugly head. Banishing it. I invite you to join me in this experiment.
Just say no to any oughts that creep in.
Instead, give yourself permission to focus on whatever you’re doing and rebelliously give it your complete attention. Sit and bask in the sunset just for the beauty of it and lounge on the veranda with a book for as long as you like and feel good about it. Have a glass of iced tea and thumb your nose at even the slightest notion that there’s anything better to do.
The irony is you’ll become more productive, more focused, feel more peaceful and able to enjoy whatever you’re doing.
I am the world’s greatest procrastinator. And I have an array of tools to assist my expertise.
The Internet is one of my best. A guaranteed sink-hole for goals and plans.
I am forever listening to podcasts, online courses, downloading kindle books galore on all kinds of subjects—all of course relevant to something important I need to be doing. Indeed.
Did I mention YouTube? Another wonderful option for dealing with those ‘I’m not quite sure what to do next’ moments. You. Can. Spend. Hours.
Let’s not talk about email or social media.
I do make attempts to combat it. I can make an amazing list and then lose the list. Every time I start something I immediately feel there was other stuff I should be doing instead. So I stop, look for the list, change course and do something else. Until I remember the other thing that needed doing. Put it on that dang list so I don’t forget.
My head is stuffed full of wonderful ideas that would help a lot of people, generate a fabulous income, and make me a New York Times best selling author….
I could make a difference!… if I would just put them into action.
The problem with this is I waste my day and end up feeling bad about myself. There were things I meant to do, yet somehow didn’t. The time just slipped away. It’s not fun and it’s not satisfying. It’s yuck. I feel out of control.
Then the best time management tool ever, fell into my inbox.
While fooling around I happened upon a bit of advice in one of the many email lists I subscribe to…that actually changed everything. It was a blog by Derek Doepker and it addressed this very problem. Derek (a best selling author, business coach and marketer) said that the best advice he had for managing those days when you can’t seem to focus was this:
Three little words.
Can I just…?
And then fill in the rest of the sentence.
Can I just get hold of that important contact number? Can I just get a title and subject for that script? Can I just spend 5 minutes starting that project that’s looming over me?
An amazingly powerful procrastination blaster. In fact, I don’t just use it for those overwhelm times—I use it every day. Can I just get these 4 things done today?
The idea is that if you can just, or at least, get something done, it’s better than not getting anything done and simply throwing in the towel on your day.
Can I just get X, X, and X done today? The secret of course is you will end up getting lots more done. But if you can at least get this done, your day is not wasted.
These three words will transform your life, I promise. You’ll feel in control, pleased that you’ve accomplished something, and that you’ve earned your Netflix fix at the end of the day.
Derek is now my coach
I was so impressed with this that I engaged Derek to be my coach. He’s amazing. I’m much more focused and not procrastinating nearly as much as I used to.
I got my new book finished by just finishing a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter. Or just looking up a phrase that I wasn’t sure about.
Now. Can I just get this blog finished before lunchtime?
Yes, I believe I can!
Check out my life-coaching—local if you are in San Miguel de Allende, and online if you prefer coaching from your couch, your dog on your lap, sipping your favorite beverage. No video I promise. Margaretnashcoach.com
Here’s my new book, all credit for finishing and publishing to Derek, on kindle at
I’m lazy. I like things to be easy. If you tell me that in order to get healthy I need to go on an anti-inflammatory diet where I have to give up, well, let’s just say, food, I won’t do it. It’s too hard to stop tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, flour, dairy, sugar, pasta, bread, and everything else that makes life worth living all at once.
I will not do it. Not one bit of it—much less the whole shebang.
I balk like a stubborn mule. Do you have a mule?
Mules don’t like overwhelm.
How my Physical Therapist unwittingly used a Japanese strategy to deal with my mule
I recently engaged a Physical Therapist for a repetitive strain injury. Typically I left it until I couldn’t move my thumb at all and was in agony. He helped a lot with the recalcitrant thumb, but it was something else he showed me that you may find interesting.
