7 tips to help you stay focused in the new world of work

With so many people still working from home, we’ve all become used to a different way of working. And in addition to the usual email, phone and instant message distractions, we now have to contend with navigating around the family cat to use the keyboard, stopping for a quick tea party break with the little ones, etc. But what can you do if you really, really need to focus in on a particular content project?

Here are seven things that I’ve found to be helpful, and I hope you do too:

Make a list, check it twice (or more) – If it works for the guy with the white beard, why wouldn’t it work for you? And for me, this is the biggest tip. In addition to providing a structure and plan we can stick to, according to a Guardian article, psychologist Dr. David Cohen says that lists provide the added benefits of dampening anxiety about “the chaos of life” and can represent all that you’ve achieved during a certain timeframe.

I find it helps to keep a list of everything I want to accomplish for the week and then a smaller Post-It sized list of things I want to accomplish in a certain day. (I also keep a “nice to accomplish” list of longer-term projects that I can refer to when I have some free time.) When it comes to these lists, I also have two suggestions: (1) Even if you get into a flow, be sure to double-check your lists to ensure something that is a higher priority doesn’t fall through the cracks and (2) be kind to yourself if you don’t get it all done. If it isn’t crucial and it doesn’t get accomplished, you can have it waiting for you on tomorrow’s to-do list.

Break your work down into smaller chunks – Those big projects that can be the most rewarding are also the most daunting. That can lead to being more easily predisposed to distraction and worse yet, procrastinating that project down the line until you find yourself up against the deadline. If it’s an eBook you’re working on, tackle each section separately (and then make sure to read the whole thing through for cohesiveness when you’re done). If it’s an infographic, set aside a day for the content research, a day for choosing imagery and then a day or two for putting it all together.

If there isn’t an easy way to break your project into chunks, try to break your time down into productivity chunks. One study suggests working for a focused 52 minutes then taking a break for 17 minutes. And the Pomodoro technique, which says that committing to 25 uninterrupted minutes before taking a break, is another popular tool people are using to stay in focus.

Pull all your distractions together in bigger chunks – The gravitational pull from those distractions is always going to be there—and it’s okay to take a break every now and then. By bunching all of your social media scrolling, news content reading and Candy Crush into one planned chunk of time, you can focus on the task at hand knowing that you have the distraction time you’ve set aside to look forward to.

Keep the tools you need nearby – Did you ever have a pen run out of ink, and then you decide to get a glass of water since you are going to be up getting a new pen anyway, and then you find yourself going through yesterday’s mail while you’re getting the water and then you realized there was a bill you needed to pay in that mail? Me neither. =)

Sometimes even the tiniest distractions can turn into a huge time suck. You can head that off at the pass by making sure you have everything you need to get your work done close at hand, including several pens, pencils, notepads, etc. That’s also important in how you work with your computer. For example, I have Hightail pinned to my taskbar for easy access for any collaborative projects I’m working on. (This How-to Geek article explains how to do it.) I also have a “work in progress” folder on my desktop, so I don’t have to dig around in other folders to find my notes for something I’m currently working on.

Just say no – It’s definitely easier said than done, but you have to think about the bigger picture when other demands start to creep into your productive time. Is that 30-minute meeting your colleague wants to put on your calendar really necessary this week, while you’re on a deadline? Block off some time as “busy” on your calendar so meeting requests don’t creep in on those times when you really need to focus. That can go for distractions that might come up at home too. Make a “do not disturb” sign that you can put on your door to let family members know when you really need to hunker down.

Give yourself a deadline – When you’re working on something that doesn’t have a specific deadline,make one up and hold yourself accountable. Put the deadline on your calendar, and then set a couple of reminders for 2 hours before and half an hour before (or whichever timeframes work best for you). Make a game of it to challenge yourself to beat those deadlines.

Turn to technology – If all of that doesn’t work, there are a number of apps that can help train you not to let distractions get in the way of your productivity. Forest, for example, provides the incentive of letting you grow a virtual tree if you stay focused on your work.  (Zapier also has a great list.)

Now that you’ve found your focus, read our Creativepool post on the “6 things you should start doing now to keep your creativity flowing.”

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