No matter how zen you are, it can be hard to focus on the work in front of you—especially when it’s something you don’t want to do. Unfortunately, even a quick distraction can derail your productivity, so here are 10 tips to help you get down to business when it matters most.
10. Schedule Your Day
We all have certain hours of the day in which we get “in the zone” a little easier. Schedule your most important work for these times to give yourself the best advantage. I’ve also found that scheduling out my to-dos can help me stay on task, whether it’s meeting a deadline or remembering to eat lunch before the clock strikes 3pm.
9. Go Full Screen
We don’t multitask as well as we think we do. So, when it’s time to put your nose to the grindstone, try to block out any other distractions on your screen if possible. Use a distraction-free writing tool like Q10 that goes full screen, and if you can’t, at least get rid of the extra icons, windows, and other desktop clutter that you don’t need. The fewer things you have open, the more you can focus.
8. Block or Hide Distracting Web Sites and Apps
Parental controls aren’t just for naughty kids—they’re pretty handy for us distracted adults, too. Having trouble staying off Facebook while you’re working? Remove the bookmark from your browser, or even uninstall it from your phone. You can even create a separate browser profile for work, or—if you need more drastic measures—use an extension like LeechBlock (Firefox) or StayFocusd (Chrome) to block the sites that distract you.
7. Silence Your Excessive Notifications
For the apps you can’t uninstall, like email, you can at least decide whether you really need a notification for every little thing. Consider turning off notifications for your email—you shouldn’t be checking every time a new one comes in anyway. Or, at the very least, give them a silent ringtone (or silence your phone entirely) when it’s time to work.
6. Track How You Spend Your Time
Distractions come in many forms. Sometimes, it isn’t Facebook or Tetris or cat pictures, but it’s work itself. Certain tasks are less important than others, and if you’re spending more time on those tasks, then you should treat them like a distraction from the work you should be doing. If you’re wondering where all your time in the day goes, try a time tracker like RescueTime—it’ll tell you how much time you spend in a given app or on each web site you visit, and you may find that you’re wasting time in the wrong places—even if it feels like work.
5. Keep Distracting Co-Workers at Bay
Of course, many distractions come from right here in the real world. If you work in an office, you’ve probably dealt with the occasional chatty coworker, people with questions that can wait, and other distracting issues. A good pair of headphones can go a long way in saying “I’m working hard right now,” but if that doesn’t help, you may have to be more direct and tell them you’re busy (or, if that doesn’t help, give them something to do—and make them think twice about visiting you in the future). Check out our guide to distracting coworkers for more ideas.
4. Offload Your Distractions for Later
If you can’t stop the distractions from catching your eye, you can at least stop them from wasting your time right this second. Keep a “procrastination pad” by your desk (or on your computer) where you jot notes about distractions as they come—that way, you can forget about them and come back to them later on. Alternatively, you can move more distracting elements to another device, like a tablet.
3. Break Down Your Tasks
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It’s easy to get distracted (or avoid getting started) when the task at hand seems impossibly huge. So, if you’re trying to get motivated for the long project ahead, break it down into smaller pieces. It’s a lot easier to motivate yourself to do small, concrete tasks, than it is to jump into one big one. The Pomodoro Technique is particularly great for this, if you have a timer handy.
2. Train Your Brain to Focus
No matter how much you block out external stimuli with headphones, or block distracting web sites, your own brain can still be your worst enemy. So, if your brain keeps jumping from thought to thought when you have work to do, you need to learn how to control it. Sometimes it’s just a matter of “paying attention to your attention” and catching the wrong impulses before they take hold. Often, just getting started on a task is all you need to gain momentum. And it may sound silly, but regular meditation can go a long way. See our guide to focus for more details.
1. Don’t Go Overboard: Distractions Are a Necessary Part of Productivity
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A distraction at the wrong time can really derail the task at hand. However, that doesn’t mean we have to have zen-like focus 24/7—in fact, distraction and procrastination are vital to healthy living, and even encourage creative thinking. Studies have even shown that browsing the web at work can make you more productive—as long as its done at the right times. So, instead of letting your brain distract you in the middle of something important, schedule specific times for your procrastination along with everything else (see #10). Not only will it help you get those distractions out of the way and take a break from work, but it’ll give you something to look forward to as you push through that last, pre-break task.
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