How to stay focused: 3 simple secrets to help your clients succeed

Here is my focus in this blog.  Actually I have two.

inspectingMy first focus is this:  I want to show you — the coach, consultant, or change agent — how to get things done and develop good work habits.

My second goal is to show you that you’re missing something in your work with clients.

Are your clients getting their long-term goals accomplished?  If the answer is “No” or “I don’t know,” read on.

Here’s what I’ve seen over and over — wonderful teaching, inspirational, motivational coaching sessions, but not enough training in how to get that big project done in daily, doable small steps.

Today my focus is on how to get your client to focus on those small steps.

Here is how I work with my clients to help them focus on the important.

inspectingupOnce the client has decided what their long-term project will be (e.g. starting a business, improving their use of social media, writing a book, developing healthy eating habits, building their practice), the client needs to know what to do next.

A long-term goal is important, but if you don’t know what to do tomorrow, you won’t do anything at all.

I believe that most people thrive with extremely specific plans, which means they need plans for what to do each day.

Jocelyn K. Glei reports in 99u that “a recent happiness study from Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert found that the more our minds wander, the less happy we are. Summing the research, the New York Times wrote, ‘Whatever people were doing, whether it was having sex or reading or shopping, they tended to be happier if they focused on the activity instead of thinking about something else.’ In short, being mentally ‘present’ and focused on the task at hand really does matter – quite a lot, in fact.”

The only way to learn how to focus is to know exactly what you should focus on.

So I ask the client to determine the very specific next steps they must take.  I work with them until they know what they are going to do, in small steps, each day.

I also help them break down what could possibly get in their way, and how they are going to accomplish each small step.

Clients are overwhelmed by a deluge of information, thoughts, fears, and interruptions from daily life.  Without a list of next steps, they just won’t take any steps.

Seven Rules to Teach your Clients

  1. If you don’t know what to focus on, you can’t focus.
  2. If you can’t set an intention to focus, you probably won’t focus long.
  3. If you don’t eliminate distractions, you will be interrupted and stop focusing.
  4. If you don’t know that you’ve been distracted, you will end up doing something else without being aware of it.
  5. If you focus too long, you will burn out and not want to focus the next day.  So you need a reminder to stop.
  6. Without a reminder to keep focused, you may lose your focus.
  7. You need a way to mark the fact that you have started, which helps you start focusing.

Three Simple Tools That Help You Learn How to Focus

Here are 3 simple tools that address these issues.  See if you can identify which issues each one addresses.

  1. Use a timer.  First decide how long you want to work.  Make it a reasonable period of time (planning on 30 minutes is better than planning on 4 hours, because you might not want to do 4 hours, so you’ll do nothing).   Turn the timer on, and start your work.  As long as that timer is on, you keep going.  You don’t stop for email, eating or any other distraction.  When the timer bell dings, you stop.  You don’t keep going.

    Using this method, you have an internal reminder of what you are supposed to focus on, and an external reminder of when it’s time to start and stop.

  2. There’s an app for that: Concentrate, for Macs only, lets you specify which applications on your computer will be turned off while you focus solely on your chosen task.  It also gives you reminder sounds to help you stay on task.  It then turns off those apps once you tell it that you have started.

  3. Intentionq is a simple, web-based app that is designed to make you aware of what is often unconscious.  The designers of Intentionq ask this intriguing question:  “What would it look like to use the computer in a more intentional way; to only engage in tasks out of a conscious desire to do so?”  They then explain that Intentionq aims to answer that question in the simplest way possible, by recording and tracking your intentions as you use the computer.

First you set your intention. The instructions below say this say, “What are you using the computer for?  Be specific.”


Here I’ve set my intention as “writing an article,” and I’ve chosen 25 minutes as the amount of time that I want to work on it.


The timer has started, and I’m reminded by the title what my intention is.  If I decide part way through the 25 minutes that I want to check my email, I must set a new intention.


I’ve set my intention to check my email for 10 minutes.  Note that my previous intention is “Pending” below in the middle bottom.


As soon as I finish checking my email, the app will put my previous intention, “Writing an article” back on the screen, and continue the countdown clock.

The point of Intentionq is to help your clients become intentionally aware of the choices they are making, instead of finding themselves immersed in Pinterest 2 hours later, without any awareness of how they got there.  Like I was yesterday.

Try one or more of these apps for yourself.  Most of us mere mortals need something external to help us structure our work.  And remember, FOCUS!

What do you think of these apps?  Do you know of others? What do you do to focus? How have you helped your clients focus?

Please post your responses or thoughts below – I really want to hear from you!

Getting It Done Myth #2: You must have long blocks of time to invest in the projects that mean the most to you.

“Inch by inch, life’s a cinch. Yard by yard, life is hard.”
–Author, speaker and Brigham Young University professor John Bytheway

Few of us ever receive any training in school on how best to tackle and complete big, long-term projects. As a result, many people end up believing a set of common myths about getting things done. In my last post, I debunked Getting It Done Myth No. 1: the idea that you have to feel “in the mood” before digging into an important-but-not-urgent project.

