These days the demands of business put more on most people's plate than they probably can handle. It's not intentional, but every company is trying to extract maximum efficiency out of every resource. Overwork and massive distractions can create unintended mistakes or substandard performance.

When I find myself overloaded I add additional structure to my process. For example, if I have been largely improvising my schedule I might choose to create specific times of day for email or phone returns. Even though I don't like to be that rigid most of the time, when I'm really busy this approach gives me the ability to find hours where I can just think and write with little distraction.  A little organization can not only free my time, but also my mind.

Here are additional insights from my Inc. colleagues.

1. Understand Your Personal Work Style

The place I am most productive is sitting in a coffee shop with headphones on and music flowing. It is my preferred location for writing my column, finishing up a big proposal or getting through a large writing assignment. My wife, the keeper of the finances and human resources of my businesses for the past 15 years, is the opposite.  She must have complete silence and is better left to do her work in solitude with no one else around. In order to get focused work done, you must understand and accept your work style, and accommodate that of those who work with and for you. Build in blocks of time that allow you and others to capitalize on the ideal to accomplish critical, focused tasks in the most efficient manner possible. Eric Holtzclaw--Lean Forward

Want to read more from Eric? Click here.

2. Stay in the Present

After years of yoga I still can't get up into a headstand alone. Recently, a yoga teacher helped me by bracing one leg while I pulled the other into position. "I'm so frustrated that I can be in this position but I can't get into it by myself!" I griped. "Well, you're in it now," she answered calmly. It was a memorable lesson. I'm always looking around corners, anticipating the next task. As business owners we learn to think this way, but it's a terrible habit that ruins our focus. So I'm trying to learn not to worry about the next headstand while I'm still upside down in the current one. Minda Zetlin - Start Me Up

Want to read more from Minda? Click here.

3. Use the 4 Ds

Of all the tools I have seen to help people stay focused, the most effective one is the simplest. It is called the 4 Ds and was initially used by President "Ike" Eisenhower.  The key is to distinguish between importance and urgency of tasks. Eisenhower's mantra was: "What's important is seldom urgent, and what's urgent is seldom important."

  • Do those tasks that are important and urgent.
  • Delegate tasks that are unimportant and urgent.
  • Defer tasks that are important and not urgent, but make sure you assign a due date and do those personally.
  • Dump tasks that are unimportant and not urgent.

Lee Colan--Leadership Matters

Want to read more from Lee? Click here.

4. Respond, Don't React

When head clutter takes over you're likely to make rash decisions and react to the unexpected in ways that aren't in your best interest. Although it may feel like you're too busy to get ideas, concerns and goals out of your head and onto paper, clearing your mind will actually add to productivity and lessen stress. Clear the fog by building in daily "think time" to make your lists, assign priorities and problem solve. And don't feel pressured to make quick decisions; unless you're an ER doc there are few things that can't wait.  Marla Tabaka--The Successful Soloist

Want to read more from Marla? Click here.

5. Reward Yourself For Focus

The first thing I do is to maintain a daily "to-do" list, which comprises--in order of importance--the things that I absolutely need to get done that day. As I complete each item, I check it off my list and then move on to the next item. The second thing I do is to turn off my email, my text messaging and my phones for several hours at a time when I'm really under the gun to meet a critical deadline. I find that much of my email traffic is not time critical, and reading and responding to the messages just distracts me from what's most important. Finally, I reward myself for accomplishing my key goals by taking a quick break, going for a quick walk or grabbing a coffee at a local cafe. And then I get right back to work. Peter Economy--The Management Guy

Want to read more from Peter? Click here.

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