10 Tips to Stay Focused

By Francisco Sáez • March 14, 2011

Productivity is not a question of hours. Sometimes, a day where you’ve worked only 3 or 4 hours may be much more productive than one where you’ve been trying to work for 8 hours. Have you ever lived this situation?

Lack of concentration is one of the greatest enemies of productivity. Constant—and often inefficient—meetings, colleagues who interrupt at all times, phone calls and distractions of all kinds decrease our yield and make us waste a lot of time and energy, not only at work, but at any activity we undertake.

There are techniques that help improve the ability to voluntarily maintain attention on the activity being undertaken, such as meditation or yoga. I’m not going to talk about these topics, mainly due to my ignorance about them. However, here you have a number of common sense tips that are available for everyone:

  1. Define your daily goals. It’s easier to stay focused on something when you bear in mind why you are doing that. Using an organizational system such as GTD is highly recommended.
  2. Divide each activity into smaller tasks. Having an action plan will help you to start and complete each activity. Besides, you’ll be able to track your progress, which will keep you motivated to continue.
  3. Choose your moments. Normally you have a high level of energy and concentration at the beginning of the day, which decreases along the day. But every one doesn’t work the same way. Also, if you work at home, your circumstances can be very different. Discover how you feel at different times of day and set your routines accordingly. Leave repetitive tasks for the moments you have a lower energy.
  4. Hang a Do Not Disturb sign. Warn your colleagues in the office—or your family and friends at home—not to interrupt you at certain time slots. Educate them in speaking to you at the right time, rather than interrupting every 10 minutes.
  5. Remove all distractions. Mute your phone and close the email, the internet browser and social network apps. If you work with a computer, close all unnecessary applications and work full screen for no distractions.
  6. Organize your breaks. If a task takes much time, take a break from time to time in order to recharge your energy batteries. If you work sitting, try to walk and move during these breaks.
  7. Give yourself a reward every time you achieve one of your goals. Spend some time doing things you like such as reading the news or your favorite blogs, playing at something or talking with someone.
  8. Create an appropriate framework. Keep your desk clean and tidy, and remove anything that might distract you. Keep everything you might need handy (even a bottle of water) to reduce the chances of interrupting what you’re doing. If you work sitting, having a good chair is essential. If you work in a noisy place you can use headphones to listen to music that doesn’t distract you, or earplugs, if the music also bothers you.
  9. Balance your food choices. Besides being good for your health, eating the needed quantities will help you be more productive. When you’re hungry it’s really hard to stay focused on something (personally I can’t), and if you eat too much, you’ll be overcome by sleep. Caffeine and sugar can help (in moderation of course).
  10. Sleep long enough. In addition to adversely affect your health, lack of sleep affects your clarity of thinking and, therefore, your productivity.

What tricks do you use to stay focused?

About the author

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Francisco Sáez (@franciscojsaez) is the founder and CEO of FacileThings. He is also a web developer specializing in Ruby on Rails who is passionate about personal productivity and GTD as a means to a better life.

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