Thinking that we need long blocks of time — an hour, three, four or more — is another widely held belief that leads people to procrastinate when it comes to getting things done on the projects that mean the most to them. I’ve even seen university departments advocate that faculty members should schedule at least four hours at a stretch for their critical publish-or-perish writing projects.

Last-minute cramming may be the way a lot of us have functioned since school days, but it’s certainly not an ideal approach.  The first problem with this all-or-nothing mentality is that it’s just not easy for most of us to carve out such hefty chunks of time.

So we keep putting off that big, important project, waiting for some magical day when we’ll have plenty of time to focus on it. Finally (usually with a deadline looming), we end up shoving aside other important commitments and working day and night, sometimes even refusing to allow ourselves a break until the job is finished. Yet the longer we work, the more our productivity, our results, and our health suffer.
Little surprise we don’t look forward to such marathon sessions. They’re unpleasant, exhausting and downright bad for us. It can take two or three days to recover physically from a bout of what researchers have labeled “binge writing.”

And because working this way feels so awful, we’re effectively punishing ourselves for the very behavior we want to encourage— getting things done on our important-but-not-urgent projects.

Instead of building a healthy habit of steadily working toward our big goals, we develop an aversion to the idea. Dreading the thought of another “binge,” we may avoid returning to our important projects for days, weeks, or even longer.

Not such a productive way to work after all, is it? The truth is this: working in long chunks of time doesn’t defeat procrastination; it fuels it.

So what’s a better method? Small, daily actions. It’s amazing how quickly people who are used to working in big chunks learn to appreciate this much saner and more rewarding approach.

What about you? Instead of dreading the marathon, why not start to enjoy the bursts of energy and self-satisfaction that come from short and consistent daily jogs toward your goal? You’ll likely arrive at the finish line sooner, healthier and happier.
Do you believe the myth that you need big chunks of time to work on your important-but-not-urgent projects?

How do you usually work? In big or small blocks of time? Regularly or sporadically?

Which approach do you prefer and why?

We want to hear from you! Please post your comments below.

Getting It Done Myth #1: You must be in the mood to do the things that matter most to you.

Attention myth zoneYou can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”
― Jack London

“Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.”
― Thomas Jefferson

I hope you took my challenge last week to work for 10-15 minutes a day on that big important-but-not-urgent project that you tend to procrastinate on.

I told you that I would reveal myths about getting things done and explain why you find it hard to make time for your big project.

Here’s the first of those counterproductive myths.

Myth No. 1: You have to be in the mood to tackle your important-but-not-urgent work (especially the parts that you tend to procrastinate on).


If you’ve always thought creativity comes from inspiration or some rare elevated state of mind, think again. What about all that time in between the Muse’s visits? Wasted? Not necessarily. What if you could reclaim some of that time by choosing to be inspired whenever you wish?

It is possible. Studies indicate that individuals who work at a project regularly, for a short time each day, generate MORE creative thoughts than those who wait for inspiration to strike.

Researcher Robert Boice found, for instance, that professors forced to write three pages a day experienced many more creative thoughts than those who only wrote when they felt inspired.

Think of motivation, inspiration and “being in the mood” as skills that must be practiced and mastered. Musicians and athletes practice every day, not only when they’re in the mood. And eventually, they start feeling that something’s missing when they don’t practice.

The good news is that you can strengthen your “in the mood” skill with short, daily work sessions.

Sure it’s hard to sit down and work when you don’t feel like it, for whatever reason. But after a few days of short sessions, you’ll likely experience something you haven’t noticed for a while.

Suddenly some brand-new juicy and creative idea will pop into your head out of nowhere. And once that happens, you’ll feel inspired to get to work on that project, business, or magnum opus. You’ll experience a positive upward spiral of effort followed by ideas, excitement, and eagerness to go back to work.

Have you ever worked even when you don’t feel like it, even when there is no external deadline or demand hanging over your head?
What is that like?

If not, what do you imagine that could do for you?

Do you believe the myth that you must be in the mood?

Let us know your thoughts! Post below.

Mind Mapping to Get Focused – and Get Done

Do you ever feel like you have some great ideas, but when you sit down to write them, they’re not so great? Or even worse, you can’t really get a sense of what the ideas were?

Mind MapIn one of my earlier coaching groups we discussed the difficulty of translating partly formed ideas into words on paper. One technique that makes use of a normally underutilized part of our brain is called “Mind Mapping.”

What is a Mind Map?

Tony Buzan, who created the word “Mind Map” and has written extensively on it, describes it as a powerful graphic technique that makes use of the way our brains naturally work. He says it has four characteristics.

  1. The main subject is crystallized in a central image
  2. The main themes radiate from the central image as branches
  3. Branches comprise a key image or key word printed on an associated line.
  4. The branches form a connected nodal structure

How Do You Mind Map?

