In the game of focus, distractions often win out.
You swear you are going to put your “nose to the grindstone,” yet at the end of the day, the project remains unfinished. You shake your head and wonder—what happened?
What happened was a stream of small and large distractions. In order to win the game of focus, you need to arm yourself with the right tools.
1. Clear the Desktop
As I sat down to write this article, I noticed my laptop was like a life raft in a sea of papers, files and folders. Rather than clutter, which is a bunch of useless stuff, each of the papers and piles represented tasks I’d yet to get to. I decided to pull out one of the tools I share with my clients as a professional organizer.
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Grabbing a box, I gathered all of the visual clutter off my desk, unearthing my computer and leaving only it, my notepad and some desk supplies on the surface. I’ve learned that when you are busy with a project and pause to think, your eyes drift off the project and onto something else. At that moment, your brain kicks in and recognizes what you are looking at—the next thing you need to do. Instead of staying focused on the task at hand, you mentally move on.
My number one tip for banishing distractions is to clear your desktop. Be present in the here and now. Remove the things left undone from view. You can come back to them in due time.
2. Break it Down
While you’d think the ability to envision a whole project at once is a terrific asset, it can mean you hop around from task to task instead of having a prioritized focus. Sometimes, it can seem like you don’t have time to start a project because you’re visualizing the entire thing from start to finish. You become daunted by its scope. In reality, you can get everything done by taking it one step at a time.
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Use a dry erase board to break a project down into its many steps. Another great option are peel-and-stick, dry erase notebook paper wall decals. Simply remove the ones you don’t need once you get caught up, and add them back as necessary when your deadlines start to pile up.
List each task in the order it must be done. Each time you return to this particular project, you’ll stick to this list to keep your focus and work on completing one step before moving to the next. By using a dry erase board or decal, you can rearrange or add items as your project grows and changes.
3. Limit Interruptions
You can’t banish distractions forever, but you can hold it at bay for a while so you can focus. Be proactive by taking action before potential interruptions pounce on you.
- Block out a window of time on your calendar for projects where you deliberately have no meetings or appointments.
- Check your email and then turn notifications off. Know you can check it again in a few hours.
- Silence your phone. Let it go to voice mail and return calls later.
- Hang a polite sign or prop one up on a chair in your cubical door. Try “Please come back at 2:00 or leave me a note. Crunch time here!”
4. Post Reminders
Many of the biggest distractions are mental reminders. We keep a constant chatter going in our heads that this report is due Tuesday, the bid for that job is next Wednesday, the expense report needs to be turned in at month end, and so on. Not only is this a mental drain, but it’s distracting when you’re constantly thinking about what’s due.
While everyone keeps a calendar, whether electronic or paper, a visible one strictly for deadlines serves a specific purpose. I recommend a large, dry erase calendar wall decal for posting important dates for projects. This constant reminder is a terrific way to return your focus to prioritized actions.
5. Rearrange Your Space
Have you considered how your view influences your productivity? Back in your school days, you were sure to be called out by the teacher for staring out the window and being distracted.
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Today in the work world, gazing out the window might actually be your best technique for focusing. Think about the distractions brought about by the location of your desk. You view people coming and going, overhear conversations and interactions in the office and worst of all, you might be staring at your own office mess.
Consider these options for changing your space:
- Clear visual clutter. Discard or store projects that are complete. Acquire additional file cabinets or bookshelves if you need them. If your job means having sample materials or parts on hand, purchase bins or baskets so these items have a home instead of being piled around, distracting you.
- Move your desk. Rearrange the furniture so your work view doesn’t distract you. You are more likely to be sidetracked by people than by looking out the window at the weather.
- Consider a credenza. Sometimes a two-desk system is a great option. Use the credenza facing a window or wall so you are not prone to disturbances. Use the outward facing desk for interpersonal interactions such as teamwork or client meetings.
6. Keep a Running To-Do List
Our distractions usually represent to-do items. A question comes to mind and you stop what you are doing to look it up online. The phone rings and you are reminded of an errand you need to run, so you leave the office to accomplish that task. As this goes on all day, you hop up and down and in and out of your focused activity.
Conquer those tasks by writing them on a to-do list—unless they are urgent and can’t wait. Putting them on a checklist lets you mentally return to the work at hand. You can group the items together in way that manages your time most effectively and prioritizes them appropriately.
About the Author:
Lea Schneider writes on work-life and organizational tips that can help you improve your productivity in your home. Lea is a nationally-recognized organization expert who writes for The Home Depot from her home in Nashville, Tennessee. You can view wall decals including whiteboard styles that can keep you organized online here.