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How to Maintain Focus Even With Distractions

How to Maintain Focus Even With Distractions

I work from home and I can’t think of a place with more distractions than my messy, laundry-piled, pet-filled, toddler tornado of a home. There is always something else I could be doing, and there is often a chore I’m in the middle of, but somehow I’ve come up with a system that allows me to maintain focus at “work” even though there’s chaos right outside my office door. Here’s how I’ve done it:

Sometimes you have to get rid of all the bullshit in your life, and just focus on the things that make you a better person.

    1)   Set up your work-space—I can’t overestimate the importance of setting up your workspace. If your office is cluttered and disorganized, you’ll spend lots of extra mental energy just attempting to focus on the task at hand while psychologically, all you really want to do is clean, sort, and organize the huge pile in the corner. Our psyches crave order, so when your office is orderly, you know where to find what you need, and it’s clear to you what to put your attention on next (your inbox or your high priority activities list), you’re much more likely to be able to focus on the task at hand.

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    If organizing your office sounds overwhelming, I recommend asking for help from a co-worker, friend, or family member, and if that doesn’t work, then hire someone to help you get organized. If you need a book for motivation, I love “Getting Things Done” by David Allen.

    2)   Protect your space from intrusions and common distractions—When I first started working from home my husband would unexpectedly walk into my office and start asking me questions about household stuff. At first I just thought it was annoying, but later I realized that these interruptions greatly reduce my productivity. So I had a little talk with my hubby and I established a “my workspace is sacred” rule. When I’m in my office with the door shut, the only interruptions should be for emergencies or very urgently needed information. Even my 2 ½ year old daughter respects my office space and knows that when I’m working, she’s not to disturb me.

    This kind of boundary setting shouldn’t stop at physical interruptions though. You also need to turn off your personal phone, put the answering machine on your office phone (check messages and return calls no more than twice a day), and definitely turn off the “new mail” indicator on your computer. Checking your email every time there’s a new message is a huge waste of time and completely derails your focus.

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    3)   Set the expectations of the people you work with—If you work in an office setting, you might experience intrusions and interruptions from co-workers or your boss. Let the people in your office know that interruptions reduce your productivity and you’d like to minimize them. Set up systems that will work for you and your co-workers.

    For instance, you might tell everyone that you’ll check your email and respond to emails at 11am and 3pm every day, rather than responding to each message individually throughout the day. You may even implement a coding system by which people can indicate high importance and time sensitive emails vs. low importance get to it whenever you can emails.

    4)   Strategize redirection ahead of time—If there’s an interruption you can anticipate, figure out a way to redirect ahead of time. Send a co-worker to someone else who’s working on the project, ask them for a more detailed analysis, or schedule another time to talk. Sometimes even delegating more responsibility to the concerned party can allay their fears and lighten your load.

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    Reminding people that they too have power and that you can’t attend to every detail boosts their responsibility and trains them not to rely so heavily on you.

    5)   Take a moment to address the distraction—There are times when my daughter is home and she’s in distress and needs me right away. I understand that, and by taking a moment to connect with her, I’m actually teaching her that I’m available when she really needs me, which ultimately reduces the number of interruptions.

    “Oh, you hurt yourself! Do you need a hug? I love you so much. I’m sorry you hurt yourself. Are you having fun playing with Grammy? I’m working right now, so I can’t play with you, but I bet Grammy will read you a story or do a puzzle with you!” Off she toddles happily.

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    Responding to your co-worker might sounds slightly different, “I know you’re concerned about the report, but I’m working on something else right now, can we schedule a time to talk about this later this afternoon? How about 4:00?” Jot it in your calendar, and get right back to your previous work.

    6)   Establish a regular reminder for your high priority activities—Working for myself means that I have to prioritize everything for myself, which I find quite challenging. So, in my moments of clarity, when I know what’s most important to my business, I create to do lists and mark the high priority items as such. Then, every time I find myself with unscheduled time, I revisit my “high priority” items and work through them one by one.

    I find it easy enough to check my list when I have time, but if you just never seem to get around to it, set a particular time of day or an alarm or send yourself an email reminder to check on those items that make the difference for you between success and failure.

    I hope these strategies are helpful for you and I would love to know what you think of them! Please leave me a comment below and have a great and productive day.

