These days, everyone struggles with productivity. We all want to get as much done as we possibly can in the least amount of time possible. The problem is, we’re way too distracted. Interruptions pop up all day every day, either in the form of push notifications, phone calls or people knocking on your office door.
It’s stressful. It wastes time. That doesn’t mean you have to give up all hope of ever finishing all your assignments, projects and proposals on time.
Here are three key ways to stay focused while you work, and achieve more of your productivity goals in less time than you ever have before.
1. Block out unnecessary personal distractions
How many times, during a short “break,” have you said to yourself, “I’m just going to check Facebook really quick?” Really quick turns into 10 or even 20 minutes of mindless scrolling pretty quickly. This problem would be fairly manageable, if it were the only thing keeping you from getting your work done.
Instant notifications on our computers and devices accomplish one thing, and one thing only: they interrupt us. We’ve all been in the middle of answering an important email and stopped to pick up our phones because we have a new message. Even if it isn’t urgent, many of us answer it anyway, even though we were already almost finished doing something completely different.
Keep tabs on the things that distract you the most from day to day. Do you tend to go straight from checking your email to checking all your social media accounts? Do you open Google intending to do some research, and somehow end up on BuzzFeed (again)? Download StayFocused, a Chrome extension that allows you to set daily time limits for specific websites. Once you use up all your time, the app blocks access to that site for the rest of the day,
If your phone is the problem, keep distracting apps Like YouTube and Twitter off your phone entirely, or store them in a folder so you’re less likely to tap them open out of habit. Also keep email off your phone and desktop notifications off your computer to make focusing easier.
2. Focus on only one thing at a time
You have a lot to do today. It’s one of those days where every task you have added to your to-do list is of equal importance and urgency, which makes prioritizing almost impossible. How do you choose which task to work on first? Logically, you might think, “Why start with just one when I can do three things at once?”
We’ve all tried this productivity method before. The problem is, you might not even realize it’s actually taking up more of your valuable work minutes instead of saving time like you thought. Things you read while trying to do something else at the same time, you’ll have to read over again to actually comprehend it.
Multitasking just doesn’t work. Our brains were not built to be able to focus on as many things simultaneously as we try to force them to nowadays. You might think you’re absorbing every single word of that podcast while you’re busy rearranging your office, but you aren’t. You’re thinking about feng shui instead of actually listening to your favorite NPR hosts.
While it might not seem like it, single-tasking is your best option if you want to stay focused and get more done more quickly. That means you should only focus on one task at a time. This might mean you focus on one thing for an hour, take a break and then focus on something else for the next hour. The point is to train yourself not to try and do too much at one time.
3. Set specific “office hours”
At many colleges and universities, professors are required to hold a certain number of office hours per week. During these hours, they must be physically present in their offices so that students can either make appointments or stop by the office to ask questions without interrupting meetings or important projects.
This tactic can also work in your workplace or even your home office. It can be frustrating when you are constantly interrupted all day long by people knocking on your office door demanding your attention. You still need to be available, but you might want to consider separating your work time and your “available for interruptions” time.
If you can, set specific times when people are welcome to interrupt you for less urgent matters. This might mean closing your office door while you’re working on an urgent task and leaving it open during the times you won’t mind interruptions, and posting a sign letting people know only to knock if it’s an emergency. It might help you associate a closed-door office with more focused work and an open-door office with more frequent external interruptions, like people coming to you with questions.
While you’re at it, set time specifically dedicated to not doing anything at all. People often think that the more hours they spend working in a day, the more productive they will be in the long-term. That’s not completely true. You need to give your brain and body a good rest, in small increments throughout the day and in the hour or two before you go to bed. You will feel much more motivated and energized. You will be able to focus, and get more done in much less time.
Distractions are everywhere. If they aren’t coming from the people around you, they’re reaching out to you through your phone or computer monitor. Staying focused is difficult when you have a lot to do and not a lot of time to do it, but it isn’t impossible.
Figure out the things that are distracting you in your office and find ways to, literally, work around them or get rid of them completely. Focus on one task at a time: don’t try to jump between multiple tasks at once or do things simultaneously. Set hours dedicated only to work and only for interruptions and rest. Get focused. Stay focused. Work hard and get more done this year.