How to Laser-Focus When Everything’s a Priority at Once

How to Laser-Focus When Everything’s a Priority at Once

Your management report is due––now. A customer wants a spontaneous meeting––today––to discuss a recurring issue. Your boss assailed you in the hallway to remind you that the expense report from your trip overseas is overdue.

And those 15 minutes a day you committed to spending on social media is adding up fast.

How do you focus on anything in a manic world where everyone expects results and responses right now? Do you often feel as though the file cabinet in your brain’s got all the drawers open at once?

You’re not alone. In today’s rapid-paced, complex world, the distractions are plenty. Add to that a business climate in which everyone’s tasked with doing more work with less time. If you feel chronically overwhelmed, it’s time to practice just a few simple steps to achieving razor-sharp focus. Try these for starters:

Five Steps to Zeroing In on the Task at Hand

  • Turn off the notification for e-mail
    That little “bing” creates an insidious Pavlovian response. E-mail sucks up time like a Hoover, so start small by checking it once on the hour. Then later, graduate to checking it just four times a day. And bam! you’re a rebel!
  • Tackle the toughest task first
    Ever heard of the “swallow the frog” theory? When you arrive at your desk, dive into the task you detest the most—the one that keeps you up at night. Don’t take any calls unless necessary, and promise yourself you won’t do anything else until it’s finished. The rest of your day should seem much easier by comparison, and you’ve won a battle against procrastination––the archenemy of focus!
  • Work backward
    When everything seems urgent, start with the jobs attached to a hard-and-fast deadline. Then work on each task in order of priority. Sometimes you have to remind yourself that a complaining customer can be staved off with a little empathy: “I’m sorry the elevator’s broken, sir. I realize that causes issues. I’m sending a mechanic over––and I’ll call you back in a few hours to check on the status.” You can fend off a lot of emergencies just by listening.
  • Write it down
    It sounds simple, but part of focusing is removing the scattered forces from your thoughts and recording them elsewhere. Make lists on your smartphone or notepad––and clear the gray matter for critical thinking.
  • Work by the “egg-timer.”
    Figure out how many tasks you need to accomplish, and assign them a time limit. Set the timer or your smartphone alarm, and get started. Don’t allow yourself to do anything else until the timer rings. You’ll create a new habit in no time!

Try any combination of these steps––and when you’ve enjoyed success, be sure to treat yourself to a Facebook break! (For 10 minutes. The clock’s ticking!)

Matthew Toren

Matthew Toren is a serial entrepreneur, mentor, investor and co-founder of He is co-author, with his brother Adam, of, and Small Business, BIG Vision: Lessons on How to Dominate Your Market from Self-Made Entrepreneurs Who Did it Right (Wiley).