We discussed a health problem I had had for several years that caused breathlessness and left me exhausted after even the smallest amount of exercise. I was terribly unfit as a result. And mule-like I didn’t like going 3 times a week to the exercise classes my doctor insisted on.
My PT taught me just one thing—how to breathe. I mean really breathe. Big gulping deep breaths for minutes at a time. All day. Whenever I thought about it. He persuaded me to buy a fitness watch that would beep to remind me to breathe.
Breathe. I can do that. It’s pretty cheap and very easy. The Mule in me didn’t notice.
Well, gentle reader; I’m here to tell you it got me off the couch. After a few weeks I had more energy and was using the treadmill for more than 2 minutes before collapsing. I even got in a swimming pool for the first time in 5 years.
All because of breathing? Yes.
One thoughtful change had worked better than all the expert advice from umpteen doctor/chiropractor/acupuncture/massage therapist appointments pooled together. Oh, and kick in a portable oxygen tank that I never used.
What my PT had done for me, albeit unconsciously, was mimic a Japanese system called Kaizen.
A little background here is interesting
Hang in there with me.
In the years following WW2 the Japanese were exhausted and defeated—their economy destroyed by the devastating effects of war. Japan was in dire straits, yet within 30 years bounced back with one of the strongest economies in the world.
American businessmen traveled to Japan to learn their secret and discovered that the Japanese employed a method called Kaizen to get back on their feet. It involved making itty-bitty changes—not big ones. They tackled their huge problems one tiny step at a time, one week at a time. It worked. Spectacularly well.
Kaizen literally means ‘incremental change, continuous improvement’.
Start with the smallest and practice the easiest.
How does this apply to me, I hear you cry?
Simply this. If you make small, seemingly insignificant, but thoughtful adjustments in your life, slowly but surely everything will start to improve.
What about, if instead of those huge monstrous dietary deprivations, you gave up just one thing for that flipping anti-inflammatory diet? Let’s say sugar. Or pop drinks. Or cereal. Just one thing. Won’t kill you.
You can do that. Even I could.
Overly ambitious goals will trigger overwhelm and defeat. They don’t motivate.
Tiny changes will slip under the radar of the mule-mind.
So, let’s look at your goal or challenge
What is the smallest step you can take this week in relation to it? Can you do it for a week?
Treadmill for just 5 minutes a day?
Learn one Spanish verb this week and use it?
Give up sugar in your tea? See if you can stand stevia. Just for a week.
Don’t watch YouTube while you eat breakfast. (Not sure I can do that one. May be too challenging.)
Think tiny. Don’t go big. Think easy. Think small.
Ignore advice to ‘Go big or go home!’ ‘Go all in’, or ‘Make a 100% commitment if you’re serious! 98% is not good enough’. Bad advice.
Instead, go for 50% max. More or less willing to give it a go. What have I got to lose. Why not.
Next time you feel overwhelmed with an issue and all your myriad options, try Kaizen. You’ll be amazed. It’s unimpressive, dull, unspectacular, not at all sexy, but will get you results.
Let me know how you get on. I’m genuinely interested.
My approach to coaching is based on this philosophy. So if you want help getting that mule moving, or more info about Kaizen, contact me by replying to this email.
Easy and effortless beats difficult and challenging every time.
It happens to the best of us: you’ve got something that’s been sitting—stuck!—on your to-do list for months now.
Sitting there, smug and unmoving, and bugging the life out of you. You want to kick it.
That brilliant creative idea that was going to change the world, or that new marketing venture for your online business. An idea for a book, or a painting.
I’m not talking about the tasks you have to do, like tax returns, or getting the car serviced. I’m talking about that project that you know will improve your life no end … if you can just get going on it.
Today is the day it is going to happen. You have the whole day stretching out ahead of you with no appointments. The decks are clear so you can make headway right now. Yes.
You sigh, take a deep breath, grab a coffee from the kitchen and gear yourself up. Yes, right now you will finally get started on your dreams.
Only first … you just need to check your email in case someone has tried to contact you in the last 10 minutes, and then Facebook to check in with what’s going on in the world….just get all that out of the way so you can start working. Indeed.
