The trick is to focus on your core work product, the thing by which your success is measured, suggests Jeffrey J. McDonnell, a professor at the School of Environment and Sustainability at the University of Saskatchewan. Writing in Science, he describes his ideal workday: "I wake up early, make an espresso, and write until I'm spent." He puts the time in his calendar the day before, including details on exactly which project and topic he'll be working on.
"I call it the one-hour workday," McDonnell writes. "Referring to the short, sacrosanct period when I do what I see as the 'real' work of academia: writing papers."
While McDonnell's core work product is writing, yours could be fielding calls or doing research. Or maybe you're not a morning person. Either way, your system should adjust according to your needs. Ultimately, it's a matter of prioritizing specific tasks--and achieving them in spurts, spending just small amounts of time focused time on any one thing.
McDonnell says just one hour of solid, concentrated work on his core task eases the pressure of the rest of his day, and throughout the week helps him produce more of the actual work he's required to do.
Afterward, no matter what happens the rest of the day, McDonnell says he has already accomplished something that's crucial to his success. Nothing that comes up throughout the day will make you postpone that work, and you can go home with a sense of accomplishment.
McDonnell likens this time to a workout. He says the habitual routine keeps fresh ideas flowing, even when he's away from the computer.