As a young, early-career professional, there’s a good chance you’re ambitious and eager to prove your worth. The allure of success can be particularly motivating.
However, protecting your time and establishing personal guidelines while you’re working can do wonders to prevent burnout, support your overall wellbeing, and improve the longevity of your career.
Whether you’re working remotely or in an office, you’re bound to run into distractions. Your ability to stay focused is imperative to your productivity and accomplishing your goals. Here are 10 tips to help you protect your time and stay focused at work:
1. Avoid multitasking. This tip might sound counterproductive, but rapidly switching between several complex activities can be a highly inefficient means of time management. Studies show that multitasking actually hinders your ability to stay focused, slows cognitive processes, and can lead to mistakes. Even more surprisingly, it takes workers an average of 23 minutes to get back on task after being distracted.
If you’re trying to accomplish multiple tasks in a short amount of time, try focusing on one task at a time rather than juggling several activities. Avoiding interruptions by dedicating time to individual tasks can lessen your brain’s frantic attempts at reorienting your attention and expedite completion time.
2. Make a to-do list. This might seem obvious, but creating a tangible list of specific tasks can help you prioritize your duties and avoid wasting time on tasks that aren’t as important.
If you find yourself creating a never-ending to-do list, narrow your items down to the 3 most important goals you’d like to accomplish. Still not sure where to start? Breaking larger endeavors into smaller, more manageable steps is a great way to tackle your intensive tasks.
3. Set boundaries. Make sure to set boundaries with colleagues to avoid interruptions during your personal time. This can include setting clear expectations for when you’re unavailable to talk and complete tasks, such as nights and weekends.
Boundaries aren’t just for external sources though. Establishing personal boundaries for yourself, such as limitations on personal phone/social media use during the day and regular sleep or wellness routines can benefit you – personally and professionally.
4. Structure your time. When planning your upcoming day, it can be helpful to block out time dedicated to specific tasks. This can be as simple as adding a 2 hour “deep work” window in your Google Calendar when you know you’re at your most productive.
Structuring your time around the types of tasks you’d like to accomplish can also ease friction throughout your work day. For example, try grouping creative activities like graphic design and content creation together, while stacking more analytical, data-oriented duties at a different time of day. This can boost productivity by avoiding mental blocks that might arise when switching between tasks that rely on different sections of the brain.
5. Get out of your chair. Sitting for long periods of time can lead to decreased focus and energy. Get up, stretch, and move around. Movement and exercise are known to help improve your productivity and overall wellbeing and productivity, while long periods of inactivity can decrease cognitive activity dramatically.
6. Limit distractions. Try to avoid distractions as much as possible while you’re working. These distractions can break your concentration and make it difficult to stay focused.
Limit excessive interruptions like checking your phone or email too frequently, by silencing notifications and closing unnecessary tabs on your computer.
7. Use time management techniques. Experiment with different time management practices to find what works for you. There are a wealth of options that can help you stay focused and organized, including apps and tools.
Among the most popular time management methods is the Pomodoro Technique. The Pomodoro Technique cycles between 25 minute working periods, followed by a 5 minute break. Deconstructing your work into 25 minute intervals is the sweet spot for many – realistic, without being intimidating. Alternatively, tools like Trello, Asana, and Notion are fantastic options for organization and time management (bonus, they have free models!).
It’s important to note that time management largely depends on preference! Testing a variety of practices is the easiest way to discern what you like versus what you don’t.
8. Create a dedicated workspace. Having a quiet workspace like a home office or designated corner of your home is critical to your productivity, especially if you’re working remotely. This allows you to create separation between your job and personal life, while limiting distractions.
If you prefer to work among others, noise canceling headphones are a great way to reap the rewards of a productive work environment without being interrupted by excessive noise.
9. Get enough sleep. Studies show that a lack of sleep can lead to decreases in concentration and slower processing times. Aim for 7-8 hours of quality sleep to get a good night’s rest. Getting enough sleep not only noticeably improves your focus, but also supports your overall health.
10. Learn to say no. It’s important to know your limits and not take on more work than you can handle. If you’re already stretched too thin, be honest and straightforward. Explain that you have a lot on your plate and can’t take on any additional tasks at the moment. Clearly communicating your availability and expectations to your colleagues and managers can help prevent misunderstandings and ensure that you have an appropriate work-life balance.
Maintaining your productivity at work and protecting your time can be challenging, but are equally vital to cultivating a healthy work environment and successful career. By incorporating these tips, you can improve your focus and establish balance between your personal and professional lives.