Rhonda is a grantwriter I talked to recently (name changed). She loves her job but has her gripes at times like we all do. Lately though, she’s found she’s not been as productive as usual. She asked if I had any suggestions for her to get her “spark” back.
Rhonda told me that at the last client meeting she’d had she seemed unable to really pay attention to the ideas she was hearing. “That’s not like me!” she said. “I love this client and really want to help them succeed. But when I got back to the office, I had nothing to work with.”
Rhonda also said that even when she knows what to do and sets aside time to do it, she gets easily distracted and jumps from one thing to another before finishing anything.
‘It sounds like you’re unable to focus,” I said. “That’ll get you every time.”
What is focus and why is it so important? And what can you do when you seem easily distractible?
Simply put, focus is what helps you put forth effort in a coherent way. You use your energy efficiently and accomplish your goals. Anything that keeps you from being attentive to what you want to do is preventing you from focusing.
Here are some symptoms of a lack of focus:
- Not being sure what to do.
- Not getting important tasks done.
- Not accomplishing goals that are important to you.
Clearly, if you’re experiencing these symptoms, your work is suffering. Since there are simple steps you can take to alleviate the problem, I suggest you don’t try to “wait it out”—in fact, that can help a negative pattern set in that will lengthen the time you’re affected. Just taking action will help you, so don’t wait!
[Some of these symptoms could be related to depression. This is not what I’m talking about. If you’re experiencing these issues for a longer period of time, you may want to seek appropriate professional guidance. What I’m referring to is the occasional stretch of time when you know you’re “off your game”. These suggestions are to help you minimize the disruption to your job when this happens.]
If lack of focus is affecting you, there are many ideas to improve. Some people recommend taking supplements (Vitamins B1 and C are often mentioned, as well as magnesium and/or iron) or change in diet, such as adding spinach or other vegetables. You’ll want to evaluate these types of solutions for yourself. I make no claims for these ideas.
Perhaps a longer-term solution could be found in the practice of meditation, which some research indicates has powerful effects on the brain as well as increasing the ability to focus.
Here’s what I suggest, no matter what else you do:
- Remember why you do the work you do. Sometimes we lose our focus because we forget our “why”. It’s one thing to not finish researching a grant proposal if you’re doing it to fulfill a quota of grants applied for. It’s an entirely different thing to not finish researching a grant proposal if you remember that the funding will assist your client population lead a better life. Recall your passion for the results and it may help you focus.
- Create a plan for the week and then for each day of the week. Focus on the achievements to accomplish after each time slot, not just the time to be spent. Having a limited and set amount of time to get the job done can push you to focus. You’re far more likely to keep from being distracted if you have just an hour to get done than if you think “sometime this week I’ll get around to that”. Use a kitchen time to keep you honest about the amount of time you’re using. Remember the saying “if you want something done, give it to a busy person”? Busy people get focused and stay focused because they KNOW they don’t have all day to do the job.
- Turn off the “noise”. This includes jarring music or background noise. A white noise machine can be effective. I like to use music that claims to promote certain types of brainwaves that are associated with creativity and calm. I don’t swear they will work for you, but I like their effect on me.Also, social media will need to be shut off. Nobody can really multi-task, according to research, so don’t think you’re the exception. Bring in a bit of peacefulness into your life by cutting down on known problems such as Twitter and Facebook. The things you post will be more interesting if you can say you just completed your tasks rather than ranting against your lack of focus.
- Break larger tasks and jobs into smaller bites that can be done in a short time frame. No one writes a federal grant proposal in a day, for example, but you CAN outline the problem statement and research initial data supporting local need in an hour.
- Prioritize your tasks. This way you always know what to do next. The pressure to decide what you have to do is minimized when you have a good list of what is important to do. This can change, of course, but having a prioritized list of tasks in front of you is a considerable aid to keeping focused.
- Create a “DONE” list. As well as having a to-do list that is prioritized, have another list that indicates what you’ve accomplished during the day. I hate having the feeling that I’ve been busy all day but can’t remember “accomplishing” a single worthwhile thing. Write down what you’ve finished and you’ll soon be staying focused so you can add more things to your list.
The thing about lists like this (and there are at least scores of them on the internet) is that nothing will change if you don’t actually implement them. Try them to see what works for you. Set aside a minute at the start of your day to focus on the why of your work. Keep track of what you’ve tried and with what results at the end of each day.
It’s not a matter of “trying harder”—it’s a matter of doing small things differently every day.
If you’re not making progress on maintaining focus (or other issues in your grantwriting work) you might find it helpful to to hire a coach, someone who can provide you with an experienced but outsider’s look at your situation. I have a couple of slots open for this type of support if you’re looking for it. Just send me an email at email@example.com and we’ll arrange a time to chat to see if it’s a good match.
Thanks for all you do to promote nonprofit excellence!
PS. What tips do you have for people feeling unable to focus? What works for you? Post your answer below!