I have what I jokingly refer to as “Flashy Light Syndrome”. Because of this disorder I am easily thrown off task by any and every flashy light in the distance. If I were a fish in a pond, I’d be hooked by a shimmery lure, no problem!
In reality, it’s not just flashy lights and glittery objects that get me distracted. It can be Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter… Who am I kidding, the whole internet is my playground. When I’m near a computer it is really hard to stay on task and not start bouncing around the web. Thankfully, my job as a teacher doesn’t have me at the computer very often. It’s during the weekends and during my before/after school prep time that I really have to maintain focus. Here are a few ways I have found to help keep me on track:
Write out your duties. Get laser-focused from the get-go by quickly jotting down what you need to do. I write down my tasks, no matter how small, because the act of writing it down helps me to remember what I’m supposed to get done. At work, my time is limited because my room fills with students at 8:00 so I write out my tasks in order of urgency, making sure that I can get the big stuff done before school starts.
Set a timer. Try a productivity app like RescueTime or Pomodoro’s Focus Booster. I like Pomodoro because it is a cute little timer that you set for 25 minutes while you work. When it goes off, you take a short (maybe 5-minute) brain break, then reset it for another 25 minutes. After 4 25-minute work sessions, you take a longer break. Their website has additional productivity tracking tools and a book that gives more detail about the technique, but I just like the cute timer.
Ditch the phone. Give yourself cell-phone free work time. Set the phone in another room, out of sight, or to airplane mode while you work. I have to stay away from my phone when I’m doing my weekend cleaning and making dinner at night. Otherwise I just can’t resist checking all my apps.
Find a tidy workspace. Stack papers out of your way at your desk and put away office supplies. Give yourself some elbow room.
Keep a snack and water nearby. Low blood sugar and lack of hydration can affect your ability to concentrate. With some water and crackers or apple slices at your side, you’ll have no reason to start rummaging around for something to munch on and you will be able to focus better!
Play some music (if you’re allowed to). Listening to music can improve your mood and boost your ability to think creatively. Read this article for some great arguments from researchers in support of listening to music while you work.
Beware the email monster. Resist checking emails all day long, as they come in. Set specific times for checking email, like when you complete a task or on the hour. Don’t respond in-depth to every email, either. Be brief and concise in your communication, then move on to other tasks.
Delegate! Ask yourself at the beginning of each week, “Is there any part of my upcoming assignments that someone else can do?” Don’t become overworked because it will get done better or sooner if you do it yourself. Don’t be afraid to allow another’s talents to shine and grow, meanwhile offloading a burden from yourself.
Reward yourself. Celebrate your successes, whether large or small. Upon completion of a task, give yourself a brief break to play a short game on your phone or text a friend. After a productive work day, spend some time doing something that makes you happy, like watching some of a favorite movie or taking the scenic route home.
Being able to stay focused is a continuing area of growth for me. Hopefully, with some determination and a little planning, I can make the most of my work time and enjoy more personal time and time with my family. If you have any tips that work for you, please share them in the comments below!