Conquer Tasks and Stay Focused

Are you overwhelmed by looming deadlines and endless to-do lists? You're not alone! As an executive function coach, I see many clients who need help with focus and motivation, especially during exam season or when faced with long, tedious tasks.

These are powerful strategies to help everyone conquer long tasks and stay focused. 

Planning for Peak Performance:

You've likely heard the saying, "You wouldn't train for a marathon the same way you train for a sprint!" The same principle applies to your studies and long projects. Final exams, end-of-semester projects, and long-term projects (academic or not) require a different approach than a quick quiz or a one-night cram session. Let's explore strategies specifically designed to help you conquer lengthy tasks and stay focused for the long haul. 

  • Make a plan: Just like a marathoner wouldn't blindly charge into a 26-mile race, don't dive into your work headfirst without a plan. Take time to sit down and map out your approach.
  • Chunk it down:Divide daunting tasks into smaller, more manageable steps. A long essay becomes a clear and manageable outline when you break it down into sections. A paralyzing presentation becomes a series of slides with some bullet talking points.
  • Schedule it in:Don't rely on willpower alone! Block out dedicated time slots in your calendar for each task, treating it like a necessary appointment. ️
  • Prime your space:Create a distraction-free zone for focused work. Tidy your workspace, silence notifications, and turn off social media. Optimize your surroundings for concentration!
  • Fuel your brain:Eat brain-boosting foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Stay hydrated and avoid sugary snacks that can lead to energy crashes. 

Staying Sharp During the Grind:

  • The Pomodoro Technique: Work in focused 25-minute intervals with short breaks in between. This helps maintain focus and prevents mental fatigue.
  • The Power of Movement: Get your blood flowing! Schedule short walk breaks, stretch, or try simple desk exercises. ‍ (This NASA free booklet provides scientific data and exercises designed to improve fitness and focus.)
  • Reward Yourself: Set small rewards for completing tasks or milestones. This helps boost motivation and keeps you engaged in the long haul.
  • Mindfulness Matters: When your mind wanders, practice mindfulness techniques like deep breathing or meditation to re-center yourself. ‍ (Calm offers 12 tips to help tame a wandering mind and increase focus)
  • Breaks: To avoid burnout and maintain concentration during long study or work sessions, incorporate timed breaks (short, pre-determined periods away from the task that help you recharge and maintain focus) into your routine. Even shorter “micro-breaks" (very brief pauses lasting just a minute or two, to refresh your focus) for a few deep breaths or a quick stretch can refresh your mind and prevent mental fatigue, ultimately aiding long-term focus and information retention. 

Bonus Tips:

  • Identify Your Peak Times! Are you a morning person or a night owl? Schedule demanding tasks for when your energy and focus are naturally highest.
  • Power Up with Sleep! Don't underestimate the importance of a good night's sleep for focus and concentration. Aim for 7-8 hours of quality sleep each night. A well-rested brain is better equipped to tackle long tasks and stay focused throughout the day.
  • Need Extra Support? Enlist a Buddy! Sometimes, having a study or work buddy can be a game-changer. Find a friend, colleague, or classmate with similar goals and hold each other accountable. You can quiz each other, explain concepts to solidify your understanding or provide moral support during challenging tasks.

If you feel like you are drowning in finals, are paralyzed by a project, or feel lost in your to-do list, take a deep breath. Then, focus on one manageable step at a time. Ditch the multitasking myth, and be kind to yourself. The strategies listed above are your lifeline! Implement them, and celebrate your progress.

With gratitude,

Ana Isabel Sánchez