Ivette J. Russo MS in Clinical Psychology

You can be the most motivated, driven individual around, but at one time or another we all lose our focus. If you find that you’re not accomplishing as much as you’d like or that you spend too much time procrastinating, then you might need to improve your focus. A laser beam focus helps you accomplish more in less time, improves your attitude and makes work more enjoyable. Here are some helpful ways to achieve that focused state of mind. See which ones will work in your world.

1. Start your day with a plan
Here’s a novel idea. Rather than spending your day jumping from crisis to crisis, start out with a plan. It doesn’t need to be very involved. If you’re not a big fan of detailed planning, then a simple list with three top priority tasks written on a pad next to your computer will help you start your day with a focus.

2. Go incommunicado
Shut down email, IM, Facebook and other distractions while working on important tasks. Though you may not be able to ignore email for an entire day, you can probably do so for a few hours. The problem is that every time you stop and respond to email, you interrupt your train of thought and energy flow. Answering email takes time, effort and often takes you in another direction—away from your priority tasks. You’ll find that you really can survive with your email closed for a few hours at a time.

3. Create time slots for visitors
If you work in a busy environment, you may have people stepping into your work space any time of the day, diverting your focused attention. To alleviate this situation, request that visitors stop by at particular times of your choosing, such as a specific hour in the morning and a specific hour in the afternoon. During those times, try to work on easier tasks so interruptions won’t be a burden.

4. Use a timer
Get a timer (virtual or physical) and set it for a reasonable amount of time, like 50 minutes. Then concentrate on a priority task and nothing else for that block of time. You’ll be amazed at how much you can get done. Give yourself a 5-10 minute break when the time period ends. Repeat throughout the day. Here are a few free timers to get you started: Google Desktop Timer, Title Bar Browser Timer, Multi-Timer, and Cool Timer.

5. Get enough sleep
At the risk of sounding like your mother, it’s true that when you’re well rested, it’s easier to concentrate. Even though getting sufficient sleep may be difficult with some lifestyles, this could be the reason you’re not as focused as you’d like to be. At least consider making a change here.

6. Leverage your peak energy times
Most people seem to have one or more periods of the day when they feel most energetic and productive. Become aware of your personal rhythm. Then tackle the difficult tasks during times of peak performance. You should notice that analyzing, problem solving, creating and similar types of mental effort come more easily during these periods.

7. Save the “grunt work” for low energy periods
Most jobs have a certain amount of tedious or repetitive tasks. These are the tasks that don’t take as much brain power. Try to arrange your day so that you perform repetitive tasks when your brain and body are at a low point. This way, you can use your power periods for the tough tasks. And you might even look forward to the repetitive tasks as a relaxing break.

8. Listen to instrumental music
Music and earphones are great for blocking out workplace noise, allowing you to maintain focus. If you’ll be involved in any tasks that involve verbal information, like writing, reading, and writing code, then be sure to avoid music with words, which is also processed as verbal information and will cause interference. Subdued instrumental music is usually best. If you find that music interferes with work, consider earphones with no music. (No one will know!)

9. Take refreshing breaks
Reward yourself with small breaks throughout the day. Use your breaks to refresh your mind and body. Some suggestions are: stand and stretch, step outside for a short walk, think of nothing and just let your mind wander, eat a rejuvenating snack or doodle.

10. Work at another location
If your situation allows for it, consider the advantages of working outside the office for part of the day, in a coffee shop, book store or library. Getting away from the same four walls can increase your productivity and inspire creativity. You may find that the chatter in commercial environment transforms into “white noise” and becomes less distracting than the office environment, where you’re bound to be more emotionally involved.

11. Get an accountability partner
Find a partner who would also like to improve his or her focus. Then promise to help each other in a variety of ways. For example, at the start of the week you can share your list of what you’d like to accomplish. Then check in again at the end of the week to see how well you progressed. Or agree to signal each other if one of you is spending excessive time chatting. These are just a few of the many possibilities.

12. Use the end of the day wisely
Are you one of those people (like me) who use the excuse that a messy desk is the sign of a creative mind? If so, this tip is for you. Clear off your desk at the end of each day. When you resume work, you’ll be able to dive right in rather than wade through a mess. You’ll probably find that starting the day in a clutter-free environment helps you improve your focus.


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