Editor's note: This is a guest post from Ali Luke of Constructively Productive.
However much you love your job, there'll be times when you've got tasks which you struggle to get on with. Maybe they're boring, so it's hard to stick with them. Maybe they're hard – and you have to fight the urge to stop and do something easier.
And if you don't especially like your job, you can still get a sense of satisfaction from spending a day working hard – instead of stopping every ten minutes to update Facebook. You might even find that applying a bit more focus makes your job more enjoyable.
Here's five great ways to stay focused:
#1: Clear Your Mind
If you're dreading something – a phone call you need to make, perhaps – then it's hard to keep your mind on the task at hand. And if you've got all sorts of non-work concerns (maybe you need to remember to pick up your dry-cleaning, or you're trying to figure out what to get your sister for her birthday) then you're probably going to find your attention slipping.
Getting distractions off your mind might mean tackling some particular task, like that tricky phone call. It might just mean making a note of what you're worried about, so that you know you won't forget it later.
#2: Close Your Email
Yes, I know you've heard this advice before: don't keep your email account open all day. It really does help – because if your concentration is constantly broken by incoming messages, you're going to struggle to really get into your work.
If you really, truly have "urgent" emails that are likely to come in, then you can use a service like AwayFind to get a notification by phone. Usually, though, you're not going to get any messages which can't wait for a few hours – plus, it's more efficient to batch-process email rather than deal with it as it arrives.
#3: Train Your Thoughts
Let's say you're working away on that big report, and you suddenly think Hmm, I wonder what's on TV tonight or I could just check those blogs...
It's easy to let your thoughts control your actions, especially when you work at a computer. You think about looking at a web comic and suddenly it's open in front of you. You think about seeing what's up on Twitter, and you find yourself reading tweets and clicking on links.
Get into the habit of saying to yourself: No. I'm working on this report right now. That can wait. Push those unwanted thoughts away.
#4: Write a List
When you're between tasks, it's easy to lose focus while you try to figure out what to do next. That's when a list comes in handy: it lets you know what to move on to. I generally write a quick to-do list at the start of each day – and some days have regular tasks which come up week after week.
Once you've written your list, mark each task as you work on it (I use an asterisk) and then cross it off once you've finished it. This is a simple but effective reminder to yourself when you need to resist a stray thought and say I'm working on this report right now.
#5: Take a Break
None of us can concentrate for hours at a time without a break. If you're really focused on your work, you'll probably need to stop after 45 – 60 minutes and take a 10 – 15 minute break. This gives your mind the chance to rest.
By taking frequent breaks, you also get the advantages of what time coach Mark Forster calls "the end effect" – that extra boost in productivity which happens when you're trying to finish something off before lunch or before the end of the work day.
What are your biggest struggles with staying focused? Have you managed to overcome them – or are you still looking for a solution? Let us know in the comments...
Bio: As a writer, Ali Luke is keenly interested in how productivity and creativity intersect. She co-runs the blog Constructively Productive with Thursday Bram, and helped put together The Creativity Toolbox, packed with goodies and resources for creative folks who want to make more money.
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5 thoughts on “5 Ways to Stay Focused at Work”
Lists are my best friend.
I just decided to start tracking my time (with an iPhone app!), which I hope will help me stay focused. I wrote about it in a blog post, "To Achieve Better Time Management, Start with Time Measurement," http://www.bettermentblog.com/2011/03/21/to-achieve-better-time-management-start-with-time-measurement/
I think your tips are spot on!
I'm a big list maker. I'm finally getting the hang of turning off email when I'm on the computer writing. It makes a big difference in my productivity.
Thanks J.D, Doug and Angela -- great points about lists. Doug, I don't have an iPhone, but I've found time tracking very useful too. 🙂
I find that clearing works wonders for any task I am about to undertake. Sometimes it is clearing my mind and other times it is clearing my environment. A cluttered desk makes for a cluttered mind. Thanks for the tips.
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