5 Tips to Stay Focused All Day and Be Less Distracted
Staying focused is a problem we all face in today’s ultra connected, always on world. Distractions that “only take a minute” can end up taking most of your day, without you realising it. Here are 5 tips to help you stay focused all day.
1) Remove the Distractions From Your Workplace
Mute your phone, close email, close your browser (especially social media), if you work from home turn off the TV or radio, and hang a “do not disturb” sign on the door.
You might find some of these difficult to do at first, so you could try giving yourself a 10 minute break every hour to check your phone, social media etc, then get back to work. If you do this you need to be disciplined to keep it to 10 minutes, and not to let it slip into 20 or longer.
Part of “removing the distractions” is to organise and tidy your work area, keep everything else put away where it belongs.
Some productivity gurus suggest just keeping one piece of paper and a pen on your desk, everything else should be cleared and put out of sight.
2) Plan Your Work and Write It Down. Ideally Schedule Each Sub-Task Into Time Slots
You can’t stick to a plan if you don’t have one.
Creating a work schedule for the day may be the single most important thing you can do to stay on track with your days work. A work plan can also help you do the tasks you have been putting off, phoning Mr Grumpy at 11.30 is much more likely to be done than phoning Mr Grumpy sometime today, or maybe tomorrow.
Your schedule should also include breaks, where maybe you can have a cup of tea and stop thinking about work for a few minutes. These breaks will improve your productivity, and are often a source inspiration for a work problem that you would have otherwise missed.
The order of tasks on you schedule is important, some tasks will be harder than others, it’s generally the best idea to start with the difficult tasks and leave the easier ones to the end of the day.
3) Train Yourself to Stay Focused
If you consider yourself a multi-tasker you might not be used to long periods doing the same thing, in which case you might need to build up gradually.
Consider having just a 30 minute work session then a break, and when you can do this easily move up to a 1 hour session, then take a break.
If you have difficulty staying focused then most people will find it easiest in the morning, this is the time when you have the most energy, and willpower.
This article has tips to help you stay focused, but in the end, it really comes down to your own ability to control your own mind, thoughts and actions, you need to actively be aware of distractions and actively dismiss them. This level of mindfulness can be difficult at first, but just like building a physical muscle, practice and hard work will eventually build up your ‘mental muscle’ enough for you to work for long periods without distraction.
Distraction is often simply allowing an impulsive though to take over, a question comes into your head and your next reaction might be to immediately google it to find the answer, or a thought might come into your head about someone emailing you, and you immediately open up your email to check.
In cases like these you need to stop take a deep breath, recognise the distraction for what it is, and get back to your focus. You can check your email and google that question at the end of your session.
4) Stop Multitasking
You might think that you can do two things at once, well you can’t.
Numerous studies have shown that the most productive way of working is to get into a ‘flow’ state, where you are consumed and focused on a single task.
Every time you swap to another task it can take 20 minutes or so to get back into this ‘flow’ state. You might be tempted to multitask to reduce the monotony of a boring project, but in the long run you would be better to give it your full attention to get it out of the way as quickly as possible.
If you have many tasks to do in a day a more efficient way of dealing with them is “serial multitasking” i.e. do one task for an hour or so then change. This is still not as efficient as staying in a flow state for several hours, but better than a constant swap-change way of working.
5) Improve Your Physical and Mental State
You will find it easier to focus all day if you are physically and mentally healthy.
Mental health and ability has been shown to be closely linked to physical health, so maybe now is the time to organize a daily exercise routine.
Being physically fit will increase energy levels, which in turn will improve your focus and willpower. Other things you can do to improve your mental state are yoga, meditation and mindfulness.
Each of these can reset and refresh your mind, and could perhaps be done in the middle of the day to give you a boost into the afternoon.