The truth is – and I readily admit it – I have trouble with focus.
To me, my brain is a little like Dug’s in the movie “Up.” As Dug, a dog, is speaking, he is immediately and completely distracted by the thought, sight or sound of squirrels. I affectionately call this “squirrel brain.”
The good news about a squirrel brain is that it makes it easy for me to generate new ideas and improvise a talk. The bad news about a squirrel brain is that it makes it hard for me to follow along with a single thought or project for long.
What my squirrel brain wants to do is write a bit of a blog post, then go work a little on a program I am creating, then go check Facebook to see what people in my group are saying, then see what the weather is going to be like tomorrow, then create some notes about my next client meeting.
This is not productive. Any productivity expert will tell you that both distractions and trying to multi-task kill our ability to get work completed.
Time-management tricks for the distracted
Because I know that I am a project sprinter, not a marathoner, I’ve developed time-management techniques that link together short bursts of focused activity.
As a result, I am able to get a lot done and be highly efficient in manageable ways that work with my squirrel-brained nature.
If you are like me and can be prone to distraction here’s how you can boost your productivity:
1. Identify priorities.
The first place to start is by asking yourself: What are the most important things that I need to complete today? Write these down or add them to a To-do list. I use and like Wunderlist.
2. Choose one thing.
Prioritize the top 2 or 3 things on your list. Nope, you are not allowed to pick more that that. Otherwise, you'll get distracted. And, if you have a big project ahead of you, then break it into bite-size tasks on your list. Then, pick ONE ITEM. This is what you will work on next.
3. Set aside a chunk of time.
Now you will focus on the ONE THING you picked. Nothing else.
In terms of productivity timing, many people are fans of the Pomodoro Technique. This method advocates 25 minutes of work with a 5-minute break.
I recommend picking a period of time that works best for you. The key is your commitment. Whether 20 minutes, 30 minutes or an hour, pick a block of time and absolutely commit to completing one single task.
Do. Not. Do. Anything. Else.
4. Use a timer or an extension.
An old-fashioned egg timer or a smartphone timer app can do the trick. Just put it next to your keyboard or workspace where it’s visible. Set it for the predetermined amount of time. You can also use what I use, which is the Strict Workflow extension for Chrome.
Strict Workflow is amazing because you can program it to shut down any site that distracts you. I have social media sites listed in mine like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Reddit. I have also added a bunch of news sites because I can get sucked into political drama.
5. Use a notepad or sticky note.
Write on a single piece of paper the one task you are to accomplish. Stick on your computer.
Glance at it often.
This is your task — remember it, do it, complete it. Ask yourself: Am I on task right now? Or am I getting distracted?
If you are using Strict Workflow, the Pomodoro technique, or another variation, you will be given short breaks at whatever time period you have chosen. When your break is over, if you have not completed your one task, then you will continue to work on it during your next sprint.
6. Eliminate distractions.
Either turn off your Internet, email and phone — or move away from them.
Other apps you can use are Self Control (Macs) or Cold Turkey (PC) to block yourself from social media and other sites you use to waste time. I like Cold Turkey because you can create chunks of time for the entire week.
Making a habit of unplugging for a set amount of time each day can go a long way toward accomplishment of top priorities.
7. Spend time with the squirrels
Our squirrels need love. If they don't get attention, they get annoyed.
At the end of your time chunk, set your timer for five minutes and spend them with the squirrels. Do you have to check emails or send a text?
Need to stretch or read New York Times headlines? Want to check Facebook or Twitter?
You can do that now — for five minutes.
And if you are business owner uses social media for marketing, that's fine. But that should be its own sprint. Make sure you use the time to actually market your business and don't get sucked down some rabbit hole of chitter-chatter. One other extension I use on my desktop (where I work) is the Facebook news feed eradicator.
In this way, I can make my posts and go into groups without getting pulled into conversations that a friend has started about the crazy weather. I do that in the evening from my phone.
8. Rinse and repeat.
Once you finish your one thing, it's time to move on.
Pick your next priority from the list you made at the beginning of the day.
Continue to step two and pick the next task or segment of a task. Then move forward through this list over and over.
Following this protocol has helped me immensely.
Give this a try and see if you become more productive. Let me know how it goes!