Mind mapping is best done in color. If you have some markers or colored pencils, and a sheet of white paper, you’re ready. If you don’t, just use what you have.

Start with the central idea that you are trying to wrap your mind around. It could be the big picture (e.g. your full developed business) or a smaller idea (e.g. your website.) Write it down in one or two words at the center of the paper, and draw a circle around it. If there is a symbol or picture that you can put with the words, sketch that in. The idea is that you are activating the non-verbal side of your brain. The quality of what you draw is not important, since you will be the only one seeing it. The same is true for the ideas you come up with. Don’t edit, just put in what comes to mind.

There are no rules for the way to proceed from here. I tend to break rules, anyway. The way my mind works, I start thinking of related ideas, categories, and ideas, which I write in little circles surrounding the circle in the middle. I then use lines to connect them.

Tony Buzan likes to draw curved lines emanating from the center, and write the related or associated ideas on the lines. The result looks like a tree emanating from a central spot. My technique looks more like a bunch of lollipops.

As you continue to add associated ideas to your outer circles or branches, you continue to draw the connections. You will notice as you fill them in that there are cross connections that appear. I find it helpful to draw lines between those interconnecting ideas.

How Does a Mind Map Help?

The brain is an associative network, and the right hemisphere (in most people) is responsible for non-verbal, visual, associative and much creative thinking. Normally when writing, we are mostly making use of our left hemisphere, which tends towards the analytical, one-thought-at-a-time approach. Our internal thoughts, however, are not shaped like that. Thus we have a roadblock as we try to get our brilliant thoughts on paper.

By using a Mind Map as a starting point for thinking, you can bypass the blockage and feeling of overwhelm caused by overly analytical thinking. The Mind Map allows you to see more than one thought at a glance, and in doing so helps clarify your thinking. It shows the way ideas are interrelated (or less related than you thought.) It allows more access to creative, non-linear parts of your brain.

How Can Entrepreneurs Use Mind Maps?

At this point, you’re probably thinking, “How is it that Gina writes so brilliantly and clearly? How does she keep all her creative thoughts straight?” Well, here’s the secret:

Mindmap(Note that the original article was written for my Academic Writing Club members).

Now that you know how I prepared this article, you’ll realize it’s not my high IQ but my Mind Mapping skills that got me where I am today.

Having seen my Mind Map, you know what I’m about to say, but here goes. Here are some helpful ways to make use of Mind Mapping.

  1. Use it for brainstorming ideas for your new business, signature talk, or your next product.
  2. Make a Mind Map of your next project, or the one you’re currently working on.
  3. When planning your next project, make a Mind Map to show the pros and cons of your available options.
  4. Use a Mind Map to take notes.
  5. Mind Mapping can help keep you awake and interested in your subject.
  6. Prepare for an upcoming meeting with a Mind Map.
  7. Use it in coaching or teaching, both to prepare training classes, and for worksheets or other handouts.

Play around with Mind Mapping. You’ll find it’s a refreshing break from the one-foot-in-front-of-the-other way that we approach many things in life.

Accountability Systems for the Blog Phobic

Let’s face it:  I’ve got blog phobia.

How do I know?  It’s simple.  Just look at the date of my last blog post.

Did I not have 30-40 minutes once a week to write?  What about 15 minutes, twice a week?

Of course I had the time.  So I obviously chose to do something else.  Whatever that something else was, it caused me less anxiety than writing a blog post did.  And I’m not aware of having any anxiety in the first place!

What’s going on here?  Where is this blog post phobia coming from?

Who cares?

All I care about is that I want this situation to change. I have so many thoughts to share, and I want them out there.

So, finally, after a long hiatus, that’s what I’m doing.

You might be wondering, “How did she force herself to write this post?”

The answer: an accountability system.  In this case, my coach told me that by the next time we talk, I have to have written a blog post. We didn’t discuss the reasons I haven’t posted — we just decided I would do it.

As is usually the case, I’m my own best client.  That’s probably at least part of the reason why I came up with the accountability software that is the Finish Agent system:  I unconsciously hoped some coach who helps people blog regularly would license my software, so I could join and get daily accountability on my blog writing.

What is it about accountability systems that make people engage in a behavior they normally avoid?  Well, face it — we’re social animals, and we care what others think of us.

That’s why I made sure the Finish Agent accountability system was interactive. Without the daily interaction with your group members, you might as well just fill in an Excel spreadsheet and read it to yourself at bedtime.

The power lies in knowing someone else knows whether you did what you said you would do.

Or you didn’t. (And who likes owning up to THAT?)

So here I am, blogging.  And it was only after starting to write this post that I realized how much I need my very own accountability system.

What is it the number 1 task you really should be doing to build your business, but are avoiding?  Everyone has something, no matter how small.  Let me know what you’re not doing, or not doing enough of.  Just comment below!