10 Productivity Tips for Staying Focused While Working or Studying



You may feel like the most undisciplined, procrastinating, distracted, lazy person and no matter how big your goals are, you cannot seem to muster the internal motivation to just get things done.

Well, stop being so hard on yourself.

Relying in self discipline and will power was never gonna get you far. It will only leave you feeling guilty, ashamed and destroy your confidence.

Staying focused on tasks is a habit to be developed and like all habits that stick, it takes systems and not will power. These productivity tips will help you build the systems needed for staying focused.

WHY FOCUS IS IMPORTANT

In his book The Personal MBA, Josh Kaufman explained that our minds take time and energy to change form one task to another. This is called context switching.

If you spend you day switching from one context to another, you lose valuable mental energy and it takes you more and more time to finish tasks. This he calls the cognitive switching penalty.

That is why its is possible to spend your entire day multi-tasking, getting nothing done and still feel exhausted at the end of the day. 

That is why Thomas Frank said, 

“a lack of focus is the fastest ways to waste time and exhaust yourself mentally. Instead aim to pack your work into a more concentrated shorter amount of time.”

To read about making habits that stick, click here.
To read about the best time management techniques, click here.

Here are 10 productivity tips to help you stay focused:

1. Utilise Pre-commitment techniques

Pre-commitment is basically planning ahead and finding ways to deny yourself the option of not doing the task at a specific time. 

The easiest way to pre-commit is to to write down your tasks in a bullet journal or to-do list complete with set working periods.

There is a reason to-do lists, schedulers and planners have been so popular for so long among the worlds most successful people.

Other ways of establishing positive pre-commitment is by making yourself accountable to someone else like a friend, colleague or online community.

The best example I can think of is that of a daily vloggers who promise her audience a video each and every day. The audience keeps her accountable.

Negative pre-commitments involves simply removing the option to do anything else basically removing distractions.

If your phone is the distraction, remove it. If its constantly getting up and going to the bathroom, wear a diaper. I’m kidding, a catheter will do just fine.

2. Alternate between intervals of deep work and refreshing breaks

The aim in every session of work or study should be to reach a state of deep work  where the work just flows. That is when we are the most productive.

I know a lot of people like working for 25 minutes with a 5 minute break while others like 45 minutes with 15 minutes break. Choose one that works for you. Set the timer and get to work.

Your brain is more likely to commit fully to 25 or 45 minutes of mental work because it knows that a reprieve is in sight other than just working without any idea as to when it can attend to other thing (like your worries and entertainment).

You can also create these intervals by task. That is for example by saying when I finish writing this article, I will take a 30 minute break before editing and proofreading.

This is the technique I use because I do not like being stop mid-flow by a clock. The only disadvantage is that sometimes a task takes longer than I anticipated and by the time I am done, I am exhausted.

3. What to do when your mind won’t shut up

Do you ever sit down to work and then all of a sudden your mind starts reminding you of all the things you need to do or worry about?

You have heard this advice a million times but I am telling you, try it out. Just keep a notepad nearby and write down whatever those thoughts are.

In that way, you are promising your mind that you are not ignoring her, you will just deal with the issue later. I am telling you, it works.

4. Refresh don't overwhelm

During your breaks you need to take a reprieve. Take an actual break. Do something that is not mentally exhausting like watching TV or scrolling down social media. 

These activities may feel numb to you but your mind works on overdrive to process the images and subliminal messages in them.

A picture really is worth a thousand words and you look through almost 30 images on instagram in just a few minutes.

You are giving your brain 30,000 words to process and that is without the long dramatic captions and funny comments.

Instead, spend break time listening to music, taking a walk, looking outside or whatever activity relaxes you so that you will come back ready to work.

5. Creating a designated work space, time and routine

Having a specific work area, specific work times and specific work routines makes it easier for your brain to stay focused on working in that place, at that time and in that way.

My desk is in the bedroom beside my bed. When I wake up in the morning, I brush my teeth, wash my face and then I sit down on my desk to start my day.

