5 Tips for Staying Focused

Some things that work for me.

I’ve been having trouble staying focused on my work these days. It seems that the number of distractions at my desk exceed the number of reasons I should work on my current work-in-progress, Excel 2007: Visual QuickStart Guide.

I’ve come up with a few tips that help me stay focused on a specific project or task. You may have heard some of these elsewhere; I’ve been reading a lot of about productivity tricks lately and have been linking to other articles. But this is my take on these techniques — whatever that’s worth.

  1. Organize your workspace so it has everything you need to work on the project — and just that. If you’re as likely to succumb to distraction as I am, anything handy that’s unrelated to the task at hand will pull you away from it. Ditto if you have to get up and get something that you need that’s not handy, especially if getting up takes you past the fridge, the phone, or any other distraction.
  2. List the steps you need to complete to get the job done. Think the job through before you begin so you know what has to be done. Amend the list as you work. Before starting any task that’s not on the list, ask yourself if it’s really part of the project. If so, add it to the list and do it. If not, don’t be tempted.
  3. If you don’t need an Internet connection to work on your project, turn it off. That’s as easy as turning off your AirPort card (on a Mac), unplugging your Ethernet cable, or turning off/unplugging your router. One tip I read online recently suggested using a light timer to turn off the router for a certain amount of dedicated work time each day. Personally, I like to be more flexible.
  4. Don’t check your e-mail. If you have to keep your Internet connection turned on for your work, don’t run your e-mail application. If you do and it checks e-mail periodically (as most do), you’re very likely to be distracted by an incoming e-mail message. I know I always am. Best to not to run your e-mail application at all.
  5. Don’t run applications you don’t need to get the job done. That includes (especially) Web browsers and other distracting applications. If you’re often tempted with games and are fortunate enough to have more than one computer, delete every single game you have from your work machine so you can’t be tempted to play when you should be working.

Remember, I work alone in an office, so I’m not usually distracted by other people. If you have distractions from others, be sure to check out “18 Ways to Stay Focused at Work” by Dave Cheung. His article includes some tips for keeping co-workers from ruining your productivity.

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