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We always talk about productivity in terms of technology. Yes, … there are many ways to use IT solutions to help you and your staff work more efficiently. But, unless each of us adopts some basic habits to stay focused and on task, no amount of tech support can help. That’s why we’re posting this blog on ways that you can stay focused on the “million” things you have to do.

Here are 12 things you can do to tackle and complete both large projects and small ones.

1. Write down your goals for the day.

Create a detailed list of your targets for the day. You can use an application on your computer or phone, or write them down on a piece of paper. Focus on finishing one task at a time. Check them off as you accomplish them.

2. Prioritize tasks.

Focus on the most important jobs first with the urgent ones placed at the top of your list. (For example, if it’s April 15th and you haven’t filed your taxes, make sure this is at the top of your list!). Tackle the most difficult tasks first. The rest will come easy and you’ll be motivated to complete them. Here’s a list that can help you prioritize.

  • What’s the real deadline (not arbitrary).
  • What would happen if you missed the deadline?
  • Are there other projects that would be negatively impacted if you missed your deadline?
  • If you’re overwhelmed and you don’t think you can meet the deadline, can you delegate the task to someone else?

3. Involve others in your deadlines.

If you can’t seem to keep deadlines for yourself, set them with a client or coworker. If you tell a client that you’ll have a proposal to them by COB today, then you’ll be sure to get it done because you won’t want to lose their business. Self-imposed deadlines are harder to keep because we give ourselves some slack. A client, coworker or your boss won’t allow this. Include them in your planning.

4. Don’t overpromise.

If you set unrealistic deadlines you’ll never keep them. Make sure you can accomplish the goals you set in the time you allocate. Consider taking on tasks in small chunks of time so you can focus on them and do a good job. Also, take into account that there will be distractions. Pad the time you allocate so you don’t disappoint yourself or someone else.

5. Plan for the unexpected.

It’s Murphy’s Law –You’ll be set to get to work, or you’re almost finished with a project, and you’re hit with an urgent request that must take precedent. Be sure to put space in your deadline planning for the things that must interrupt your work. You could be hit with an emergency at work or at home. Anticipate and plan for things that happen in the real world that will invade your work time.

6. Don’t let small tasks build up.

If it takes less than 2 minutes to complete something, do it right away. Don’t let the little things pile up. Get them out of the way so you can concentrate on more difficult projects. You’ll be surprised how this can clear your mind and help you focus on other requirements.

7. Set a timer to motivate you to complete a task on time.

Train yourself to hyper-focus on a task by setting a time to complete it. It might be 25 minutes or 90 minutes. Take short breaks in between these timed periods. Then reset your timer for the next chunk of work time.

8. Compartmentalize

When you work on tasks, give them your undivided attention. Set aside the time in your calendar so you won’t be interrupted with requests by staff members or others. Let them know that you’re not available. Doing this also allows you to compartmentalize your focus, so you’re not troubled with other responsibilities.

9. Turn off your smartphone.

Shut off your smartphone or other mobile devices – this includes notifications on your computer. How can you focus and complete a task when you have phone calls, notifications beeping, or emails popping up on your screen. Turn these off for the time you’ve allotted to complete your work.

10. Clear your workspace.

Put away any paperwork or folders that don’t have anything to do with your task at hand. Give your full focus to what you need to accomplish. Clutter can distract you and make lose your focus.

11. Work in 90-minute intervals.

Research shows that we are inclined to work in cycles of 90 minutes. Working in this fashion helps us focus and better engage. These 90-minute cycles are followed by a 20-minute span where we have more difficulty concentrating. These are termed ultradian cycles where we have high-frequency brain activity (about 90 minutes) followed by lower-frequency brain activity (about 20 minutes).

12. Listen to your body.

Match your highest priority work to the time of the day where you’re most productive. Most of us work best in the morning, and our ability to concentrate falls off in the afternoon. Do whatever works best for you. If you feel mentally fatigued, taking a few minutes to stand up and stretch, or walk down the hall to get a cup of tea or coffee can re-energize you. Be sure to give yourself breaks so you can amp up and get back to work again

It’s a challenging world. We must all work harder and smarter than ever if we want to get ahead. Technology is a great tool that can help speed things along. But in the end, we must rely on our good work habits. Hope this helps,… now get to work!