I read my Bible, I pray. I open my computer and I start writing. Every single day except Sundays. Even when I have my phone on my desk, I am seldom tempted to touch it because my mind knows phone time is on the bed, not the desk.

I once had a colleague who would get in the office in the morning, drink tea for almost and hour while reading the newspaper, then fold it away, stretch dramatically and start working nonstop until lunch break.




6. Breaking down goals into manageable tasks

Write down goals and tasks for each work session. The best time to prepare for the day is the day before so that in the morning you just sit and start.

Split your main goals for the day into small manageable tasks and focus on one task at a time.

Having a step by step plan helps you feel less overwhelmed and it reduces that need in your head to run and do something less imposing. Just like having time limits assures you that a break is coming.

7. Simple improvements to your work environment

Design your work space to encourage deep work and to eliminate or at least reduce distractions.

I put my desk in the bedroom because in the living room the TV is my main source of temptation.

You may need to keep yours away from the bedroom if the bed is your main source of temptation.

When I was still working a 9 to 5, my biggest environmental distraction was talking to my work friends. I shared an office with just one another girl and we were super close. 

I used to put my earphones on with no music so that she would not start a conversation. Sometimes, I would hear her call me and completely ignore her and she would go back to working.

Keep your phone in a drawer or do not remove it from your handbag unless it rings. Find ways to remove whatever usually distracts you.

7. Decluttering your work space, to-do list and schedule

Having piles of paperwork and clutter on your desk is overwhelming and very distracting.

A mile long to-do list and a schedule that is filled with tasks for every single moment is also very discouraging.

In this article about time management, tip number 4 is about decluttering your to-do list by categorizing all your tasks into:

i) the ones that get done: urgent and important, important not urgent, and

ii) the ones that get tossed: urgent and not important, not urgent and not important.

It is also said that 30% of the work hours in America are spent looking for misplaced things like physical and digital files and documents. That is why you should organize your things.

Nothing distracts you more than having to stop mid flow to look for something you need to continue to work and you cannot find it.

Keep your desk clean. Only have what you need to work (for me it is my laptop, pen notebook and water). Have a filing system that you understand and can easily get something you often use when you need it.

8. Distracting noise and sounds

I do not know how people work while listening to music. I cannot unless it is classical music and even then I do not like it but I do know that some people can so good for them.

If you have been listening to music and keep getting distracted, this is usually my first suggestion, try working without it. 

Even classical music can be distracting because your mind is also paying attention to the piano or whatever. You may not be able to reach that flow state. However I know that this is not the case for everyone

Try to work in quieter environments but if that is not possible, I have found that if I just start working and when I get interested in what I am doing, the noise just fades away.

I know someone who counters outside noises like a neighbor having a party by putting on her headphones and listening to natural sounds like rain. 

10. Short meditation to build your attention muscle

Being able to stay focused is like a brain muscle, if you want to develop it, you need to exercise it. I first heard this concept from Thomas Frank but I had been practicing meditation to help me sleep.

Take a few minutes in your day (can be three or two or twenty) and try to focus on your breathe. By focusing on your breath, you are teaching your mind how to focus on one thing to the exclusion of many others.

I use a Christian guided meditation on YouTube to help keep my mind from wandering (which is a lot).

The point of meditation is to help you identify when you start being distracted and to train you to switch back quickly. That is what you need for deep work. To be able to snap yourself back into the work.

That is it from me today my beautiful sisters. Tell me in the comments if you found any of these tips helpful and share to support me and other ladies who need to hear this. Keep growing.






Comments

  1. This is a fantastic post! So many helpful tips that I'm definitely going to start utilizing this month. :)

    https://www.makelifemarvelous.com/

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  2. It's so hard to concentrate all the time, especially when I work from home. I find taking small breaks every so often really does help.

    I also find music helps to drown out the background noice from my children... that really aren't quite lol

    Great Post

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