3 Tips to Stay Focused and Make Progress

When you woke up this morning, you had a plan. Today you were going to tackle your list of projects and tasks in a meaningful way. You were going to whittle down the to-do list and you were going to make meaningful progress towards your long-term goals. Today was going to be a good, fruitful day. And then you got out of bed. There were small family fires to put out: someone’s missing favorite toy, a lack of the coffee you desperately needed, a forgotten stain on the front of your favorite blouse. When you made into the office, things didn’t improve. There were emails that demanded attention, matters you didn’t count on when you were daydreaming about progress earlier this morning. An impromptu, but mandatory, staff meeting. To paraphrase the Scottish poet Robert Burns, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. How do you stay focused when distractions are demanding your attention?

Nix (or at least limit) multitasking

We’re supposed to be good at it. We should be able to juggle our inbox, while listening to a staff member’s query, while sitting on hold with the mechanic who’s repairing the car. Right? Except we’re not actually wired to multitask. Researchers have proven that multitaskers are actually less productive and less effective than their non-juggling counterparts. In fact, a 2009 study out of Stanford says “By doing less, you might accomplish more.”

Rethink your priorities

Odds are you settle in behind your desk with a cup of joe and start your day scanning email and voice mail. When you’re on a deadline, however, or you want to take a big bite out of your tasks list, resist the urge to start small. Start without the distraction of the inboxes. Kick off the day working on projects that demand more focus (and perhaps creativity.) Give it about an hour of attention and then take a break for the more mundane tasks.

Focus on you

When you’re lethargic and stressed, it’s a lot harder to get in focus and stay there. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep. Set aside time each day to meditate and/or exercise. Both are good for the body and the brain. Allow yourself to take a break. A University of Illinois study found that individuals who took a brief break actually maintained a higher level of productivity throughout a measured period than those who did not. So, that trending video all your friends were laughing about? Take a moment to watch it and then get back to work.