There are a few things that make me lose focus, the most powerful being endless meetings, my blood sugar levels, and Snapchat (although I am ashamed to admit that in writing). If you’re also prone to focus-killers, there are a variety of tactics you can take to help you hunker down and get whatever it is you need to do, done. Here are my top 11:
#1 Limit distractions
It’s obvious, but even sounds hard to do as I write this: at a minimum, put your phone in airplane mode, sign out of Gmail, and close out of everything on your desk except for the materials that you’re supposed to be concentrating on. Excuse yourself from any meetings that do not absolutely require your attendance. Block the time on your calendar, close your Outlook, and resist the urge to check email until the task at hand is complete.
#2 Change your environment
If you work from home, it’s hard to limit distractions like a big pile of laundry or your dog’s sad eyes begging you to play. Fortunately, there’s a whole industry dedicated to helping your fellow remote workers stay engaged (and caffeinate): for a mere $2 drink, your local café will provide free WiFi and hours of undisturbed time to focus. Bring earbuds and see #3.
#3 Listen to Yo-Yo Ma
Not sure if this one is just me, but there is something about listening to this world-renowned cellist who’s been performing since he was five years old that convinces me that I am fully capable of buckling down and finishing that email. (This should go without saying, but his music is also quite good and is very calming to my fellow neurotics that find Ariana Grande incredibly stressful.)
#4 Go for a walk
Sometimes, you need some fresh air before you’re in a state where you can be truly productive. You can go for a walk anywhere, at any time, in any weather. Even if it’s just around your office to get a hot tea and say hello to your favorite administrative assistant.
#5 Reward yourself
I like to chunk my day into multiple parts and schedule rewards if I am able to accomplish certain tasks. For example, I don’t allow myself to go pick up my lunch until I have gotten the two worst items off of my to-do list for the morning. (I don’t think my expense reports would ever be filed if it weren’t for the bar of 70% dark chocolate that I perpetually replenish in my cabinet.)
#6 Allow yourself to space out
For a limited period of time, that is. Sometimes, you need a mental break to clarify your thoughts. To me, spacing out is a little midday meditation that has the power to revitalize me and occasionally has helped me to arrive at a solution or answer that I’d been grappling with beforehand.
#7 Start with the first step
When my to-do list says something like ‘complete analysis on X,’ it sounds too daunting to start. Instead, think of the most tactical, immediate thing that you can do to get started. Is it send an email? Make a quick phone call? Develop a template? Figure out the first step, and just do that.
#8 Track your moments of inspiration
In all honesty, I keep a small journal of quotes, stories, articles, images and ideas at my desk at home that I use to record my ideas and inspiration, and also to reference when I feel like my creative juices are drying up. It reminds me of all of the projects I want to complete and goals that I want to accomplish. I do this at work, too – I have a file called ‘Inspiration’ that has notes of kudos, congratulations, big projects and accomplishments, articles about people I admire, etc. A few minutes perusing that file helps me get back on track.
#9 Go to bed
Really, a good night’s sleep does so much good for my concentration and willpower. Note: this does not apply to napping. (It might just be me, but naps send me into an unproductive spiral of examining my pores, watching Bachelorette on DVR in my pajamas and eating Costco-sized bags of SkinnyPop.)
#10 Limit what you have to focus on
It is possible to concentrate and focus on too many things at once and exhaust yourself – my dad likes to call this “burning the candle at both ends.” Figure out what your priorities are, and let your mind focus on just a couple at a time. Do you want to lose weight and get a 700 on the GMAT? If you’re going about it by training for a marathon, taking spin classes, joining a study group, and limiting your carbohydrate intake, you’ll probably fail out of pure mental exhaustion (much less physical). Instead, sign up for a healthy meal delivery service and devote the rest of the time and energy to your books.
#11 Remind yourself of what you’ve accomplished
My handwritten to-do lists all have check boxes on the left-hand side of each line item. If you don’t make a to-do list of priorities every morning, you can make one when you’re battling for your focus. Include the things you’ve already done, then give yourself the satisfaction of crossing them off. How can you keep lollygagging when you see all that momentum on paper!?
Do you have any tried-and-true tactics for staying on the ball? Leave them in the comments below!
By Colleen Bordeaux