Every day, you are presented with a set of tasks to accomplish and, often, an even longer litany of distractions, time wasters and other pieces of to-do list white noise that can derail you from accomplishing your goals. How does one navigate the productivity minefield that is modern life, with its Twitter feeds, Facebook updates, emails and the like. Here are 5 ways that you can keep your focus and kick your productivity into overdrive.
1. Set Reasonable Expectations For Yourself
Often when people first try to increase their productivity, they start by jam-packing their to-do list with every possible project they could ever hope to accomplish, many of which are big, long-term endeavors. You are smarter than that. You know that an overloaded docket of activity can be counter-productive as it begins to appear daunting and insurmountable. Unreasonable expectations are a recipe for failure.
Instead, set attainable goals for yourself and recognize that you will, from time to time, fail in carrying those goals out. Break big projects down into manageable chunks and tackle them one at a time. Keep your to-do list nice and short, and don’t put anything on it that you won’t be able to check off in less than a week from now, anything longer term than that should be broken down into smaller sub-tasks.
Build failure into your plans. Do not schedule activities for every waking moment of the day, be sure to include some much needed downtime and leave yourself a little breathing room between tasks.
2. Define Your Expectations of Others
No man is an island, we all rely on others to varying degrees in our work and personal lives. When it comes to our focus and productivity, those around us can easily span the range from absolutely instrumental to catastrophically detrimental.
Adopt a policy of tactful honesty. Let those that you interact with know exactly what you expect of them, bearing in mind that these expectation must be reasonable given your relationship, there are things that you can say to an employee that you would be wise not to utter to your spouse and vise versa. If you are working on a project with one or more people, do not be afraid to clearly outline what everyone’s responsibilities will be,right from the outset. You can save yourself a lot of distractions and time taken fixing mistakes by outlining exactly what you expect of those that you work with. Remember, you teach people how you want to be treated. Let others know that you are a man on a mission.
3. Stop Trying To Multitask
You’re not good at it… period. Don’t feel bad, it’s not just you, it turns out that no one is good at it. Compelling research on the topic has shown somewhat conclusively that humans are poor at multitasking, in fact, as it turns out, attempting to do multiple things simultaneously often results in a lot of wasted time when you factor in errors due to insufficient attention and unnecessary context switching.
Instead, focus on one thing at a time and devote to it your full and undivided attention.
4. Create a Distraction Free Zone
Are you old enough to remember a time when the mail came once a day and you couldn’t listen to an answering machine message until you got home from work? How did any of us survive back then? How it is possible to function in a world where we aren’t constantly being updated on the comings and goings of our friends? All sarcasm aside, the constant updates and push notifications that we receive on a minute by minute basis are hurting our productivity. Let’s face it, we’ve all been there, checking our email and somehow getting sucked into an hour long time vortex without even realizing it.
Create a distraction free zone. Turn off push notifications. Close Facebook and Twitter. 99.9% of the time, your messages can wait and be responded to after you are done working. If there is an emergency, odds are, you will get a phone call.
If you lack the self-control to keep out of your inbox or social network feeds, consider using a distraction blocking tool like FocalFilter to manually block certain websites while you are working.
5. Keep Yourself on a Timer
Being productive requires the judicious use of your time. You need to know how long to work on each task in front of you and when to pivot and move on to something else. Using timers are a good way to keep a single task from using up a disproportionate amount of your time and eating into other things.
Try assigning yourself a set amount of time for each portion of a project, setting a timer and sticking to it. When the alarm goes off, move on. In this vein, many people have had success with the Pomodoro technique, which employs set periods of work and rest.
With some planning and a little effort, it is easy to improve your focus and productivity in nearly any endeavor.
Featured photo credit: Bethan via flickr.com