Save. Spend. Splurge.

How I focus to get things done

Focusing at work is difficult and not that difficult. It is difficult when you are working from home, and you have two people screaming at each other (one little, one big). It is difficult when I am in the middle of a call and Little Bun wants to ask me a question about his workbook he is working on. It is difficult when I have a lot of things to get done in a short period of time, and it seems like the work keeps piling up.


But the actual focusing on getting things done, that much I can somewhat control because I have never had a problem focusing. When it is a task that I really have to get done, I have no problem shutting out everyone and anything, and getting it done because I have a deadline, a presentation, a meeting, whatever.

To “shut” everyone out, I read the words in my head or think out loud to myself, and ignore what is going on around me. I just get this sense of urgency: IT HAS TO GET DONE OMG, and my brain goes into overdrive that it can only sustain for a short period of time (4 hours max), before I need a break.

Luckily, as I love my job, when I go into “overdrive”, or when I want to really get something done that I find interesting (like a Powerpoint presentation), I reach what this guy calls “flow”, where time passes by super quickly, and I am thinking of how to get it done ASAP. Until it is finished, I don’t take breaks, I don’t talk, I don’t think: Oh let me get to this later. I just buckle down and do it.

I suppose it started when I was younger for two reasons.


First, I read a lot. I have always read a lot as a child, and when you are reading, you need to focus. You can’t just read a paragraph and let your brain wander off or get distracted. You have to continue until at least the chapter or thought is done. I became. very good at this.

I think it also helps to be an avid reader because reading is not a chore for me. I can skim large emails easily, I can read through presentations and documents quickly, I only get caught in a snare if it is in French because now my brain has to read each word carefully and parse out what it means in English as a whole (I cheat and use Google Translate for this). I type fast, I think fast, I read fast.. it is very helpful as an adult.


I also have a anxious need to not forget anything, be late (I am always on time or extra early), and to not have to have anything left on my plate to complete. Take for instance:¬†when I had homework to complete (starting in Grade 1) and every afternoon I’d come home, put my backpack down, make myself a light dinner or snack (usually opening a can of soup or microwaving a ready-made meal), then I’d clean out my backpack and look through everything I had in there to complete in each subject. I always made careful notes in my planner of what was due, for what subject, and when, and I planned out my weeknights and days accordingly.


Sometimes, if there was a lot (too much for one night), I’d make a list of what had to get done first (prioritize), and check the items off the list as I went. I didn’t allow myself to watch TV, read books or wander off to get distracted until everything on that list was done, and anything that could wait until later (e.g. a project), could be completed later.

I let myself have TV time or read a book only once I had completely the “SUPER IMPORTANT MUST GET DONE” things for the next day at school, and then I’d finish or make a note later to finish the other things. I was never that kid who got anything late, I always studied extra early in advance, and all my school projects were finished days in advance of their due dates. It actually made me anxious if I was in a group project because people would say: Oh we have 3 weeks, plenty of time!... and at the back of my head, I’d be calculating that we needed one week to review, 1 week to get started, 1 to finish… that’s all 3 weeks already, PLUS these kids had extracurriculars, hobbies, and all this other stuff we had to sync up with schedule-wise (this was before cellphones, texting, instant messaging and email).

I have always been a planner because I knew that if I planned my days out and my work correctly, I could see ahead of schedule: Oh yes, I can go out Saturday and not do my work because I still have Sunday and Monday to finish this paper due on Tuesday…. and because I wanted to have the flexibility of this time, I’d actually have everything done before the weekend so that I’d have the Monday to review at my leisure and make changes.

I never understood kids who got their papers and projects in late, or “didn’t find the time”, and yet could recite all the TV show happenings to me in detail. I guess I never understood why if it was something you HAD to do (school), why wouldn’t you finish it, get it out of your head and then you can decide to do what you want because the deadline is now meaningless to you? I feel the same way as an adult when my partner procrastinates on his taxes because I want to check it off my mental list that they are done, filed, and paid in full.


There is some sort of satisfaction I derive from finishing things, and doing them ahead of time so that if I want to eff off for a few hours to go out, I can because I already got my work done ahead of time and I can coast and relax. I don’t really like leaving anything but housework until it becomes unbearable or Little Bun starts naming dust bunny families in our corners, because I simply don’t put any importance in getting that work done, as I deem my family and career work to be more important than housework, if that makes sense. Then it’s ME work (as in my own personal time), THEN it is housework at the bottom of this list.

So how do I focus?

Ideally, I’d have a quiet room and no tiny humans around me. Even without that, I have been able to focus because my brain overrides everything else except the bathroom and eating, and basic help for Little Bun.

I also don’t enjoy focusing and stressing out so I do things ahead of time, so that I have time to not freak out and focus.

When I do have to focus and stress out about it, I really shut off everything in my brain and dive in. I have this overriding need to get it done and to deep dive, which pushes me.

What really helps I think, is I read, think and type fast. I can work very quickly in a short period of time (quality may suffer), but I can get it done if I have to. I do get very crabby if someone interrupts me while I am thinking or working, and my family has learned this.


  • mary

    I think this is pretty amazing, the way you are able to focus even in conditions which are not ideal for concentration.
    I (and, I think, most people) would greatly benefit from this capacity to focus and determination to finish, but unless it’s something which belongs to your personality (like in your case), it’s very hard work.
    And one question: I think you have an extra bedroom (the one that will be your son’s room). Have you never used that room to work when you needed to concentrate or have you always worked in the living room, even with the family present? A two-bedroom apartment when you have only one child is not bad. You can retreat in one of the bedrooms if necessary.
    I don’t have a spare room and I try hard to focus; that’s why I think this trait of yours is quite amazing.

    • Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      I dive into myself if it’s something I need to get done. I basically achieve a state of: I need to do this, and it will get done. Period.

      I do use that room, but it is not comfortable in there as it is not really an office setup. I would actually need to make that my full-time office for it to work, and to be honest with you, I tried once. I did it one week, and my son just came in and sat under the desk playing. He cannot physically be away from me at this age, and I am resigned to it for now.

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