Sometimes your to-do list is a mile long, but all of a sudden everything but the task at hand seems more compelling. You vow to focus and get down to work as soon as you return one more email, start that load of laundry, or watch one more episode of your new favorite show on Netflix.
Unfortunately, this lack of focus only leads to an even more overwhelming to-do list and immense feelings of guilt. Luckily, anyone can learn to focus and become more productive. This is a skill that you can master by implementing a few simple tips into your daily routine:
Focus For Shorter Bursts of Time
Even if you have eight or more hours’ worth of work to accomplish in a given day, the thought of sitting down and working for eight hours straight probably sounds a lot like torture. Instead, focus for shorter bursts of time and then take a quick break. This is a much more manageable approach, and many people find they are more productive during these mini-bursts of work. Some experts recommend working for 50 minutes, taking a break for 10, and then repeating until your task is complete. This approach can easily be modified to suit your own preferences.
Minimize Real-Life Distractions
If you work in an office, it’s easy to get caught up in constant “stop-and-chats” with your coworkers and face other distractions. Make a point of blocking out distractions when you work. This may mean closing your office door for a few hours at a time or wearing noise-canceling headphones to block out noise, thereby also signaling to coworkers that you shouldn’t be disturbed. If you work from home, create a calm, quiet work station. If you live on a busy street, you may want to buy a white-noise machine to block out the sounds of traffic and conversation.
Minimize Digital Distractions
It’s easy to fool yourself into thinking you’re being productive just because you’re engaging with your phone or sitting at your laptop. Digital clutter is just as distracting as real-life disruptions, however. Set aside a specific block of time each day to reply to emails and texts. If messages come in when you’re working, ignore them until the scheduled time. You may want to shut off your notifications if this is especially challenging for you. Close any unnecessary tabs and avoid surfing unless you’re on a break. Apps like StayFocused allow you to block non-work-related websites during specific time frames to truly cut back on digital distractions.
Make Use of a Day Planner
Using a day planner is a great way to keep track of immediate tasks, long-term goals (ideally broken down into bite-size steps), appointments, and scheduled phone calls. You can also use a journal to help you set manageable longer-term goals and then create daily and weekly action steps in your day planner to make sure you achieve these goals.
Get Fresh Air and Exercise
Instead of staying at your computer during those short breaks in between tasks, it’s a good idea to get outside and get your blood flowing. Going for a brisk walk, a jog, or a bike ride will break up the monotony of your day, release feel-good endorphins that give you an energy boost, and help you feel more productive and focused when you get back to work. Some people find that getting up an hour earlier to go for a run sets the tone for the whole day.
Losing focus and feeling unproductive is frustrating, but it’s also something that can be remedied. By incorporating these tips into your daily life, you will soon feel much more productive and accomplished.