18 Proven Ways to Stay Focused That Increase Productivity
Productivity doesn’t happen by accident. Accomplishing all the things you need and want to do requires forethought and planning, along with a continuous supply of motivation and focus.
Do you ever think how amazing it would be to do everything you set out to do each day, so you could relax and know you’ve accomplished your daily goals? However, we often face a mountain of work and feel overwhelmed and unproductive. By day’s end, we throw in the towel, feeling defeated by our to-do list.
Take charge of your time and energy, and learn what to focus on and what to let go. These 18 proven tools will help you stay focused and amp up your productivity so you can kill it every day.
1. Set daily goals.
Get organized by dividing your day into goals, each with a clear purpose. Think of this as a detailed to-do list of prioritized daily tasks. Keeping a to-do list is the simplest and easiest proven tool to ensure you stay focused and increase your productivity. Set reasonable targets for each day. All you need to get organized is a pen and paper, or even just an app on your smartphone.
2. First things first.
You only have so much time and energy, and chances are you’ll never have enough of both to accomplish everything (you think) you need to do every day. What you really need to do is focus on the most important tasks first. Not everything on your list is urgent.
Take a moment to identify your Most Important Task (MIT). This is the most critical thing you must get done -- get it off your plate first thing. By knocking out your biggest task, you’ll ensure that you’ll have a productive day no matter what.
3. Set deadlines and stick to them.
Deadlines can be a great way to control procrastination, but research has found that self-imposed deadlines don’t work for true dawdlers. Instead, hard deadlines that are evenly spaced out are most effective. So, if you’re struggling to find your mojo for a project, set firm deadlines with your boss or client, and make sure they are reasonable and sufficiently spaced out to accomplish the task.
4. Keep tasks manageable.
Sometimes less is more. In order to up your productivity, you need to break big projects into manageable chunks. Think of it this way: you don’t eat a three-course meal in one bite, do you? Just as we eat a meal in multiple bites, try breaking tasks down into smaller and smaller chunks, so you can focus on one area or one subject at a time. You’ll stay motivated and avoid distractions.
5. Train your brain to do deep work.
To truly harness the full power of your mind, you need to train your brain to do deep work. This is the ability to produce at your peak level for extended periods of time. It may sound easy, but we rarely do it.
You can start by setting aside a couple of hours each day during which you can completely focus on one task without interruption. Doing so will allow you to more fully engage your brainpower and make significant progress and important breakthroughs on a critical task.
6. Compartmentalize your time.
Zoom through your tasks by giving yourself some “do not disturb” time. Tell those you work with that you won’t be available for meetings or appointments during this time. Carving out focus time minimizes interruptions so you can engage in deep work.
Compartmentalizing your time allows your brain to isolate a task, so you can completely focus on that one thing without constantly breaking your concentration for something else.
7. Put away your cell phone.
Our smartphones and mobile devices have become a pervasive part of our lives, to the detriment of our productivity. Research has found that U.S. consumers spend at least 5 hours a day on their mobile devices, with about half that time spent on social media, messaging and entertainments apps. By simply putting your phone away for periods of time, or at least turning off notifications, you’ll gain hours of productivity and focus.
By now, most of us know that multitasking isn’t really a thing, and yet we still struggle to stop doing it. It seems like we have too much going on to focus on one thing. Do yourself a favor and give monotasking a try. Try looking at your calendar at the beginning of each week and assign yourself a specific focus each day. One day might be focused on administrative work, while another is concentrated on an upcoming project.
9. Practice mindfulness.
Practicing mindfulness meditation has been shown to increase the ability to focus and enhance learning and memory. Research shows it can even prevent age-related mental decline. According to one 7-year study, practicing mindfulness meditation is associated with improvement in sustaining focus and attention. Even more important, participants had increased feelings of emotional well-being and performed better on tasks.
10. Know your body clock.
Schedules give our days structure and a timetable to revolve around. However, not everyone functions on the same timetable. We all have natural rhythms that influence our ability to focus and produce.
The key is to match your highest priority work to your most productive hours of the day. Pay attention to your body clock. Most people tend to be most alert in the morning, and our concentration often starts to slide in the afternoon.
11. Work in 90-minute cycles.
A growing body of research indicates that we naturally work in cycles of 90 minutes. During these cycles, we’re better able to engage and focus. This is followed by lower frequency brain activity for about 20 minutes, when we’re apt to feel “brain fog” and may have a harder time concentrating. Harness this natural cycle by working in 90-minute increments, and give yourself a break in between.
12. Take mental breaks.
A strategic break can be an amazing boost for your brain. Even a short break can give you that burst of inspiration and creativity you’ve been looking for. Taking a brief break from work allows your mind to reset and restores your motivation. When you feel mental fatigue setting in, try stepping away from your desk for a few minutes. You can try stretching, going for a walk or spending a few minutes outside enjoying nature.
13. Set a timer.
Train your brain to hyper-focus on a task by using the Pomodoro Technique. Named for the tomato-shaped timer (although you can use any timer, including the one on your smartphone), you first decide on a task you want to accomplish. Next, set your timer for 25 minutes and work diligently for that time. Take a short break (5 minutes) when it rings, then reset the timer and go again. After 4 Pomodoros, take a longer (15-30 minute) break.
14. Exercise often.
We all know exercise is good for our bodies, but it’s also good for our brains. Working out has been shown to be an effective way to improve our attention, increase our learning potential and boost our memory. Exercise improves our mood and reduces feelings of stress and anxiety. But studies have also shown that people who work out have greater volume in the parts of the brain that control memory and thinking.
15. Declutter your workspace.
A clean and tidy space has a way of putting your mind at ease and increasing your ability to focus and go full-bore throughout your day. A desk in disarray will make your brain feel as cluttered and overflowing as your inbox.
Researchers have found that when there is too much stuff in your field of view (like a messy desk), it has a measurable impact on productivity. They found that too much clutter causes people to lose the brain power necessary to focus.
16. Use the two-minute rule.
If a task will take less than two minutes to complete, do it right away. Don’t let these tiny tasks build up for another time, and don’t add them to the bottom of your list. Take two minutes and just do it. You may be surprised by how many things you can accomplish in just a few minutes, such as sending an email or cleaning up your desk.
17. Give yourself a caffeine boost.
Many of us joke that we need a cup of coffee to jolt our brain awake in the morning. Studies have shown that caffeine, which is a natural stimulant, may do just that. Coffee and other caffeinated drinks are cognitive enhancers, improving your mental focus and concentration.
However, the more you drink caffeinated beverages, the more your body gets used to the stimulant and the less impact it has on you. Limit your consumption to one cup a day, and save that second cup for times when you really need it.
18. Switch tasks.
Have you ever been hard at work on a project, feeling totally focused, but after a while you feel like you hit a wall? It’s like your brain just locked up. It could be you’ve been focusing on one thing for too long, and now your brain needs a change of topic.
Try switching tasks to something else for a while. Switch it up by working on an entirely different task. Giving your brain a variety of things to work on can help you stay alert and productive for longer.