Whether you work from home or in a bustling office, staying focused on your daily workload can be a huge battle. Especially if you have a desk job that has you sitting in front of a computer all day – I’m supposed to ignore the internet?! Yeah right. Despite the daily grind feeling like an uphill battle, there are a few small adjustments you can make at work to help keep yourself on track.
A lot of us use technology in our everyday lives in order to simplify and manage our workload. It’s hard to imagine working without it. But while apps and digital calendars and file sharing can absolutely make things easier on us, they can also be a hindrance. The human brain doesn’t do well with multitasking – switching from one activity to another requires us to refocus and reset each time, which actually costs us time in the long run (read more about multitasking here). So when you’re working on a task, block yourself from everything else that can distract you. Put your phone in your desk drawer or another room. Close your email program. Turn off you wifi (if possible). Removing the temptation to check Twitter or scroll Instagram, even if just in 30-minute spurts, will allow you to maintain focus and really nail that report or budget or post.
Even if you aren’t cursed with the need for everything around you to be neat and tidy like I am (seriously, I’ve been known to tidy up store displays, it’s embarrassing), having an organized workspace actually does help you get more work done. Marie Kondo, author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, suggests that having a clean workspace devoid of anything not immediately useful to you increases productivity. Do you really need 875 pens available at a moment’s notice? Is it important to display every single business card you’ve ever received on your bulletin board? Perhaps that eight-month-old magazine can be recycled now? Purging your workspace helps you, in a sense, tidy up your mind, which will allow you to focus less on trying to remember where you got that 2013 calendar sitting under a stack of papers on your desk and more on responding to the never-ending barrage of emails in your inbox.
Oh my god. Email. Who among us hasn’t felt like they’ve spent an entire day at work just answering them, marking them as unread, flagging them, sending them? It’s exhausting. Email can be a godsend but can also suck the life out of you (and the time out of your day). While you can’t ignore it, you certainly can give it strict visiting hours. Block off two one-hour sections of your day for emails – responding to them, sending them, rolling your eyes at them. I use 9:00–10:00a.m. and 2:00–3:00 p.m., because then I’m not letting anything get past me in a day, but I’m also not letting email run my life. Remember: if someone has an incredibly urgent request, they will call you. Email is not for emergencies, so closing your email program outside of its allotted time won’t bring everything to a halt.
To-do lists are my favourite thing to create. Planning my day’s productivity helps me remember key tasks and keeps me on track (and I also feel productive while I'm writing them). But it’s easy to inadvertently make to-do lists that are a page long and entirely impossible to complete, which then turn into an anxiety-inducing reminder of what I haven’t done and probably won’t get done for a few days yet. I don’t need my to-do list to haunt me all day! While it’s a good idea to have a master list of everything you need to complete and the deadlines you have for each task, daily to-do lists should be achievable. Cap your daily lists at three items – what are the three most important tasks that you need to complete today? Three is a realistic number and won’t leave you frozen in a state of despair at your insurmountable workload.
Particularly for those of us who work at a desk or on a computer all day, it’s easy to become lethargic and lose steam over the course of a day. It’s also really hard on our bodies to be sitting for hours at a time. If you can convince your employer to get you a standing desk (or get one for your home office), I’d highly recommend it – they are a game changer. Once I switched to a standing desk, my energy levels sky-rocketed (just make sure you wear good shoes and have an anti-fatigue mat to stand on). Otherwise, set an alarm on your phone or watch to remind you to get up and walk around – go outside if you can – every two hours. The change of scenery will help refresh your mind and the movement will help rejuvenate out your body.
I hope I’m not the only woman in her 30s who still has to bribe herself like she would a child to actually get things done. Honestly, it’s a tactic that works on little kids for a reason! You want to scroll Instagram for 10 minutes? Well get that blog post written first. You want to go chat with a colleague about the Netflix show you binge-watched until 1:00 a.m.? Put another 45 minutes in on that product research first. You really could go for one of those insane Starbucks drinks that you call “coffee” but is mostly just a birthday cake in a cup? Awesome, treat yourself, after you’ve finished submitting your expense receipts. A little reward goes a long way.
If you're interested in learning more about ways you can keep your eyes on the prize, check out Chris Bailey's book, The Productivity Project, or his TEDx Talk.