Have you ever sat down to work on an important report at work, or a long-term project at home, only to find yourself getting distracted every few minutes?
Whether you’re reacting to new emails, answering the phone, being interrupted by colleagues / family members, or simply responding to the urge to get up and make a cup of coffee, you’re not focusing on what you originally set out to do.
And while we all have days when things just don’t go smoothly, if you’re regularly struggling to make progress on major projects, you need to take a few simple steps to make sure you’re in a good position to focus.
Step #1: Make a Plan Before You Begin
Planning has so many benefits – and one of these is that a good plan can help you focus.
If you sit down to “write an article for the company newsletter” and start straight away with a blank page, you’ll probably run out of ideas after a paragraph or two. It’s then all too easy to check your emails instead, or to move on to some easier piece of work.
With a plan in front of you, you’ll always know the next step – meaning that you’ll be less tempted to simply stop.
Step #2: Gather Everything You Need
Some projects don’t require anything more than a notebook and pen, or a computer. Often, though, you’ll need specific items before you start – perhaps the materials for a craft project at home, or important data for a project at work.
Before you dive into the task at hand, make sure you’ve got everything you need. Planning also helps here, as you’ll be able to identify the things that will be necessary at different stages of your project.
Step #3: Give Yourself a Set Time Period
No-one can stay focused for hours at a time – and it’s counter-productive to try to. Instead, decide how long you’re going to work on this particular project: perhaps 30 minutes or an hour.
Set a timer running, and promise yourself that you’ll stay focused until the time is up. If you’ve not done this before, or if you know you really struggle to focus, start with a very short time period – perhaps 15 minutes. You might be surprised how much you can get done.
Step #4: Reduce the Chance of Interruptions
Some interruptions can’t be avoided – but many can. Instead of leaving yourself open to them, take proactive steps to reduce the number of interruptions you’re likely to receive.
- Let your phone go to voicemail
- Close your office door, if you can
- Let colleagues or family members know that you need to focus for a bit
- Consider putting on headphones: this makes people less likely to strike up a conversation
Stopping every few minutes to answer the phone or chat to a colleague not only wastes your time – it breaks your concentration, meaning that it takes you several minutes to get back into the flow of your task.
Step #5: Turn Off Anything Distracting
Even if you don’t get interrupted by other people phoning or stopping by, you may have all sorts of distractions going on around you. Turn off as many as you can. This includes:
- The television and radio
- Your email – close your inbox so you don’t see “new message” alerts
- Any chat programs on your computer (if you really don’t want to turn these off, at least set your status to “busy”)
- Browser windows that you don’t need for your project
You might even want to turn off your internet connection entirely. On many laptops, you can do this by simply pressing a switch to turn off your wi-fi.
Some people find that listening to music helps them focus; others find it a distraction. If you tend to put music on while you’re working, try silence instead and see if it increases or decreases your focus.
How do you stay focused when you’ve got a big work project, or a personal project, that you want to make progress on? Share your tips and thoughts in the comments below.