One of the biggest struggles with working long hours is finding the focus to be productive the entire time. We’ve all had those days where it feels like we got 4 hours of work done over the course of 8 hours. Recently, Dominion partnered with Michelle Steffes, CPS, CPLC, and president of IPV Consulting, to put on a webinar called Mastering Energy, Focus, and Time. During this webinar, she discussed some ways that can help you remain focused during the work day and ultimately improve productivity. Today I would like to go through those tips and give some examples of how you can accomplish the task of developing and fine-tuning your focus.
Step One: Brain Dump and Prioritize
The first step that Michelle talks about when it comes to developing focus is to do what she calls a “brain dump.” Essentially this means pouring out everything on your mind onto paper or an electronic document. Once you have emptied your mind of everything you can start pulling out the important tasks and prioritize them in the order of what is most pressing, thereby creating a detailed to-do list. Starting your day this way will not only empty your mind but also gets your creative juices running. You’ll find ideas will come easier and there will be more structure to your day.
Step Two: Complete Important Tasks Early
Now that you have your to-do list written down, it’s time to get the vital tasks done immediately. The sooner you can get your top two or three tasks completed, the better. Once the day gets going, you’re going to face distractions constantly, so by getting the really vital tasks done early you’ll not only have the time to complete them correctly, you’ll alleviate some of the stress throughout the day of having to get them done last minute. A colleague of mine has a process she likes to call “Eight before 8”, where she gets eight phone calls out to clients in before 8 o’clock in the morning. This helps her get in these important calls right away and ensures she isn’t distracted by questions and interruptions.
Step Three: Consider Your Weaknesses
Everybody has a weakness that will inevitably cause distractions throughout the day. It could be that you check your social media channels frequently, you like to chat with your coworkers or anything that gets in the way of your work. While these things are more than ok in moderation (more on that later) put motions in place to eliminate these from getting in the way while you’re trying to focus. A “do not disturb” sign on your desk will deter meaningless interruptions, as will headphones. Certain kinds of music are proven to increase focus and brain power, and people won’t talk to you as often if they see you have headphones in. Putting some steps in motion to prevent yourself from being distracted is a great way to improve your focus.
Step Four: Disconnect
Regardless of whether or not your phone/email/social media is your weakness, don’t check them until the task you’re working on is complete. If you’re working on a project that will take about two hours, focus only on that task during that time. I always get notifications anytime I get an email, which immediately distracts me from whatever I’m working on. The kicker is, whatever email I get is almost never urgent enough that it couldn’t wait until I’ve finished, and the brief 15 seconds it takes to read it disrupts my focus and sets me back much further than if I had continued working diligently. Since listening in on Michelle’s webinar I’ve turned off my notifications and I can already see the increase in productivity in my day-to-day work.
Step Five: Schedule Time to Connect
This next step piggybacks off step four. If you have difficulty disconnecting from your phone and email for the time it takes to complete each task, schedule breaks periodically throughout the day where you check your email and social accounts. With these scheduled times planned throughout the day, they won’t distract you from your day to day work. Instead, you can think of them as good incentives to work really hard until that time comes when you can take a break.
Step Six: Space Out Your Tasks
Make sure that you’re planning out your days with enough time in between tasks so that you’re not feeling too pressured to get anything done. Having the knowledge in the back of your mind that you have too much to get done today will only disrupt your thought process and prevent you from being totally focused. The phrase “don’t bite off more than you can chew” speaks to this directly. The more overwhelmed you are about your day, the more productive you’ll find yourself.
Step Seven: Take Breaks
It’s absolutely vital to take breaks throughout the day. Whether you took Michelle’s advice from step five to take breaks to check your phone, you go take a walk around the building, or you simply take a break to read for pleasure, you’ll allow your mind to reset and relax. This will make it easier to dive back in and focus on the task at hand when your break is over. Implementing breaks while eliminating distractions is the number one way you can increase productivity in your workday and you will notice results immediately.
Step Eight: Designate Think Times
The last thing you can do to really hone in and become a focus machine is to have what Michelle calls “Think Times” once or twice a week. Set aside 30 minutes or so to think about what you’re trying to accomplish and write down solutions as they come to you. This is different than step one’s “Brain Dump” because it’s more deliberate and centered in on your short and long-term goals. Put on some soft music, seclude yourself from others, and really think about what your current and future goals are. This will help you develop a game plan that will show you results in no time.
If you would like to watch the webinar Mastering Focus, Energy and Time, click here. Otherewise, subscribe to our webinars for more valuble information from trainers like Michelle!