How to Stay Focused for a Major Project

Every business has projects from time to time that demand our total focus and attention. The good news is that there are certain tactics we can use to keep our edge even when we’re under the gun.

The most important thing is to recognize up front that we have to prepare. If you were going to pitch in the World Series tomorrow, you wouldn’t just show up on game night as if it were any other Tuesday. You can’t just wing something like that.

You would make sure your head was in the game, that you were physically and emotionally ready, that you were focused on the win. It’s that way with any major project—at least if we want to succeed.

My team and I launch several key products for our business each year. We do a lot to minimize the stress and maximize our efforts, but there are always times and tasks that require far more of us than the usual. If I’m unprepared, it can feel like I’ve been hit by a truck.

Here are six tactics I use to prevent that from happening, when I’m preparing to undertake any major project. Some are big, some are small, but together they help me stay focused and get the job done. I bet most of these will work for you too.

  • Get a good night’s rest. Sometimes this is tough to pull off in the middle of a major project, but that doesn’t stop me from trying. I know how important it is. Sleep keeps our energy levels up, boosts our creativity and problem-solving capabilities, brightens our mood, and keeps us sharp.

    One study I read said insufficient sleep impairs our functioning just like too much alcohol. Would you start a major project drunk? I didn’t think so.

  • Exercise in the morning. Our brains use up to 20 percent of our body’s oxygen. A good workout, as we all know, gets the blood flowing. And that means it gets the oxygen flowing.

    And exercise not only improves our brain’s executive function, it also gives us a welcome endorphin kick.

  • Eat a healthy breakfast. With all the newfound attention on eating primal, I know more and more people who intermittently fast. But for me, my functioning improves when I have a good breakfast.

    For maximum benefit, according to LiveStrong.com, breakfast should be about 300 to 500 calories. For me that usually includes a glass of beet juice, which allows more oxygen flow in the bloodstream.

  • Avoid interruptions. Interruptions slow our momentum. Every time we respond to an interruption we run the risk of losing not only our train of thought but also all the time it takes to get it back on the tracks.

    To keep this at a minimum I turn off all notifications on my computer and phone. I usually let my team know that I’m going offline, and I sometimes put a sign on my door. A major project is too important to let a little beep, ping, or knock blow my concentration.

  • Play music. Music has always been a part of my life, and it’s definitely a part of my professional life. I listen to music whenever I want to get out of the world and into my work.

    Thanks to my friend Stu McLaren, I now use [email protected]. It’s a service like Pandora but one that streams music selected specifically to lengthen your attention spans and improve your concentration.

  • Set a timer. [email protected] lets you do this, and it’s very helpful. A session with a real stopping point encourages us to put everything we have into the available time.

    You don’t need anything special to make this work for you. Even the time stamp on your computer will work. Just note the time, give yourself a hard stop, and work like crazy to beat the deadline.

No serious pitcher walks onto the mound, stares down all those yards, and looks into the batter’s eyes without the having readied himself beforehand. Winning takes a lot of things, and preparation is usually one. The right preparation before a major project can make all the difference between success and coming up short.

We all know what it’s going to take to make our month, quarter, or year. And the truth is that some projects are just too important to give anything less than your very best and your all. So if you can easily set yourself up to succeed, why risk failure?

Question: What tactics do you use to stay focused in the middle of a major project?

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