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 for the easily 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 your top priorities
The first place to start is by asking yourself: What are the most important things that I need to complete today? How will they move me toward my larger goals?
Write these down or add them to a To-do list.
I use and like Wunderlist as an online tool.
Paper planning tools
I also have this notebook and markers that are so helpful!
- Dotted Bullet Journal/Notebook: This is what I use to bullet journal. .I"m a sloppy bullet journaler - you don't have to make it pretty to be effective (although you can!). Here is where I write down all my To-Dos and crossing out my Ta-Dones! I also keep lists of things like favorite books and kids' events.
- Huhuhero Fineliner Color Pen Set, 0.38 mm: These are the beautiful markers I use in my bullet journal. They don't bleed. They make fine lines. They have bright colors and they are pretty much perfect for bullet journaling.
Planners! These planners are incredibly helpful for getting your day organized and keep you systematically implementing your To-Dos:
- Panda Planner Pro: This planner uses the science of productivity and happiness to help you end procrastination and prioritize your tasks.
- 90X Goal Planner - Whatever you want to achieve in the next 5 years depend on what you do over the next 90 days. This planner is the perfect accompaniment to the book I mentioned above. This easy-to-follow system will help you figure out your goals, set, and follow through on them. Add this productivity journal planner to your daily routine and crush your goals over the next 90 days!
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.
In his book, 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management, author Kevin Kruse has an entire chapter called The Power of Proper Priorities. It's one of the Secrets he shares in this book stating, this is a key task-based action plan for defining what is the most important thing, and then getting into it first thing in the morning.
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.
And that means staying away from Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube, and all of those other social media sites that can suck you into a black hole of distraction.
What is the Pomodoro Technique?
The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. The technique uses a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks.
These intervals are named pomodoros, the plural in English of the Italian word pomodoro (tomato), after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that Cirillo used as a university student.
There are six steps in the original technique:
- Decide on the task to be done.
- Set the pomodoro timer (traditionally to 25 minutes).
- Work on the task.
- End work when the timer rings and put a checkmark on a piece of paper.
- If you have fewer than four checkmarks, take a short break (3–5 minutes), then go to step 2.
- After four pomodoros, take a longer break (15–30 minutes), reset your checkmark count to zero, then go to step 1.
If you want to learn more about the Pomodoro technique, there is a really fun and easy-to-understand book on Amazon called Pomodoro Technique Illustrated: The Easy Way to Do More in Less Time.
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.
I think this Miracle TimeCube is really cool and you can use it for work, your kids' homework, cooking, workouts, and games. (NOTE: just make sure you get the right time intervals - there are 5 different colored cubes, each with pre-set intervals)
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.
(I LOVE sticky notes - I'd stick them to everything if I could get away with it!)
Glance at your task note 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!