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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 March 23, 2021

    Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

    Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

    One of the greatest ironies of this age is that while various gadgets like smartphones and netbooks allow you to multitask, it seems that you never manage to get things done. You are caught in the busyness trap. There’s just too much work to do in one day that sometimes you end up exhausted with half-finished tasks.

    The problem lies in how to keep our energy level high to ensure that you finish at least one of your most important tasks for the day. There’s just not enough hours in a day and it’s not possible to be productive the whole time.

    You need more than time management. You need energy management

    1. Dispel the idea that you need to be a “morning person” to be productive

    How many times have you heard (or read) this advice – wake up early so that you can do all the tasks at hand. There’s nothing wrong with that advice. It’s actually reeks of good common sense – start early, finish early. The thing is that technique alone won’t work with everyone. Especially not with people who are not morning larks.

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    I should know because I was once deluded with the idea that I will be more productive if I get out of bed by 6 a.m. Like most of you Lifehackers, I’m always on the lookout for productivity hacks because I have a lot of things in my plate. I’m working full time as an editor for a news agency, while at the same time tending to my side business as a content marketing strategist. I’m also a travel blogger and oh yeah, I forgot, I also have a life.

    I read a lot of productivity books and blogs looking for ways to make the most of my 24 hours. Most stories on productivity stress waking up early. So I did – and I was a major failure in that department – both in waking up early and finishing early.

    2. Determine your “peak hours”

    Energy management begins with looking for your most productive hours in a day. Getting attuned to your body clock won’t happen instantly but there’s a way around it.

    Monitor your working habits for one week and list down the time when you managed to do the most work. Take note also of what you feel during those hours – do you feel energized or lethargic? Monitor this and you will find a pattern later on.

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    My experiment with being a morning lark proved that ignoring my body clock and just doing it by disciplining myself to wake up before 8 a.m. will push me to be more productive. I thought that by writing blog posts and other reports in the morning that I would be finished by noon and use my lunch break for a quick gym session. That never happened. I was sleepy, distracted and couldn’t write jack before 10 a.m.

    In fact that was one experiment that I shouldn’t have tried because I should know better. After all, I’ve been writing for a living for the last 15 years, and I have observed time and again that I write more –and better – in the afternoon and in evenings after supper. I’m a night owl. I might as well, accept it and work around it.

    Just recently, I was so fired up by a certain idea that – even if I’m back home tired from work – I took out my netbook, wrote and published a 600-word blog post by 11 p.m. This is a bit extreme and one of my rare outbursts of energy, but it works for me.

    3. Block those high-energy hours

    Once you have a sense of that high-energy time, you can then mold your schedule so that your other less important tasks will be scheduled either before or after this designated productive time.

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    Block them out in your calendar and use the high-energy hours for your high priority tasks – especially those that require more of your mental energy and focus. You also need to use these hours to any task that will bring you closer to you life’s goal.

    If you are a morning person, you might want to schedule most business meetings before lunch time as it’s important to keep your mind sharp and focused. But nothing is set in stone. Sometimes you have to sacrifice those productive hours to attend to other personal stuff – like if you or your family members are sick or if you have to attend your son’s graduation.

    That said, just remember to keep those productive times on your calendar. You may allow for some exemptions but stick to that schedule as much as possible.

    There’s no right or wrong way of using this energy management technique because everything depends on your own personal circumstances. What you need to remember is that you have to accept what works for you – and not what other productivity gurus say you should do.

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    Understanding your own body clock is the key to time management. Without it, you end up exhausted chasing a never-ending cycle of tasks and frustrations.

    Featured photo credit: Collin Hardy via unsplash.com

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