    Warmly, Shelly

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    Last Updated on September 11, 2019

    Why To-Do Lists Don’t Work (And How to Change That)

    Why To-Do Lists Don’t Work (And How to Change That)

    How often do you feel overwhelmed and disorganized in life, whether at work or home? We all seem to struggle with time management in some area of our life; one of the most common phrases besides “I love you” is “I don’t have time”. Everyone suggests working from a to-do list to start getting your life more organized, but why do these lists also have a negative connotation to them?

    Let’s say you have a strong desire to turn this situation around with all your good intentions—you may then take out a piece of paper and pen to start tackling this intangible mess with a to-do list. What usually happens, is that you either get so overwhelmed seeing everything on your list, which leaves you feeling worse than you did before, or you make the list but are completely stuck on how to execute it effectively.

    To-do lists can work for you, but if you are not using them effectively, they can actually leave you feeling more disillusioned and stressed than you did before. Think of a filing system: the concept is good, but if you merely file papers away with no structure or system, the filing system will have an adverse effect. It’s the same with to-do lists—you can put one together, but if you don’t do it right, it is a fruitless exercise.

    Why Some People Find That General To-Do Lists Don’t Work?

    Most people find that general to-do lists don’t work because:

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    • They get so overwhelmed just by looking at all the things they need to do.
    • They don’t know how to prioritize the items on list.
    • They feel that they are continuously adding to their list but not reducing it.
    • There’s a sense of confusion seeing home tasks mixed with work tasks.

    Benefits of Using a To-Do List

    However, there are many advantages working from a to-do list:

    • You have clarity on what you need to get done.
    • You will feel less stressed because all your ‘to do’s are on paper and out of your mind.
    • It helps you to prioritize your actions.
    • You don’t overlook so many tasks and forget anything.
    • You feel more organized.
    • It helps you with planning.

    4 Golden Rules to Make a To-Do List Work

    Here are my golden rules for making a “to-do” list work:

    1. Categorize

    Studies have shown that your brain gets overwhelmed when it sees a list of 7 or 8 options; it wants to shut down.[1] For this reason, you need to work from different lists. Separate them into different categories and don’t have more than 7 or 8 tasks on each one.

    It might work well for you to have a “project” list, a “follow-up” list, and a “don’t forget” list; you will know what will work best for you, as these titles will be different for everybody.

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    2. Add Estimations

    You don’t merely need to know what has to be done, but how long it will take as well in order to plan effectively.

    Imagine on your list you have one task that will take 30 minutes, another that could take 1 hour, and another that could take 4 hours. You need to know the moment you look at the task, otherwise you undermine your planning, so add an extra column to your list and include your estimation of how long you think the task will take, and be realistic!

    Tip: If you find it a challenge to estimate accurately, then start by building this skill on a daily basis. Estimate how long it will take to get ready, cook dinner, go for a walk, etc., and then compare this to the actual time it took you. You will start to get more accurate in your estimations.

    3. Prioritize

    To effectively select what you should work on, you need to take into consideration: priority, sequence and estimated time. Add another column to your list for priority. Divide your tasks into four categories:

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    • Important and urgent
    • Not urgent but important
    • Not important but urgent
    • Not important or urgent

    You want to work on tasks that are urgent and important of course, but also, select some tasks that are important and not urgent. Why? Because these tasks are normally related to long-term goals, and when you only work on tasks that are urgent and important, you’ll feel like your day is spent putting out fires. You’ll end up neglecting other important areas which most often end up having negative consequences.

    Most of your time should be spent on the first two categories.

    4.  Review

    To make this list work effectively for you, it needs to become a daily tool that you use to manage your time and you review it regularly. There is no point in only having the list to record everything that you need to do, but you don’t utilize it as part of your bigger time management plan.

    For example: At the end of every week, review the list and use it to plan the week ahead. Select what you want to work on taking into consideration priority, time and sequence and then schedule these items into your calendar. Golden rule in planning: don’t schedule more than 75% of your time.

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    Bottom Line

    So grab a pen and paper and give yourself the gift of a calm and clear mind by unloading everything in there and onto a list as now, you have all the tools you need for it to work. Knowledge is useless unless it is applied—how badly do you want more time?

    To your success!

    More to Help You Achieve More in Less Time

    Featured photo credit: Emma Matthews via unsplash.com

    Reference

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