How to Get Focused and Actually Work Less

Hey there. Roy Furr here, at the reins of The Writer's Life again, with a secret I just recently discovered to help me use my time smarter.

The big benefit to this – to using my time smarter – is that I can spend fewer hours of my day focused on work while earning more.

That's something you want, I'd guess.

I mean, who doesn't want to work less and earn more?!

In order for this to make sense, though, I have to reveal a dirty little secret about my past.

You see, in 7th grade, I failed my first class.

I was used to getting pretty good grades all through elementary school. Most of the teachers considered me a "smart kid."

But I failed 7th grade Spanish. Mind you, it's not because I couldn't learn Spanish. I didn't have a language deficiency that prevented me from picking up anything besides English. I even went to class all the time.

But there was a problem.

I wasn't excited about it. I don't know what it was that made me not excited, but I sure wasn't. So I didn't get into it. I didn't do my homework. I didn't pay as much attention in class. I didn't do what it took to pass – much less get a good grade.

And this was the start of a pattern.

Just about every semester, I failed a class. Even when I got B's and A's in my other classes. It was almost like I sat down at the beginning of each semester and said, "I'm going to do well in all my classes, except I'm going to fail this one."

This went on until my freshman year of college. I did well in just about everything except that one class per semester.

Then my tuition bill shocked me into reality. I'd have to get this in check. I'd have to learn how to pass and even excel at those classes I'd been previously failing.

So I got better organized. I learned what it took to make sure I didn't fail. I put in the time and effort to make sure I passed – and often with flying colors.

And all that while I still, admittedly, spent a lot of my time in college partying. Slacking off. Not doing much.

But I still managed to get all my work done on time and well.

So I got good grades. I graduated.

My failed classes were resigned to the pages of history.

It wasn't until later that I realized I actually have ADHD, Inattentive subtype. Which means it's hard to keep my attention (even if I'm not bouncing off the walls). What this meant in school was that as soon as I decided a class was "boring," it'd lose my attention. And the teacher probably couldn't win it back.

You see, most people's brains are wired to be able to focus even on things they think are boring. My brain fogs out things that don't hold my attention and moves on to things that do.

That's why I'd do great in subjects that interested me … And horrible in subjects that didn't.

But this poses a big problem as a freelancer.

And while I think it's an especially big problem for me because of my ADHD, I also believe it's a problem for all freelancers.

We all have trouble focusing and getting the things done that need to be done.

There are all the convenient distractions of email, the internet, making a snack or lunch, calling up a friend because you know there's no boss over your shoulder telling you not to make personal calls … You know your own distractions.

When you let these distractions take hold, it eats up your workday.

Just a minute of focusing somewhere other than work often takes 15 or 20 minutes of valuable time because of how long it takes to get your momentum back.

This eats up hours.

Well, here's a simple solution.

Get a kitchen timer. Set it for 30 minutes. Open up whatever it is you're supposed to be working on. Press start on the timer. And don't look at anything else until your 30 minutes are up. Focus exclusively on that one task.

Do this a few times in your day and you'll be amazed how quickly you start getting things done.

Better still, if you have focus problems like I do, this will help you get through all those boring tasks quickly.

This makes you use your time smarter so you devote less hours of your day to working. And it makes you more productive – which as a freelancer means you make more.

I have one other addition to this technique I've added recently to get even more done in a short workday. You should read my article, Easy Time Management for Copywriters and Other Freelancers, to find out what it's all about.

Do you already use the kitchen timer technique? Do you have a variation on it that can help me focus better? Let me know by commenting below.

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Published: June 14, 2011

5 Responses to “How to Get Focused and Actually Work Less”

  1. I don't think I have ADHD but I do sometimes find it difficult to focus.

    Carol Bentley PYB

  2. Great idea with many applications! I love the stars!

    Quinn Eurich

  3. Yes! - I use the Timer on my IPhone to do this since it is always with me. I tend to let email distract me, so I also do this when working on reading email to limit the time I spend to only 15 to 20 minutes.

    Lane S

  4. Hi Roy, I recently came across another technique which may help those for whom 30 minutes is too long.
    This technique promotes 5 minute intervals. It is a strategy which demands that the writer write as fast as they can; and points out that, in doing so, we are writing just like we talk. At the same time, there isn't time to become bored or disinterested.


  5. I don't have a kitchen timer, but I do have an iPod. With a timer. Why didn't I think of this? I find that my biggest problem is something you mentioned in the article - no boss looking over my shoulder. I do much better when I am given a deadline by an authority figure. With a little creative effort, I think I can begin using the timer technique and also start setting tasks for myself under the guise of "assignments from my boss". In other words, I need to get tougher on myself. Great article, thanks for the nudge!


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