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How to Focus Better to Melt Stress and Overwhelm

By Kate Northrup

When stress and overwhelm are mounting, it seems like you need to figure out how to get more done as quickly as possible so you can get your nose above the water and breathe again. But really, what does the trick every time is learning how to focus better.

I used to be really scattered. I would flit from one project to the next without a clear plan. I used my inbox as my to-do list. I started new things without wrapping up the last thing all the time. My mind was like a huge bulletin board with layers of sticky notes stuck on there haphazardly.

Not surprisingly, my finances were also a mess, and I couldn’t get the traction revenue-wise that I wanted (and needed to pay off my debt.)

I managed to work this way for a while and even had some nice wins…but it wasn’t until I learned to focus that things really shifted.

I’d been taught, like so many of us, that the secret to success is jamming as much as possible into our days. I thought if I could just work the tetris puzzle of my schedule and manage my time better, I’d finally have the golden ticket to easeful success.

I thought I needed to get more done, but I really needed to focus on doing the right things.

How to Focus Better

If you want to focus better and melt your stress and overwhelm, here’s where to start:

Know What Matters To You (and What Doesn’t)

If everything matters, then nothing matters. Staking our claim on what’s important to us (and by default, what isn’t) makes it so much easier to know what to focus on and what’s not worth our time. Not sure what matters to you? Ask yourself these questions:

  • What makes me cry?
  • What am I inspired by?
  • What pisses me off?
  • What breaks my heart?
  • What am I curious about?
How to Focus Better

Try this: Make a list prompted by the questions above and read it at the beginning of every day. It will help you clarify what to focus on during the day and what you can ignore.

Eliminate Distractions and Interruptions

The average worker in an office gets interrupted every 3 to 10 minutes, and it can take from 5 to 25 minutes to get refocused on what you were doing before, according to Gloria Mark, a professor at the University of California, Irvine. While you may not work in an office, notifications from your phone and computer screen, not to mention the other people (or pets) you live with, are likely making it next to impossible to focus on anything.

Try this: Turn off all notifications. No sounds, bells, icons, or buzzing. Put your phone in your desk drawer or bag so that you can’t grab it easily to distract yourself. And set standard work hours if you work from home that is communicated with everyone you live with. Close a door if you can. (Even if that means working in the closet. I’ve been there too.) 

Move Your Body

Think you’re too busy to exercise? Actually, if you’re feeling stress and overwhelm, you can’t afford not to move your body. A research review published by Translation Sports Medicine found that moderate to high-intensity exercise can increase your concentration for up to 2 hours. 60 minutes got optimal results, but as little as 2 minutes temporarily boosted memory.

Try this: When you start to notice yourself getting distracted, put on a song and dance around for 2-3 minutes. Sit back down to work and notice the difference in your ability to focus.

Your ability to focus (or lack thereof) has a significant impact on your stress and overwhelm levels, your results, and your feelings of satisfaction.

Just because the world is a very distracting place doesn’t mean you have to be distracted.

Use these ideas to increase your focus levels immediately and notice the uptick in your productivity.

Plus, there’s one more MAJOR focus hack that I use every day that doesn’t lend itself to explaining in a blog post, but that I’m going to be teaching in an upcoming free workshop I’m teaching called:

The Productivity Myth: 3 Easy Tactics to Focus on the Right Things and Get Better Business Results Without Burning Out

I’ve only ever shared one of the tactics in my paid programs before, but it’s too important to keep behind closed doors anymore…so during this workshop, I’m letting it loose!

Reserve your spot – it’s free!


How to Focus Better

Now, over to you:

When do you struggle with focusing the most? What have you tried that didn’t work? Which one of the techniques from this post are you going to try? Leave a comment and let us know!

Kate Northrup is an entrepreneur, bestselling author, mother, and founder and CEO of The Origin Company, which reaches hundreds of thousands globally. Kate is committed to supporting ambitious women to light up the world without burning themselves out. She’s the author of Do Less, the Do Less Planner System creator, and runs The Origin Membership, which helps business owners grow their business while doing less.


  • I definitely am struggling with focus as I start my business because I don’t actually know what I am supposed to be doing. I am very much in that mode of start something, get stuck quickly and move onto something else, thereby never finishing anything. TBH it’s a huge confidence issue too.

    • Team Origin

      Hi Julia, thanks so much for your comment. It’s such a common struggle and we really hope you join us for Kate’s free workshop. It will give you lots of ideas and support around this.

  • “I thought I needed to get more done, but I really needed to focus on doing the right things.”
    This resonates with me. Thanks for the reminder to focus on the right things instead of being led by the nose to endless to-dos. The dance breaks help a lot. And 5 min breaks to put my feet in the grass in my yard and feel the sun on my back. Both get me out of my adrenaline responsiveness.

    • Team Origin

      Hi Michele – thanks so much for your comment – we are so glad this blog post resonates with you. And a dance break helps a multitude of things :-)

  • Melissa

    I would love to do the productivity workshop but the link takes me to the waitlist for membership. Can someone help me with this?

    • Team Origin

      Hi Melissa, this is no longer available, however, if we do any further workshops we’ll be sure to e-mail about it and post about it on social media :-)

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