Need To Focus? Try This One Simple Trick

Photo by B.J. Mendelson on New York City's UES

There are a lot of things I’m pretty bad at. Dating is one of them. Making sure I stay focused and on task is another. But wouldn’t you know it, while out on a date with this awesome woman, I learned something from her that’s gone a long way to keeping me focused and on task.

Now, fair warning, there are a ton of tips out there about how to be better at getting things done. It’s the best kind of click bait. Who doesn’t want to believe that by adjusting the order in which you do certain tasks or waking up one hour earlier you could quadruple your income or guarantee yourself a date with Ryan Reynolds?

We’ve all fallen under the spell of the productivity content genre. I have! Do you have any idea how many Tim Ferriss and Ryan Holiday books I’ve read? (Spoiler alert: All of them.) So for that reason, I’m not going to bore you with a lot of that sort of content here at Roosterly. I also don’t want you to take this advice as anything more than something cool I observed in the wild that I thought was smart and useful to my fellow mammals. Results may vary. Buyer beware. Yadda yadda yadda.

So What’s The Trick?

The productivity tip that has helped me most is simply remembering to be productive — with the aid of a regular productivity alarm. I know, I know. Something else to beep at you and make you crazy throughout the day, but hear me out.

On my date, I noticed that at the top of each hour, her phone would go off. The first time it happened I didn’t think anything of it because when you’re out with someone who checks every box on your future partner wish list, you’re oblivious to everything. The second time though I made a joke and asked if that was her escape from bad dates. She laughed and told me that it was an alarm that she has on her phone, set for the top of every hour that serves as a reminder to keep her productive.

That is genius.

Think about how often throughout the day you get sidetracked by something not related to what you’re supposed to be doing. Or something you want to be doing, but then complain later that you don’t have time to get to it. It happens to all of us. That’s the world we live in now. It’s nobody’s fault, but in the rush of notifications and things to distract ourselves with, there isn’t often something set up to remind us, “Hey, you probably should be productive right now and not watch six more hours of “The Shield” on Hulu.”

After the date, I went home and tried it out.

The Productivity Alarm

If you have a smartphone, and the odds are good you do if you’re visiting us at Roosterly, all you need is the default clock app that comes with your phone. Using the alarm feature on my iPhone’s Clock app; I then set the alarm for the top of the hour from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. (I’m usually in bed around 11 and like the last two hours of the day to be completely unstructured, so I don’t set the hourly alarm for 9 p.m., 10 p.m. or 11 p.m.)

The real power of the alarm is that it helps build a habit of following through and doing what you say you will. It got you out of your head and focused on tasks by providing a friendly little shove when you need it most. Of course, you have to let it work. It’s one thing to set all those alarms and then flake on them and not follow through on what the alarm is reminding you to do, but I encourage you to give this a try and see how it works.

I’ve already seen the results. In addition to my work for Roosterly, I’m also writing a comic book and working on a fiction novel. There’s no way I’d be able to do all three, let alone trying to find Wife #2 and read the disgusting mountain of unread books that’s slowly beginning to take over my room if I didn’t have something keeping me on task. And since I have trouble with people telling me what to do, the phone isn’t a person. In a lot of ways, our smartphones have become extensions of ourselves, so I don’t greet its alarms and reminders to stay on task the same way I would if it was another person. (You might not want to admit it, but I suspect this may be true for a lot of us reading this.)