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12 Ways to Improve Focus


We’re all incredibly busy these days trying to balance an endless list of demands on our time. Every day it seems as though we’re saying “yes” to another personal or professional project while jotting down another idea that we hope to pursue someday. Add that to the never ending abundance of information from blog posts to tweets to status updates to magazines, books and other forms of media and you can quickly start to feel like we’re drowning. In order to accomplish everything that we have on our plates and keep the balls in the air takes a lot but you’ll never get through it all without focus. To maintain laser focus takes effort and is something that we have to continually work on individually.

While there are many other techniques that I use throughout my week to help me maintain focus, these are the core methods that I have found help me to operate with high effiency and stay productive:

  1. Write your to-do list on a Post-It note. If it doesn’t fit on the Post-It note then it doesn’t get done today. I keep my master to-do list in Wunderlist but every day I write out my to-do list on a Post-It note.  I won’t create a 2nd Post-It note for the day or work off of another to-do list. When I feel unproductive or feel like my routine is out of whack, it is almost always because I faltered from this tip.
  2. Use RescueTime to track where you are spending your time online. RescueTime is a “personal-analytics service” that helps you to track where you’re spending your time. It will likely not be in sync with what you thought and will help you to either make adjustments to how you’re spending your time or the expectations of how you’re spending your time.
  3. Schedule periods of hyper-focused time. Use a tool like Focus Booster or even a simple egg-timer to spend time hyper-focused followed by small breaks, similar to the Pomodoro Technique. I used to find that I would be super productive in between small breaks such as 15 minutes between meetings. The periods of time that you’ll use will be different for each person. The Pomodoro Technique is based on 25 minutes of focused work followed by a 5 minute break. For you that may be different intervals. Find out what works for you by testing different periods of focused work and breaks.
  4. Switch between large and small projects. This will help you slowly chip away on the longer-term projects while feeling accomplished by shipping smaller projects. Try to move every project you have on your plate ahead each week to continue making progress.
  5. Switch between professional and personal projects. Give yourself a break from focusing on that spreadsheet or staring at the daunting list of errands you need to run. Finish up that work-related email and then make that dentist appointment you’ve been putting off.
  6. Turn up the music! When I’m at my most productive, I have upbeat music blasting. When I really get into a zone it’s fairly common for me to put a single song on repeat for hours on end, consumed by that single temp and beat.
  7. Change locations either to another room or to a different location. Sometimes it’s our location that causes us to fall into a productivity slump. Grab your laptop and work from a conference room or coffee shop or go sit outside.
  8. Turn off and tune out distractions. While Twitter, Facebook, IM and our other communications tools are important, it is equally as important to know when turn them off to work on a project.
  9. Break your project into micro-tasks instead of a single line item. “Draft new social media strategy” is not a task, it’s a project. Therefore break it into specific micro-tasks that will help you to feel accomplished and make the project less daunting. Even when preparing something routine like a report, I will have it broken down into several tasks such as: 1) Download Google Analytics report, 2) Input updated metrics into dashboard & 3) Email dashboard to team.
  10. Use a reward system. Maybe your reward for accomplishing a set of tasks is taking a walk with your dog or it could be watching a video that you’ve had bookmarked. Whatever it is, give yourself little rewards throughout the day as something to look forward to.
  11. Go to the gym or for a walk. Most mornings my day starts off at the gym. I have found that it helps to set the pace for the rest of my day and helps me to remain focused. I then take my dog for a walk usually late afternoon as a way to force me away from my desk and get outside for a few minutes. Just that break to get some fresh air and stretch my legs for a few minutes usually helps to drive me towards dinnertime. If you’re not able to get to the gym or outside for a walk, even standing up and doing a few simple stretches will help.
  12. Take a break from work. As important as the hustle is, it’s also important to know when to disconnect and recharge. You won’t be super productive all day, every day. When those moments or days strike, just acknowledge it, take a break and come back later ready to run through your to-do list.

What tips do you use to stay productive and focused on your projects and goals?

Photo Credit: ihtatho

  • C.C. Chapman

    Great tips and a couple of new services I have to check out now.

    Two programs I’d add to the mix are Anti Social and Freedom. The first blocks the main social networks for a period of time you tell it. This is good when I still have to use something like Google Docs, but don’t want to deal with Twitter or Facebook.

    Freedom turns off your internet access completely for the amount of time you tell it. This is great when I want to focus on writing without the possibility of distraction. It is amazing when you set it for 60 minutes how much you can get done. Especially since it does not allow you to wimp out and turn it off. Unless you feel like rebooting your computer.