People are often multitasking today, but sometimes it just becomes overload, and then distraction can overwhelm you. If you are doing work that requires concentration, you will need to regain your focus to complete the job.

Sadly, this happens to me all the time. I'll be working on a column and a text comes in needing response, or I go to the Web to research a concept and soon I'm off on a YouTube surf. It's fine when I'm at the end of my day and have finished a few columns, but when it's afternoon and I haven't made any real progress, I have to get back on track or lose the day entirely. That's when I take this simple, 15-minute approach.

Step 1: Shut everything off!

First, I remove all possible distractions. Generally, I can write anywhere--planes, trains, automobiles, waiting rooms, the sofa in front of the TV, the bed with the dog on my lap, it really doesn't matter. But when I'm on distraction overload, I head to my writing space, a quiet corner with a comfy chair and desk. I have to put myself in the most productive working position possible. I close the door and turn off the phone, Viber, Skype, anything that can take me away from the work at hand. I generally set a time limit of 1 or 2 hours. That way I don't start to worry about what I might be missing. I shut down every app on my computer. If I need to search something, I will open a new browser as required. All notifications get turned off as well. Just this process can often give me the mental space to get back on track. If not, I'm off to Step 2.

Step 2: Take deep breaths.

When things get busy, my body reacts. In order to focus, I need to slow down both my mind and my body. That's why I close my eyes and focus on my breath. A little deep diaphragmatic inhaling and exhaling helps me center who I am and what I am all about. In the rush of outer communication, sometimes I honestly forget my purpose and actions. This is a chance to regain control over myself and my environment.

Step 3: List everything that's in your brain.

Once the outer distractions are gone, it's time to deal with the inner voice. Often the workload at hand distracts me. I might have a jumble of client tasks, school projects, column titles, family needs, and more. As it all jumbles around in my head, my brain struggles to keep centered on what's in front of me. That's when I pull out the notebook and make the classic to-do list. Sure, I might have made one in the morning, but tasks get added to my brain all day. Sometimes, I just need to clear everything out and get it on paper. I love the feeling of clarity I have in my head once I have downloaded all of it.

Step 4: Prioritize the list.

With every task out of my brain, it's time to reassess what is truly important. The priorities I set out in the morning often change with incoming information and new requests upsetting my productivity. With a clear head, I can better determine the timing and need for the tasks on my plate. My primary concern is only for the tasks that must be completed today. Everything else can be addressed later. I am brutal with this triage, since I know that focus has been a struggle today.

Step 5: Work on completing three manageable actions.

From the list of whatever I determine to be crucial for the day, I pick three tasks that I know I can complete without too much effort. The positive feelings of accomplishment give me strength and confidence in my methodology. I obtain much needed energy to continue down the list and finish the rest. If you're wondering why I pick three, it's because picking just one would make me feel that I'm not getting enough done. The internal contract with myself to complete the hat trick assures my brain I am being sufficiently productive.

Published on: Dec 3, 2014