4 ways to stay focused

Written by Verne on August 17th, 2007

Whether you’re running a company or studying for the last set of undergraduate final exams you’ll ever write, or both, staying focused on the task at hand can be tough… especially when there are about a million other tasks waiting to be “at hand”.

I’m definitely the type to keep busy – often too busy – and over the last few years, I’ve picked up a few tricks that have helped me retain my sanity while managing to-do lists longer than my girlfriend’s shopping list.

For all the overloaded entrepreneurs and freelancers out there, here are 4 ways to stay focused.

  1. Allocate specific time for each task.
    Avoid juggling several tasks at the same time, you’ll just end up doing each one poorly. Instead, make a schedule before tackling your work and allocate specific periods of time for you to work on each task. Here’s the important part: during those times, make a pledge to not think or worry about the other tasks. Give what you’re working on your undivided attention – you’ll get things done faster, and your next priority item will also appreciate your undivided attention.
  2. Voicemail is the secretary you’ve never had.
    If you don’t have voicemail, get it. If you do, use it. When you’re in the zone working away at one task and somebody is calling you about another, let your secretary take it. That is, let them leave you a voicemessage and then call them back when you reach your allocated period of time for that task. If you must, listen to the voicemessage first to gauge the urgency of the matter. Then continue your work happily (knowing you don’t have to pay your secretary a hourly rate).
  3. Turn off emails.
    If your inbox looks like mine, more emails = more work. I received an email (ironically) at my last workplace that noted that continuously checking emails and answering them as they came was one of the worst work habits in terms of productivity. Check your emails, figure out what you need to do, then turn it off (you can check it again during your next transition to the next task). Avoid just minimizing it, as the alerts coming through may tempt you to click and read them, thereby misdirecting your focus.
  4. Learn to say “no”.
    This is arguably one of the hardest things to do (yes, even moreso than turning off emails). When your plate is full, don’t take on more – you’re only increasing your stress and decreasing your ability to divide your time effectively between everything you have to get done. FSw recently wrote a great post about 8 Essential Strategies to Saying “No”. Rather than repeating what they said, I encourage you to give it a read.

How do you stay focused?

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