Two hours later you emerge, blinking and groggy, and oh look, it’s time to fix lunch.
Before you know it, it’s mid-afternoon and you may as well nap. Or catch a few minutes of Ellen, or Dr. Phil. Judge Judy in a pinch. Oh, now the dogs need walking. Can’t put them off.
Almost time for Netflix….
You’ve accomplished nothing! Another day gone and you don’t feel especially good about yourself. I guess it’s time to write this day off, stop beating yourself up, and relax. Eat some chocolate.
After all, tomorrow is another day. Said Scarlett. Right before Rhett walked out on her.
Day after day after day, you put this project on your list and determine to do it, and then don’t. Whatever your strategy, it isn’t working….
Say hello to procrastination, the bugbear hidden strategy of most creative people…
… freelancers, entrepreneurs, artists, writers…. and retirees in particular. Really, anybody who doesn’t have a job that forces them to hit deadlines, or a boss keeping a beady eye out for results. Nobody to answer to for how time is being spent.
OK, peeps, so what is the problem here? We all put things off. What’s the big deal?
The deal is this. Nothing feels better than getting something done that you’ve been meaning to do. And nothing feels worse than that sinking feeling time is just slipping away and you’re not spending it well. It can make you feel useless and your life meaningless. That’s yucky.
Here are 3 questions guaranteed to bounce you out of this endless cycle of non-doing!
You can get that project off the starting block, the introduction to the new book written, that new painting sketched in. And you won’t have to schedule a whole day to break the procrastination habit. You just need 5 minutes.
This 3 step solution will release those blocks and make you feel like a hundred bucks. You’ll feel so pumped up and pleased with yourself you won’t believe it.
Honestly, there is no better feeling than actually getting something done! And these questions are your ticket to ride.
They uncover the most common reasons people like you and I procrastinate.
Here they are. Ready?
Think about what you are putting off doing.
1) Does the idea of doing it make my heart sing, or fill me with fear and loathing? Can you honestly ever see yourself doing it? Maybe you are dragging your feet because you know deep down that it’s never going to happen and you don’t really want to do it. In which case, drop it now and don’t think about it again. Ever. You didn’t really want to learn to dance Salsa. Not really. It was a pipe dream. All your friends were raving about it. Sounds utterly exhausting.
Take a few minutes thinking about this task or project. If you feel it absolutely is something you want to do, then ask yourself the next question.
2) What decision do I need to make? Almost all procrastination can be traced back to some decision that needs to be taken that is being avoided. Most of us don’t like making decisions so will put them off indefinitely, and unconsciously it stops us from taking action. Who do I need to call? What do I need to buy? Whose help do I need to ask for? Which art class should I join? What subject do I want to blog on? Write my book about?
Identify that unmade decision and figure out what you need to do to become resolved and get cracking.What decision is holding you back? What information do you need? Then move on to…
3) What action can I take right now that will release the floodgates and get me sailing? What is one tiny step towards getting it started that you can do right now? Do not commit to a day’s work, an hour’s work, just 5 minutes. Set up the blank page on your computer and put a title at the top, get your paintbrushes out and set up the easel, dig up that phone number and put it by the phone, find the exercise mat and put it in front of the TV.
Spend 5 minutes doing something, anything that will get you started.
No more than 5 minutes!
(I’m not going to comment on how 5 minutes can stretch out to fill a morning or afternoon. That would spoil the surprise.)
You usually put things off when they feel overwhelming. The task is too big. You don’t know how to start. You’re not sure you can do it. You can’t make up your mind about something.
Answer these questions and I guarantee your productivity will increase; you will get that job done, or at least started, and feel amazingly wonderful about yourself.
You’ve earned that Netflix binge.
Now excuse me please, I need to check my email. It’s been at least 15 minutes….
If you like this you may like some of my books on coaching. They are full of useful life-enhancing hacks and tips.
Or you may like some coaching, in person or via Skype or Zoom. My job is to help you get your life to work the way you want it to. Contact me below.