We’ve all been there. You get to your desk in the morning, ready to take on your to-do list. But then there’s social media, food breaks, meetings and procrastination.
Everyday distractions can get in the way of the important things, but with some discipline and planning you can stay focused and productive.
Some people may feel like they don’t have enough hours in the workday, while others may be spending too much time procrastinating. Whatever the case may be, everyone can benefit from learning how to organize their lives better and focus on what matters.
There’s a difference between being busy and productive.
When you multitask too much, it’s easy to become distracted and forget to update your calendar with that new deadline or send out that important email.
Research shows that trying to accomplish multiple tasks at once compromises productivity. It’s also likely that you’re not doing either task very well.
“The first piece of advice I would give someone who wants to be more productive is to get out of the mindset of doing more things, and into the mindset of doing more of the right things,” said Greg McKeown, author of “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.”
Focus on what matters
Technology can often be a big distraction, and getting rid of external triggers like cell phone notifications can help you focus better on your work.
Social media can swallow up a lot of time, and tech companies have spent years working to make consumer technology as addictive as possible.
But that’s starting to change. Companies including Apple and Google have implemented features aimed at curbing phone usage, and apps like Instagram have features intended to help you manage your time with the app better.
Through Apple’s Screen Time, you’re able to set daily limits on certain apps on your iPhone. The apps you designate will lock after you reach your limit. Granted, the lock is easy to bypass – it’s more of a reminder that you have reached your limit.
Another way to avoid the distraction is to delete the apps that are not essential to your work or everyday life.
McKeown said putting speed bumps between you and social media can help you avoid wasting time and prioritize the things that are important.
“By making it a little harder to be distracted, it becomes a little easier to get going on the projects that matter to you,” he said.
Don’t get interrupted
Most people are more productive when they can have a batch of time for uninterrupted focus, said Ashley Stahl, career coach, author and host of the “You Turn” podcast. Scheduling meetings in the morning or at the end of the day will help you stay focused and maintain your workflow.
“On days where you’re focused and writing, for example, a 1 pm phone call could be really damaging for your focus,” Stahl said. “Dangling mid-day meetings usually cut you off from the source of creativity you may be seeking.”
It’s also a good idea to let people know when you’re available. Having an automatic reply message on your email is an easy way to let people know what times you’re on email. For example, ‘Thanks for your message! I check emails daily from 8 am to 11 am, and will get back to you as soon as possible,’” Stahl suggested.
Take a break
Being glued to your desk isn’t the best way to get things done. Creating space just to get up from your desk and have a break or go for a walk is critical for the mind to be able to relax, so it can then get back to focused work, McKeown said.
“If you try to be on 24/7, you’re going to burn out your mind quickly,” he said.
By not taking any breaks, your decision-making is affected and you become more reactive, McKeown said. That’s when you’re likely to start wasting time on surfing the internet, reading updates on the news or scrolling through endless pages of social media.
The reason this is so significant, McKeown said, is that it’s not just how many hours of focused work you give a task, but how many healthy, energized hours you can put into it.
“Yes, you can spend all the hours, but you’re not working at anything like your highest ability,” he said.
Planning and organizing will help you get an overview of your workday as well as your long-term goals. It could be anything from a mindmap to flesh out ideas to post-it notes with all the things you need to do for the day.
There are also apps that can help you manage your to-do list and planning, including Todoist, Memento and Trello.
More from Success
Before you start your workday, take 30 minutes to plan your day and figure out what you need to do, and in what order. Scaling down and tackling clutter will help you become more productive at work.
Figure out where you’re adding chaos into your own life versus where you can remove something that feels like a block from your focus, Stahl said. It could be as simple as cleaning your desk so you can focus and not be so distracted, or as complex as ditching a habit like saying “yes” when you actually feel like saying “no.”
“Usually people think that to solve an issue in their lives, they need to go get something, or add something to the equation,” she said. “But to me, simplicity means removing something that may be a block from your focus.”