Maintaining focus and keeping productivity levels up day after day is a constant struggle for almost anyone facing a pile of tasks ahead of them. It’s in our nature to seek out an easier way to get something done, and it’s that very nature that would appear to work against us when the best plan is simply to put your head down and plow through it, hour after hour.
For many of us – especially those of us in a startup – losing focus for even a few minutes can result in hours of lost productivity. You may find yourself spending more time trying to focus than you are actually getting work done. Even the most minor of potential distractions seem to be amplified during times when you need to focus the most.
So, what do you do? Here are five methods for improving productivity you can put to work for you in just five minutes.
Set Priorities and Put Tasks in Order of Importance
Having a mountain of work in front of you can be extremely demotivating and damaging to your focus. You might end up spending more time staring at the pile than you do actually getting it done.
Take a moment to sort these tasks by order of importance and get the critical jobs done first. This will help you as the day goes by as you feel less of a sense of urgency with each job you get done. If the biggest job is done first, then everything else is easy by comparison. Plus, that way, you’re not spending the entire day dreading that one task you have looming over your head.
Close your email client, turn off the TV (if there’s one in your office,) and don’t even think about using Facebook or Twitter. If you work from home, consider closing the door to whatever room you’re in to create a barrier between you and the fridge or any other distracting sources around the house.
This may mean having nothing open on your computer other than exactly what you need to get the job done. Distracting websites, YouTube videos, and even little things like email notification popups can really throw your focus off.
You may even go so far as to get rid of things around your desk that grab your attention. If you catch yourself looking over at a picture and daydreaming about the day the photo was taken, consider putting it in a drawer until the job is done.
Allot a Certain Amount of Time to Each Task
For many people, having a strict schedule that even allots time to certain tasks can have a big impact on productivity. If I know I have exactly one hour to get something done, I’m much more inclined to get it done within that hour if I have it actually scheduled on my calendar than if I have ten jobs ahead of me and no idea when I’ll get to them, or in what order.
Figure out how long a job should take you, and give yourself five or ten minutes more to compensate for delays. This will help keep you from going into a panic if one task bleeds into another’s time. Do your best to get everything done in its allotted time, and don’t forget to schedule breaks for yourself.
Identify and Utilize Productivity Boosters
Music can be a big productivity booster for many people. A particular genre or rhythm could help you pace your efforts and motivate you to keep going past the point where you might otherwise seek out distractions. Once you set up your Pandora (or other music service of choice) channel or start a playlist in your favorite music software, minimize the application and let the music do its thing.
Sunlight also might actually help you focus. For many, the replacement of artificial light with natural light can change mood, energy levels, and make a stressful day feel more relaxed. It’s amazing what an open window can do, as long as that window isn’t in front of you…otherwise, you might find yourself daydreaming more than getting work done during the day.
The most important thing is to find out what helps you, and put it to work. Even something as simply as maximizing the computer window you’re working in could help you stay focused.
Come to Terms with What You Can’t Do Today
Let’s face it – not everything gets done at the end of every day. Putting in long hours or stressing out about the clock can be detrimental to productivity. When you order your tasks by importance, the last two things should be items you can put at the front of the list tomorrow.
If you’re in a situation where absolutely everything is due by a specific time, then consider adjusting your schedule accordingly. Repetitive daily tasks might need to be put off until the very end of the day since you know exactly how long they’ll take you to accomplish.
No matter what your preferred method of boosting productivity is, the important thing to keep in mind is that you’re human and can only do so much in a given time. A reduction in stress may very well be the best cure for problems maintaining focus.