How to Stay Focused: Some practical tips


There are several distractions in the world. This would be a good day for you to focus. Focus on your needs, as well as, the needs of others.

Keep the needs of yourself and the needs of the self in balance. You will notice that you and others have this need to keep life in balance.

As a Project Manager, stay focused on your tasks and objectives is very important. So what are some of the things we can do to minimise such interruptions and distractions? Below, you will see several tips about how to stay focused. Enjoy!

  1. Write out a daily task list and plan your day. There’s nothing like a task list sitting next to you to keep you focused. When you have a list of the things you need to accomplish in a day, having that close to you constantly reminding you of what needs to be done is a great way of keeping on track.
  2. Try to allocate time slots colleagues can interrupt you. In a busy work place, people are moving and talking all the time. If you play a role in a team where others need to interact with you, try allocating a time slot they can interrupt you. Instead of having people stop by your desk every 10 mins and asking you questions, let them know of a time in the day, say between 2-4pm you can be interrupted. At all other times, you can really get some work done.
  3. Setup some filters in your email. If you spend a lot of your time communicating and planning in front of your computer, chances are you deal with emails on a frequent basis. Setting up filters in your email client can be a great way of sorting out what’s important and urgent from personal stuff which can wait. Instead of dealing with a single Inbox with hundreds of unread email, you only need to deal with smaller folders categorised by project, priority and context.
  4. Do not check personal email in a period of the day. Checking personal emails can be very distracting even with filters setup. This is especially true when your friends send you links to interesting articles, jokes or videos on YouTube. If you’re not careful, you can get side tracked for hours. Instead of checking your personal email as soon as you get in, try starting work straight away. This will build up some momentum as you ease into your work day. You should check your personal email only after you have a few tasks completed or underway. Also, if you don’t want to perpetuate a particular distracting email thread, just don’t reply to it until after work.
  5. Turn off your IM software. If you use any kind of Instant Messenger, when you don’t want to be disturbed, make use of the status and set yourself as being away or busy. Your friends and colleagues will honour that. They can either send you an email or look you up later when you aren’t as busy. If this software is not important to your job, just turn it off!
  6. Use the headphones but leave the music off. Some people prefer to have absolute silence when working. I think that also depends on what kind of work you are doing. If you’re doing some serious planning or something computational, having music blasting in your ears may not be the best thing for keeping focused. Try using headphones or ear plugs to block out the background noise but leave the music off.
  7. Find the best time to do repetitive and boring tasks. No matter how much you try to avoid it, you’re going to have to face doing things which are either repetitive or boring. For these tasks, I find it is best to choose a time in the day to work on them. For example, I’m more alert at the start of the day, so it’s better to work on things which require brain power early. Working on boring tasks that can be done via auto-pilot are better left towards the end of the day when I’m usually tired.
  8. Don’t make long personal calls. Most of us have a good separation between our working and personal lives (or a least try to). I think we can all agree we should avoid having work intrude on our personal time as much as possible. The reverse of this also applies. Try limiting the time you spend doing personal things during work as they can be distracting and draining on your motivation. For example, you do not really want to be thinking about your weekend away with your spouse when you really need to get things done.
  9. Clean up your desk. Some of you may have desks which can only be described as ordered chaos. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as long as you can find what you need without too much digging around. However, if you can’t, I suggest cleaning up your desk. That doesn’t mean having an empty desk, it just means having neat stacks of paper, all filed in the correct location. It also helps tremendously having all the things you need easily within arms reach. For example, if you need a place to write, having your pen and notepad close by and easily accessible is incredibly useful.
  10. Get the best chair you can buy. If you sit for long hours at your desk and I’m sure some of you do, you might find it helpful to get a good chair. I find it’s pretty hard to stay focused when my neck and back are sore because I have a bad setup at my desk. A good chair can eliminate this, allowing you to work for long stretches without breaks and physical distractions.
  11. Close all programs you’re not using. Try to keep only the applications you need open. Close everything else. For example, if you have already located a file and no longer need a particular Explorer or Finder instance open, close it. There’s no reason to leave it around at all.
  12. Limit time on Twitter, Facebook, Orkut, Digg, news sites and blogs. I don’t think I need to say too much about this. There are so many sites on the Internet worth looking at, including this blog. Twitter, Facebook, Orkut, Digg, news and blogs are great from an interest perspective, but they can really take you away from the work you should be working on. Try to limit going to these sites during the working day. If you really have to, try doing it during your lunch time. No, you don’t need to have your finger on the pulse every single minute of the day…
  13. Having well defined goals. I can’t stress the importance of this too much. Having goals which are well defined along good guidelines is key. I’ve found writing my goals down really helps. Whenever I get distracted, I read my goals and I’m reminded of what I am trying to do and why.
  14. Prioritising constantly. To figure out which task I should be working on, I prioritise constantly. Some tasks are more important than others. Some tasks are moreurgent than others. I’ve found that working on urgent tasks followed by tasks which have the greatest impact to work well for me – urgent tasks allow me to get things done on time and important tasks allow me to maximise the benefits I receive.
  15. Planning ahead without fail. Concentrating on the remaining effort can help reinforce commitment. Some might think they’ll get discouraged, however I haven’t found this to be the case because my tasks are bite sized and easy to finish. I’ve found it really helps to look at my goals and task lists periodically, so I can assess how much time it’ll take to do something and determine the best time to sit down and work on it.
  16. Keeping the results clear in mind. Instead of concentrating too much on the task at hand, sometimes I put some attention on the feelings I ultimately wish to experience. By focusing on the results, it is easier for me to maintain my motivation especially when working on things that I am not by nature motivated by.
  17. Change your mindset and make work fun. For me, I find it difficult to stay focused on doing things I’m not by nature interested in doing. In most cases, there’s probably nothing I can do about it. However, be mindful of the fact that your perception of work is something you can control. For my last tip here, I suggest you try changing your mindset or turning work into a game. An unfocused mind, is an unchallenged mind. So make things fun!
  18. Make sure to read this article at Nicholas Bate.

I hope these tips will take you closer to more focused and productive work days.

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One thought on “How to Stay Focused: Some practical tips

  1. Good article, and it covers a lot. Staying focused benefits from clearing your environment (such as you outlined, e.g. cleaning desk, etc.). But clearing that part of your mind responsible for focus – the prefrontal cortex – is also good because your conscious brain is limited in its ability to hold information to focus on at any one time. A good planning system will help – where you put all the ‘stuff’ that needs your attention – onto a piece of paper, or computer, etc. That helps your brain focus on the immediate necessity. Also, keeping your prefrontal cortex properly fueled – with a quality brain supplement – can ensure that fatigue is held at bay and that cognitive processing for focus, attention, concentration is maintained at peak performance. Again, good article!

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