Most of us have days when we cannot stay “in the zone.” We stare at the computer, realizing we’ve done nothing for several minutes. Or, we have a to-do list that is quite long, but at the end of the day, nothing is crossed off. Tomorrow looks bleak before it even starts. How do you prevent these wasted days from happening to you? By learning–and implementing–a few new habits.
Most of us have some time-wasting habits. We need to identify and focus on changing them to overcome them. It’s not always easy, but if we’re successful, we can improve our quality of life at the office (or home office) and throughout our lives. Let’s explore five simple habits for improving your focus.
One of the main reasons we lose focus is the constant communications that compete for our attention, including emails, social media notifications, instant messages, voicemails and phone calls. How can anyone stay focused when there are so many distractions?
Turn off your notifications and see how quickly your focus improves. Of course, we can’t turn off all business communications, but we can allocate time each day to answer them.
Take the challenge for one day: turn off all notifications on your phone, laptop or desktop, forward your incoming calls to voice mail, shut down your email, and set your status to do not disturb in Microsoft Teams or Slack. Check-in at specific intervals, such as 10:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. Allow yourself only a 15-minute window to respond, then turn them off again. You will be amazed at the amount of work you accomplish that day.
Get small tasks out of the way
Many of us put off little tasks, intending to return to them later. But before long, there are other fires to put out. These steal time away from completing small tasks. Rather than putting off small tasks, handle them immediately. For example, if you get an email asking for information that you have at your fingertips and can answer quickly, reply and get it out of the way.
When you create your To-do list, note the time you think it will take to accomplish each item. Then, when you have five or ten minutes between scheduled calls or meetings, turn to one of those small tasks that you can do quickly. Crossing it off your list will boost your confidence and help you focus on the larger projects.
Take short breaks
When faced with a looming deadline, do you believe that the best way to focus is to try to work exclusively on that project, no matter how long it takes? The reality is that you need breaks, so take them throughout the day. According to Cornell University, taking purposeful breaks increases your energy, productivity and ability to focus.
Try taking a five- or ten-minute break every 90 minutes. Stretch or take a quick walk around the building. The idea is to get the blood pumping to your brain so your laser focus will engage again.
Many people believe there are morning people and night people. However, I am convinced that this is a choice, and it’s a good idea to choose an early start if you need to improve your focus. When you start your day early, you can accomplish a lot before everyone else arrives and the disturbances start. Those early hours are a great time to catch up on emails, review your daily priorities, make coffee and read the news.
One note of caution: if you start your day early and want that alone time to focus on the day ahead, communicate that with others. If several coworkers also start early, you may fall back into interruption mode rather than enjoying a productive start to your day.
We’ve all had that project, phone call, performance review or another task that keeps getting pushed to another day. As the Nike slogan says, “Just Do It.” This may be a bit of a cliché, but it works well. Don’t wait, and don’t allow yourself to make excuses.
Try this: start working on a project you’ve been pushing off. As you complete the task, I’m confident you will have a clearer mind, feel more confident and find that your ability to focus on other projects improves.
A habit takes 21 days to establish, so try focusing on one at a time to set the stage for success. Remember, all the focus and productivity tips in the world won’t work if you overextend yourself. Don’t over-commit; if you realize you are over your head, ask for help or delegate to someone else. Focused success is in your future!
Sandra Wiley, Shareholder, President of Boomer Consulting, Inc., is a leader in the accounting profession with a passion for helping firms grow, adapt and thrive. She is regularly recognized by Accounting Today as one of the 100 Most Influential People in Accounting as a result of her expertise in leadership, management, collaboration, culture building, talent and training.
Sandra’s role at Boomer Consulting, Inc. includes serving as co-director of the Boomer Leadership Academy as well as the Boomer Managing Partner Circle, the Boomer Talent Circle and the Boomer Learning & Development Circle. Her years of experience and influence as a management and strategic planning consultant make her a sought-after resource among the best and brightest firms in the country.