5 Tips for Improving Focus and Productivity

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.

Achieve Success with Quick and Easy Goal Setting

Do you feel as if you are drifting through life without ever achieving anything? Do you often make excuses for not taking positive steps towards a long-term goal? If so, perhaps you would benefit from setting quick and easy monthly goals in all areas of your life. Here is a system for doing so in just one hour a month.

Buy a hardback notebook for the specific purpose of setting your goals and recording your achievements. You may also use a computer, laptop or Personal Digital Assistant (PDA), as long as it is easy for you to consult your list of goals frequently.

During the last weekend of every month, set aside one hour to record your goals for the next month. Write the name of the month at the top of two pages. At the top of the first page, write “Work Goals,” and then list all of the things that you would like to achieve at work in the coming month. If you run your own business, write down your business goals. Just jot down the goals as they come into your head without putting them into any particular order at this point.

Once you have finished writing your work goals, put the heading “Personal Goals” at the top of the second page and write down all of your personal goals for the month ahead. In this category, include everything that you would like to achieve outside of work, such as goals relating to relationships with family and friends, hobbies, interests, personal development, educational and general interest courses, etc.

After recording all of your goals, look at them again and prioritize them. Put a number by the side of each goal to indicate how much of a priority it is to achieve that goal in the month ahead.

Write the number one by the side of the goals that are your highest priority. Put a number two next to the goals that you will try your best to achieve but which aren’t the top priority. Number three is for goals that are less of a priority – it would be good to achieve them in the month ahead but it wouldn’t be a disaster if they were left until the following month. Don’t prioritize any lower than three, otherwise you risk making the whole process more complicated than it has to be. If you wish, you can restrict your prioritizing to just one and two.

After you have finished setting your monthly goals, write two lists of work and personal goals for the week ahead. To do this, set some smaller goals that will lead you towards achieving the highest priority monthly goals by the end of the month. Give these weekly goals a priority of one. Then repeat the exercise with the monthly goals marked “two” and “three.”

During the week, look at your list of goals often and cross each one off the list as soon as you achieve it. This will give you an instant feeling of satisfaction and motivate you to attain another goal. If you wish, you may break the weekly goals down into daily goals but this is not necessary and may be too time consuming.

At the end of the first week, review your progress and set goals for the second week, based on your overall monthly goals and your progress in the first week. If there are any top priority goals that have not been crossed off your list in the first week, transfer them to the second week without being judgmental. If you didn’t manage to fulfill all of your top priority goals in the first week, it doesn’t mean that you are a failure and that you should give up goal setting. The secret of high achievement is to consistently persevere rather than give up at the first hurdle.

Repeat this process for each week of the month. On the last weekend of the month, review your progress over the past month. Did you accomplish more or less than you expected to? Did you enjoy attaining some goals and avoid others? Did you feel energized and motivated by the exercise or did you feel a failure because you didn’t achieve everything on your list?

If you achieved less than you expected to, perhaps you set yourself too many goals. Try setting fewer goals next month and see if you feel the satisfaction that comes with achieving most of what you set out to. If there were some goals that you avoided, then listen to what this is telling you about yourself. Perhaps it means that you should change your job or find extra help with your business. If you felt a failure because you didn’t accomplish everything on your list, continue with the exercise and remember that it is an ongoing process. What you do not achieve in one month, you can easily transfer to the next month. We all have limited time for working towards our goals, and not achieving a few goals does not make you a failure.

Look at all the goals that you did not achieve in the previous month and decide whether you wish to transfer, modify or discard them. You may decide that you still wish to attain one of your original goals, so you would transfer that to the new month’s list. If there was a specific reason for not reaching a certain goal in the previous month, you may wish to modify that goal so that it will be more attainable this month. If, however, you have realized that a goal has become unimportant for you, you may discard it. You will waste time and energy clinging to goals that are not a priority or which take up too much of your time to be worthwhile at this point in your life.

Repeat the exercise each month for a year and you will be amazed by how productive and well-rounded your life has been. At the end of the year, you may even be pleasantly surprised by the ways in which your goal setting has prompted you to change your life for the better.