How to stay focused, no matter how restless you are, is an important and helpful skill.
When it comes to distractions, I’m like Dug from the movie “Up!”– “Squirrel!” – and thanks to today’s “always on” lifestyle, more often than not my professional and personal lives collide like a train wreck. Mindfulness has become a crucial skill: It helps you stay focused throughout the craziest of days, but it’s like a muscle that needs to be worked out. The more you practice, the better you get.
Here are 11 mind-over-matter techniques to help you stay focused in the face of distraction:
1. Define the problem
What specifically causes you to lose focus? Is it noise? The Internet? Phone calls? Your Twitter addiction? You won’t know how to stay focused until you know what veers you off course.
I used to be so distracted, it became a self-fulfilling prophecy: I’d go to work with the assumption that I’d barely get anything done, and that’s exactly what happened. Before getting out of bed, I now visualize how I’d like my day to go. I specifically picture myself focused and centered, and my reality is finally matching up.
3. Set limits
There are tasks that will technically never be finished, like replying to e-mails or maintaining your Twitter account. Instead of getting sucked into the vortex, give yourself a certain time frame for your online maintenance. For example, give yourself 30 minutes to reply to e-mails, instead of forging ahead until your inbox is at zero – otherwise, you could be sitting there for the next decade.
4. Take more breaks
The number one thing that helps me stay focused is – ironically enough – taking more breaks: Chopping up my workday into shorter, more concentrated bursts with small recovery periods afterwards has made all the difference to my life as a whole.
5. Wear headphones
Enforce a headphone rule: If you’re wearing headphones, that means you’re working on something important and don’t have time to chat.
6. Start small
Starting is always the hardest part. If you’ve got a huge project to tackle and you’re procrastinating, simply say to yourself, “I’ll work on it for the next ten minutes.” No big deal, right? After the ten minutes are over, you’ll have picked up enough momentum to keep going.
7. Make a promise
Set a lunch date, take your beau out to the movies, or – if you’re really desperate – make a doctor’s appointment. Knowing you have to leave at a certain time might help you stay focused and get through your work as efficiently as possible.
8. Take five
It’s just as easy to do something as it is not to. It’s just as easy to leave your mail in pile and deal with it later – until there have been so many layers that you can’t see your desk anymore. Any time you’re about to put something off that only takes a few minutes, just picture the junk heap your life will turn into.
9. Reverse your to-do list
Much of the time, we start our day with mindless work first and work our way up to tougher tasks – but by the time we reach those tasks, we’re pooped. Complete the tasks that require the most mental energy first thing, and leave the mindless work for… well, when your brain waves aren’t waving.
Even though multi-tasking is emotionally satisfying in the moment, it’s certainly not when the day is over and you’ve only accomplished a fraction of what you set out to. After years of multi-tasking and feeling perpetually distracted, learning to single-task feels impossible – but once you do, you’ll be surprised at how well you breeze through those to-dos.
11. Test the waters
While there are hundreds of productivity tips out there; you won’t know which ones will work best for you until you give them a shot. Remain open to the experience, learn from your mistakes, and you’ll be the most productive chick ever to grace an office.
What techniques help you stay focused?
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Image: Mark Hunter