Focus on Getting Things Done

Tips for staying on task to get more accomplished.

Did you ever have one of those days where you didn’t finish anything you’d planned because you just couldn’t seem to buckle down and get focused? Actually, is there anyone who hasn’t had one of those days? Time to throw off my superhero cape and reveal that even this time management expert has days like that. All the planning and scheduling in the world is useless if you can’t focus on important tasks. 

Maybe you can benefit from some of the things that have helped me stay focused when I‘m working in my office:

I have a clear goal and purpose. I make sure that whatever I’m working on is moving me closer to one of my personal or professional goals. If a task isn’t meaningful in that way, I strongly evaluate why I’m even considering doing it. If I have trouble getting passionate about something once I’ve started it, I step back and re-evaluate whether I should be working on it.

I close my email. It’s fun to see the little icon pop up telling me I have a new email message – shiny new emails are typically much more interesting than whatever I’m supposed to be working on. Since my willpower is weak in this area, I close my email to avoid temptation, and only check it a few times a day. Oops, I just closed my email now as I write this.

I set a timer. I set it in 30-minute increments and tell myself I can’t leave my desk or work on anything else until the timer goes off. Knowing that I only have to focus on the task at hand for a half hour makes it easy to avoid interrupting myself to do something else.

I immerse myself in the current task. I organize my workspace, ignore the phone (which is sometimes very hard to do), and stay focused on the goal for each 30-minute session. My goal for this session is to get this post written.

I take breaks. After each 30-minute work session I take a break of 10 minutes or so before the next focused session begins. I might grab a snack, make a phone call, or do some quick tasks from my to-do list. Whatever it is, it doesn’t require a lot of brain power or a big chunk of time.

I write down random thoughts. If ideas pop into my head that aren’t related to what I’m working on, I write them on either my master to do list for future scheduling, or in my planner for whatever day I plan to do them. Then I get right back to work.

I meditate. I’ve only recently begun meditating – I never thought it was something I needed and I certainly didn’t think I had time for it. But I took a class to get me started and listen to some guided meditations to help me stay focused. It doesn’t take a lot of time and it helps me clear my head so that I can focus more easily during my workday.

Whew, finished writing with 2 minutes to spare on my timer. I’d love to hear how you stay focused when life is pulling you in a million different directions.

James June 27, 2012 at 11:52 PM
This is a very helpful article, Sue. I agree with point 2, emails can be distracting. I have this notification sound from my phone whenever I receive an email and I'd stop with whatever it is that I'm doing to check my email.
Nancy Pipal June 29, 2012 at 11:56 AM
I second that, James. This is a GREAT list of things to do and not do in order to stay on task. I especially like the idea of taking breaks. Thanks for the excellent advice, Sue.


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