Isn’t it ironic that I’m having a hard time focusing on this list of tips to help people focus? As I struggle to keep deadlines, I realize that my work environment is filled with distractions – whether it’s other people’s conversations filling my head or the flashing of my instant-messaging window telling me a co-worker has a question. If I’m going to make this deadline, then I need to buckle down. Here are six tips that I’ve learned help me focus on my writing.
1. Wear headphones. In a cubicle environment, conversations carry. It’s easy to lose your train of thought when your co-workers are yapping about last night’s “Bachelorette” episode. So slap on the headphones and hit Play on the “Inception” soundtrack or some classical – something you can get lost in. Try noise-canceling headphones to eliminate even more outside interference.
2. Turn off e-mail and IM. Normally, the first thing I do when I start working is open up my e-mail and my Instant Messaging client. It’s not long before friends and co-workers are hitting me up for conversation or questions. Since these forms of communication are so instant, people expect an immediate reply. Before long, an hour might go by. When you really need to crank out a project, turn on only Microsoft Word or whatever word-processing software you use – consider checking your e-mail as a reward for when you’re finished.
3. Close the door. Whether you work at home or in an office, shutting a door can be helpful – literally and figuratively. Keeping out distractions around you can also keep them out of your head. I’ve known work-from-home people who set up an area just for work – they don’t allow themselves to wander around or let their pets hang out. Sad, perhaps, but it’s easy to lose focus and concentrate instead on chores that need to be done or that puppy in your lap. A closed door means “do not disturb” – assuming people take the hint.
4. Work at your desk. Continuing along the lines of sticking to a formal work environment, I’ve found that working at my desk keeps me focused. I stare straight ahead at my screen and the wall behind it, attempting to maintain decent posture in my ergonomic chair. But if I take my laptop and retreat to the couch, all hope for meeting a deadline is lost. Now I’m comfy – I just might take a nap! The couch is in front of the TV – maybe I’ll just see what Oprah is up to! Oh, and if I take said laptop to a café? Way too much people-watching opportunity! Sitting at a desk establishes that I am working, and the sooner I finish, the sooner I can take my laptop to the couch and simultaneously surf and watch TMZ.
5. Work in chunks of time. One of the most helpful blog posts I’ve read recently is on WebWorkerDaily about working in “chunks.” Dawn Foster recommends breaking down your day into blocks of time dedicated to each task. That way you can keep track of where your time is going as you tackle each item on your to-do list. If you’re a person who works best under pressure, having deadlines sprinkled throughout your day should keep you focused.
6. Keep your cell phone out of sight. I think voicemail is one of the greatest modern inventions. I usually let phone calls go to voicemail so that I can listen to and process each person’s message before dealing with it. But a lot of people still jump on their phones the moment it rings, taking them away from their work. Even visual or vibrating notifications of incoming calls and text messages can be distracting. So keep your phone in another room or in your messenger bag and check it every once in a while.
About the Author: Jennifer Moline writes about small business, graphic design, printing and freelancing for the PsPrint blog, as well as for other graphic design websites.