I’ll be the first to tell you that I have a hard time staying focused. I think everyone is this way – there are just some people who don’t admit it. We all take on too many projects. I’m told I need to learn to say, “No I don’t have the time for that right now.” which would completely solve most problems. Unfortunately, I haven’t conquered that skill yet – I’m still conquering the “stay focused” skill for now.
Between work and school, I feel as though I have developed a few good tips that help me stay focused and get the job done in a timely efficient manner. I hope, by sharing these tips, maybe someone out there can implement just one new change to their daily routine to increase efficiency and actively try to stay focused.
- Small Goals – As with almost everything “goal” oriented, the first step is to create small attainable goals. “Finish project #1” is not a small obtainable goal. Separating Project #1 into smaller milestones will allow you to accomplish portions of a project which will quickly add up to total Project #1. So rather than feel frustrated that you may not even be making a dent into the project/assignment/task, if you set out to finish a milestone you will have a much more rewarding feeling as opposed to the I’m-never-going-to-finish-I’ll-put-this-aside feeling.
- Hide Email – I remember when I was an intern my boss had recommended we hide the little Outlook pop-up that indicates a new email. I thought she was crazy until I began paying attention to my behaviors when I received a new email. Why is it that we will drop anything and everything the moment we get an email? I declared that I like when people respond to me in a timely manner, so I’d like to give them the same respect. In all actuality, 95% of what we receive via email isn’t urgent the-world-will-end-if-you-don’t-respond-right-now information. If it really is time sensitive then perhaps you’d get a phone call as opposed to a potentially lost-in-translation email. Ultimately – hide your email pop-up. You’d be surprised how much focus you’ll maintain without indicators that you’ve received a new email. Just don’t forget to set aside time to check the emails and respond accordingly.
- Indicate the best time for the “boring” work – Face it. Not everyone’s job is 100% glitz and glamour. Whether it’s paperwork, data entry, scanning, filing, etc., there is tedious work associated with every job. Designate a specific time to accomplish this work before it piles up. I prefer to do this right before lunch. That way I have a specific time I know I will be leaving. I play games with myself to see if I can finish everything in the time remaining before lunch. For example, if I have an hour before lunch, I find myself working faster and more diligently to finish my work. Before I know it I’m done with 10 minutes to spare and my work load a ton lighter.
- Don’t watch the clock – When I decided I was going to apply for the MBA program, I had to first take the GMAT. One option the GMAT allows is to hide the clock. This is for a specific reason! Like I have mentioned before, I am anal on time. I watch and analyze the clock too closely. By hiding the clock for the GMAT you’ll focus more on the questions and less on the time it took to answer a question. This is the same at work. A watched pot never boils – so stop watching the clock and time with fly with accomplished work results. There’s never a better feeling than glancing up at the clock and realizing it’s almost time to go home.
- Love Lists – I find it incredibly useful to create tasks for myself at the end of the day for the following day. I’ll jot down on a post-it some things I really feel I need to complete by the end of the next day. The key to this post-it note is to be REALISTIC, not optimistic. The next morning, after arriving to work and settling in (early, of course) I have my day already pre-planned out for myself. I don’t need that extra time to think about where I left off the previous day, and where I should start today. As the day progresses I check the accomplishments off my list. THIS REALLY WORKS – it shows progress and is a realistic set of obtainable goals. It’s hard to write a list at the end of the day when you’re ready to go home, but you’ll be thankful the next morning.
- Candy and Treats – Ok, so this is purely a personal-and-very-unhealthy trick I use, but I love keeping some sort of candy at my desk. Toward the end of the day during the 2pm blues, I’ll whip out my candy for a pick-me-up. It’s never anything too distracting (a handful of M&Ms, Sour Gummy Worms, etc) but it really helps keep me focused and gives me that needed boost of energy. I don’t drink coffee, but I love tea so occasionally I’ll make a yummy cup of Tea + Honey as an afternoon treat as well. Like I said, it’s a personal trick so I wouldn’t expect this to work for everyone 🙂