This is the time of year when university music students are preparing for their year-end performances. Even if you’re not a performing musician you can appreciate the time, commitment, consistency, and deep focus required to perform for an audience.
Preparing for a performance is not all that different from preparing for any other big presentation. It requires consistency in preparation, thorough knowledge of your content, and an ability to deliver when it really counts.
It’s this last point that really separates the “performers” from the amateurs. Performers – and by “performers” I mean people who perform something in front of an audience – need to practice performing. This requires a different set of skills than just knowing your stuff.
Whether you’re preparing to deliver a big presentation at work or getting ready for your Carnegie Hall debut, here are some ideas on how to focus and to make the most of your preparation time.
Set up a distraction-free physical environment
Yes, we know this. But do we actually do this?
It took me a long time to sit down to write this post today because I kept getting distracted. What finally worked was getting my butt into my home office that is set up to be as distraction-free as possible.
All notifications are turned off. All of them. The door to the room is closed, since my dogs like to come in and look for attention. I have my favourite focus blend in the diffuser right beside me. Hand cream for dry hands? Check. Coffee? Check. Tummy full of good food? Check. Computer station set up, with everything within reach? Check, check, check.
But it goes deeper than this. You can have all the stuff you need close by, and the door closed, and the notifications turned off, but there is very little stopping you from popping into your email or scrolling social media while your ideas are ruminating.
Keep your brain out of your inbox
One of my biggest focus killers is the endless email inbox. For me, I can’t truly focus unless I know that everything urgent is looked after.
You may recall my recent post about Revenge Bedtime Procrastination. In that post, I talked about overcoming the impossible task of shifting away from late-night productivity (or Candy Crushing or scrolling). I used to think that my best practice time was at night because I was a night owl.
But when I started really paying attention, I realized that I was more focused at night because I was less distracted by the need to be available to other people. I was also afraid of being away from my inbox too long, in case of a possible email explosion the next day.
I truly believe one of the biggest factors in my ability to shift my focus work to other times in the day is having a firm communication strategy. You can read about the inbox strategy I follow in this post, Clear your inbox, clear your mind, go practice. There are definitely other approaches, and you should do what works for you.
What I want you to get from this point is: get your communications prioritized and managed. Know that you have looked after everything and you won’t lose anything. No one needs you right now, especially no one in your inbox. Then you can confidently put that distraction aside and focus on the task at hand.
Do a brain dump
“Brain dump” is a hot term these days. It basically means that you take all the ideas swirling around in your head and you put them somewhere.
This is exactly why I’m such an avid journaler (read about that here). When I don’t do my morning three-page brain dump I spend all day floating from thought to thought. When I get all the junk out of my brain in the morning, I feel much clearer for the rest of the day, and I often come up with great ideas.
If you have a bunch of great ideas that you don’t want to forget, try to have someplace where you can jot things down for future reference. You can have a journal you keep with you all the time. If you use a paper calendar system (I love the Full Focus Planner) you can write things down there.
Maybe you have a document in your google drive, or an item in your electronic calendar, or in Evernote, or in Trello. I like Trello because you can move items around into different categories and take action on them, but you can use whatever works for you.
Get those thoughts down somewhere, in a place where you can find them again easily. Then they won’t take up precious space in your attention hard drive.
Give yourself a deadline
Oooh, I love me a good deadline. This strategy works best when there is the threat of public humiliation, like a performance. If you show up in front of an audience unprepared, yeah, people notice.
Luckily, most people don’t have that kind of stress all that often (except maybe university music students in March and April). In a way it’s easier to be motivated to focus when there is that performance stress looming, because the consequences are so very real.
What if you need to get something done, and it’s complex, and you’re distracted but you just need to get it done, for goodness sake?
Let’s take today’s blog post as an example. As I write this, I’m looking out my window at the most beautiful sunny day. I want to get out there with my family to enjoy it, but I need to get this done. My deadline? I gave myself until a certain time to get it done, and that’s all the time there is. If it doesn’t get done, it either stays that way, or I have to steal time from other things I want to be doing.
It’s a little bit of tough love for yourself. Do it, or don’t. And if you don’t, this unpleasant thing will happen (lose readers, miss out on the sunshine and family time, steal from your personal time later). Or even better, rephrase it with the positive consequences of getting the thing done: sun, fun, healthy bedtime, etc.
Here is a crucial connection to Bedtime Revenge Procrastination (BRP): if you don’t get it done in the time you give yourself, you’ll steal from your evening time to do it. Then you’re stuck back in the BRP loop of staying up too late, sleeping too late, being groggy and distracted, etc.
Give yourself a deadline, part 2
You can also leverage a strategy such as the Pomodoro Method, which is always how I do my practicing. Basically, you set your timer for a certain amount of time, then you go full out for that time, then you stop and take a break.
This approach works very well for projects that are enormous, like practicing for a performance. Performances take months and months of practice, and you cannot cram your preparation. It takes pacing, consistency, time, and if you don’t want to waste your time, intense focus.
You are basically setting a short-term intention for exactly what you’ll do in that limited amount of time. Some proponents swear by 50 minutes on, 10 minutes of break. When I’m practicing, I use 25 minutes of practice, 5 minutes of break.
How you do it might depend on how you work best, and what you’re working on. It takes time to settle into the groove of what you’re doing so maybe the 50-minute approach works better for you.
One of the ways I like to shave off the focus “warm up” time is to do the mulling-over before setting the timer. You can do this while you’re doing other things. I plan my blog posts during the week, so when I sit down to write I pretty much know what I’ll be writing about.
Whether you’re practicing or getting ready to tackle a huge project, having a plan of attack in advance really saves time. Break down that huge goal into little tasks and focus on that one thing in that time. I can’t practice an entire Beethoven sonata in 25 minutes (not well, anyway), but I can certainly work on memorizing one section so it’s more secure.
How to Focus by Using Your Oils
Essential oils are stellar for focus. This is exactly I started doing dōTERRA as a business. When I realized exactly how well the oils work for focus, I knew I needed to get the message out to the masses.
I’ve written a few posts related to this:
- Your diffuser: your work-from-home productivity hero
- Use your diffuser for focus
- Recital preparation with essential oil support
- Essential oils for memory
- Five ways to add structure to your day using aromatic links
In a nutshell, you can create an aromatic link between a desired action and an aroma to trigger it. (There might be a post on Habit Stacking ruminating in this brain.) Here’s what’s really important though: you can program the association to link the emotion you feel when doing the action.
This is really powerful, and I want you think about this. If you want to feel “inspired and focused” when you [insert complex task here], use an aroma every time you do the activity and feel “inspired and focused”. Eventually just smelling that aroma will make you feel “inspired and focused“, and you’ll associate that feeling with doing that task.
Back to practicing as our final example. I always use this blend when I practice: Peppermint, Wild Orange, Frankincense, and Rosemary. Now when I smell that blend, I’m inspired to go sit at the bench and do 25 minutes of learning notes.
Some oils are chemically more likely to help you with focus, and you can find my suggestions in the links above. But really, almost any aroma can be put to use in this way, as long as you remember the importance of making the emotional connection too.
Put it into practice
Now stop reading and go practice. (But thanks for reading.)