Your ability to stay focused is more than just a worthwhile thing to cultivate--it's a critical factor in your success or failure. Getting things done is imperative, and focus is the key to getting things done.
Here are 10 tips to help you stay focused at work by managing distraction, drawing healthy boundaries, and eliminating opportunities for procrastination:
1. Check up on yourself.
Distractions can be internal as well as external, so start by looking within. If you're all over the place, ask yourself what's really going on. What's the source of your flightiness or anxiety? What do you need to be working on in your life?
2. Pinpoint the cause.
Once you have your internal priorities sorted out, look at more external causes. Is it your office setup? An intrusive co-worker? A lack of skill, ideas, or time for something you need to be doing? Burnout? When you can identify the cause, you can fix the effect.
3. Be prepared.
All successful leaders are great planners; they make lists for every major and minor objective. When a task comes your way, spend some time thinking about how you will accomplish it. Write down every step necessary from start to finish, with a timeline (even if it's a rough one). There is a saying that every 10 minutes you spend on planning saves an hour in execution.
4. Go offline.
Some of the biggest sources of distraction come from email, social media, and cell phones. If you want real focus, take yourself offline until you've accomplished what you need to do.
5. Give yourself a break.
One of the keys to doing great work is to know when to take a break. When you start to feel distracted, take a break, and then reassess and refocus yourself. It doesn't just act as a reward--a short break can help your mind become clearer.
6. Tune it out.
One of the best ways to tune everything out is to tune in to music. When everything around you is distracting, put on your headphones--find something that can serve as background music rather than music that holds your full attention. Music can help you concentrate, and the headphones signal others that you're not available to chat.
7. Break it down.
Especially when distractions are high, make tasks smaller and break down your large projects into smaller tasks to help you concentrate and give you a sense of accomplishment and progress.
8. Clean it up.
What's the state of your office or workspace? If it's dirty, disorganized, or cluttered, invest some time in clearing it out so you can focus.
9. Set a deadline.
If you're working on a complex task, it takes an average of 90 minutes to accomplish anything worthwhile--and about 30 minutes just to get your mind on the task. Once you are in the flow, set a concentrated period of time--and when the time runs out, stop. It's easier to stay focused when you have an end in sight.
10. Become an early bird.
This is a simple thing, but the rewards are great if you can pull it off: Start your workday an hour before everyone else. Use that hour to organize your day and to get started before there are any distractions. Similarly, skip the long office lunches most days and instead give yourself a short break to take a walk or clear your head, with something light and nutritious to keep your blood sugar steady. You're literally giving yourself time and energy.
The distractions that surround us aren't going anywhere, so learning to overcome them is one of the best things you can do for yourself.
Give some of these ideas a try, and let me know if you're feeling more effective and less distracted.