"The biggest challenge is to stay focused. It's to have the discipline when there are so many competing things." ~ Alexa Hirschfeld
Productivity is not a question of how much time a day you spend working. Sometimes, a day in which you’ve worked for just three or four hours can end up being much more productive than a day in which you’ve been trying to work for more than eight. Have you ever experienced this?
Lack of focus is one of the greatest enemies of productivity. Constant — and often inefficient — meetings, colleagues who are constantly interrupting, phone calls, and any other distraction, lower your performance and make you waste time and energy, not just working but trying to do whatever other activity.
Fortunately, there are many techniques available that can help you maintain your concentration. Below you can find some “common sense” tips to improve your focus. If you’d like to learn about more intensive techniques, I’d suggest you to look into something like meditation or yoga.
- Define your daily goals. It’s easier to stay focused on something when you bear in mind why you are doing whatever it is you’re doing. Using an organizational system such as GTD, which encourages you to relate your daily activity to significant goals, is highly recommended.
- Divide each activity into smaller tasks. Having an plan of action will help you start and complete each activity. You’ll also be able to track your progress, which will keep you motivated to continue.
- Choose your moments. Normally you have a high level of energy and concentration at the beginning of the day, which gradually decreases throughout the day. But not everyone works the same way. Also, if you work at home, your circumstances may be very different. Discover how you feel at different times of the day and set your routines accordingly. Leave repetitive task for lower-energy moments.
- Hang a Do Not Disturb sign. Warn your colleagues in the office—or your family and friends at home—not to interrupt you during certain time slots. Educate them in speaking to you at the right time, rather than interrupting every 10 minutes.
- Remove all distractions. Mute your phone and close your email, Internet browser, and social network apps. If you work on a computer, close all unnecessary applications and work full screen to minimize distractions.
- Organize your breaks. If a task takes a long time to complete, take a break from time to time in order to recharge your energy batteries. If you work sitting down, try to walk and move around during these breaks.
- Reward yourself. Give yourself a reward every time you achieve one of your goals. Spend some time doing things you like such as reading the news or your favorite blogs, playing at something, or talking with someone.
- Create an appropriate framework. Keep your desk clean and tidy, and remove anything that might distract you. Keep everything you might need handy (even a bottle of water) to reduce the chances of having to interrupt what you’re doing. If you work sitting, having a good chair is essential. If you work in a noisy place you can use headphones to listen to music that doesn’t distract you, or earplugs if music bothers you.
- Balance your food choices. Besides being good for your health, eating right will help you to be more productive. When you’re hungry it’s really hard to stay focused on something (personally I can’t focus at all if I’m hungry), and if you eat too much, you’ll be overcome by sleep. Caffeine and sugar can help you (in moderation of course).
- Get enough sleep. In addition to adversely affect your health, lack of sleep negatively affects your clarity of thinking and, therefore, your ability to be productive.