Five Easy Steps to Productivity

Photo by XPS on Unsplash

How to kill distractions and get even the smallest tasks completed.

How does one become more focused? There are a lot of people writing about that topic these days. I know I have, because as I write this, I am thinking, didn’t I cover this already in one of my blog posts. Probably, but I am too lazy to go back and look. It’s worth another 400 words or so.

First of all, there are so many distractions these days. Every day, every minute, there are pings, alerts, notifications going off on our devices, laptops, and desktops. They are with us all the time. I am of a certain age that remembers a professional work life that did not include cell phones or smart devices.

Back in the day when mobile phones were becoming ubiquitous someone said something I think is one of the smartest things I have ever heard and it applies to our world today. When confronted by an individual that was angry because their repeated voice mails were being ignored, the recipient of those calls and voicemails said to the offender, “this phone is for my convenience, not yours”. Right?

The phone, the smart “device” as we have come to call them is ubiquitous and rules our lives. Have you ever misplaced your device? How did that make you feel? You feel like something is missing from your life. Perhaps your soul.

Technology has taken us far but it can also be a major disruption in your ability to get things done. With so many people working from home today and dealing with the COVID pandemic here are some tips for concentrating and getting into a level of performance that will enhance your productivity and ultimately give you a great sense of well-being.

  1. Turn off — even if it is for a short time. Some of us remember a time before instant notification or contact was available. I know what you are saying, “But I have kids, and in case of an emergency they need to get a hold of me!” Think of when you were a kid. What happened during an emergency? You eventually found your parents at the other end of a land line perhaps many minutes or even hours after the emergency. Trying to find which cupboard the instant microwavable mac-n-cheese is located does not constitute an emergency. Try turning off as a start for 20 minutes and see how that feels.
  2. Clear your mind and your desk. First your work space. If you have to write a report or read something or whatever it is you need to concentrate on, make your workspace clear of distractions and clutter. It only serves to distract you. Then your mind. Close your eyes and a few deep breaths will clear your mind. As you do this remind yourself how grateful you are to be able to spend time working on your project. It clears the clutter of competing ideas and needy thoughts in your brain.
  3. Take notes — Even if you are in full flow and are concentrating with great precision and depth on your project, ideas, thoughts, things you have to do might come up that can easily distract you. Have a pad of paper or note pad ready to quickly jot down that grocery item you just thought of or that idea for a Christmas gift you need to tell your spouse about or that bill you forgot to pay. Then set aside for later but do it quickly and get back into your task.
  4. Music — I like to listen to music of some type. I make sure it is neutral. What I mean is that the music needs to be background noise, and something that I can’t dance to, or tap my foot or have a beat. I like the post-classical minimalism station or the atmospheric piano station on Spotify. Let the music drown out the other noise and chatter around you. If you can, use noise cancelling headphones.
  5. Set a timer — I like giving myself a micro-deadline to get something done. For a longer than usual email, I might limit it to 10 minutes. A long memo or white paper might be 60 minutes or even 90 minutes. You will be surprised how much you accomplish when you “gamify” your tasks. I occasionally use an app called Focus Keeper. This app lets you set your time increments and provides a timer. As a default I have it set for 25 minutes with 5 minute breaks. If I don’t break I will never get up from my desk.

There you have it. My tips for concentrating on the task at hand and making sure you get the job done. Distractions can tear into our psyche and you won’t even know it. Over time you are asking yourself how and why do you have so much to do? Overwhelm can be debilitating. Simply follow the steps above and you will soon be in flow.

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