How to Stay Focused and On Task

I just returned from my first completely offline weekend in… longer than I can remember… and as I work like crazy to get caught back up on email and various projects, I thought I’d share some of the low-tech tools I use to stay focused when I’m working.

Do Not Disturb

Make it clear to those around you that you’ve got to have uninterrupted work time.

If you have an “office” you can close the door and put up a “Do Not Disturb” sign.

If you don’t have a separate office space, you can still hang up a sign somewhere visible to help remind your family it’s your work time.  I find it helps to put a time on the sign of when I’ll be done working.

If background noise is a challenge, you might use headphones and listen to non-distracting music while you work (this doesn’t work for everyone, but it does help me).

Use a Timer

We can only work so long without a break before our brains get fuzzy feeling.  And it’s easier to start a difficult task if we know we’ve only got to work for X minutes.

You can try a kitchen timer (Amazon has some cool ones).

Or an online timer like FocusBooster or OnlineStopWatch.

Turn Off & Block

If you don’t need the internet for what you’re working on, turn it off.  Turn off your email if you can. I choose to block Facebook and Twitter/Hootsuite, along with my favorite news websites, if I really want to stay focused.

If you’ve got to have the internet but find yourself distracted by other sites you can try an app like StayFocusd for Chrome, LeechBlock for Firefox, or for any browser.

Of course, you can get around any of these, so they really don’t stop you but merely provide a good, strong reminder that you want to focus on work.

What Works for You?

What have you found that works well for you?  Do you use any of these tools or strategies to stay focused?  Or others?

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  1. Setting only morning and evening for facebook and email works best for me. If I fail to limit my time I could spend all day responding and discovering on Facebook.
    Ali Bierman recently posted… Your Brain Creates the World You Live InMy Profile

    1. That would be easy to do. But you’re right — there are definitely things to discover on Facebook (as long as we don’t let ourselves get too lost there). :)
      Michelle Shaeffer recently posted… Is it Weird, Different, True, False…My Profile

  2. I try carve out large amounts of time for my work between meetings and also work later in the afternoon when fewer people are around. I also try to focus and refocus my tasks to meet an ever changing set of priorities, all while working towards specific long term goals. Making lists sometimes helps me. :)
    Kristen recently posted… Self-improvement or Self-defeat: Why Do I Do Things I Do Not Enjoy?My Profile

  3. Hi Michelle,

    Super practical tips here.

    I use Chromdoro to take 10 minute breaks on every hour. It’s a little timer embedded within Chrome. Awesome reminder to pull back and attract.

    The decision to remain focused is key. As you note, we can get around anything. Intend to remain 100% focused on whatever you’re doing. Take frequent breaks. Observe how you remain focused, then lose focused. Don’t beat yourself up. You’re probably not enlightened ;) So just lighten up a bit, keep taking those breaks, and as your awareness expands you instantly see when and where you lose focus, and shift your attention immediately, back to the object of focus.

    Thanks for sharing your insight Michelle!

    Ryan Biddulph recently posted… Stop ImmediatelyMy Profile

  4. I can’t run away from you emails so it’s very important to set fixed time to check it, like in morning, afternoon and evening while leaving for home. I sometimes hear light music because of noisy office environment and it really helps to concentrate on your work.
    Aanchal recently posted… Website Design in IndiaMy Profile

  5. I have cool working environment without any disturbance, but I usually listen music for sometime when I start getting bored while working. :)
    Priya recently posted… Goa Holiday PackagesMy Profile

  6. Better work on a silent place to be able to stay focus.

  7. Great tips Michelle! I love the tools for keeping you focused online. I need to check them out.

    I stay focused by making a strong actionable to-do list so I can see my progress through the day. Gives me a sense of accomplishment when the list is done. I also limit Facebook as much as possible during times I need to be working and use HootSuite to schedule posts when I am focused on working or family.
    Katie recently posted… How to Break the Procrastination HabitMy Profile

  8. Thanks for the very useful list. I didn’t know about the apps for Chrome and Firefox. I’ll download and use them. Staying focused surely increases productivity and contributes to one’s bottom line. Thanks also go to Ryan Biddulph for suggesting Chromdoro.

  9. I play Mozart and Bach in the background while I am working. For whatever reason classical music really keeps me focused and gets me in the zone, especially when writing blog posts. There are lots of online radio stations that play classical music continuously that you can tune into. In addition, my family know that when I have the headphones on to only interrupt me for an emergency or to wait for my hourly break time.
    Danny recently posted… Get Your Mojo WorkingMy Profile

  10. Great tools to keep you off distraction!

    Though I have never tried most of these, I do need to log out of my mailbox, Twitter account, Facebook and Google+, and have often switched off the Internet when I sit to write. And yes, I have kept my work time when my kids are away at school, and treat that as my office time. However, freelance writing is a never ending job, and we do need to juggle between work and home affairs.

    Thanks for sharing :)
    Harleena Singh recently posted… How Freelance Writers can Use Google+My Profile

  11. The hardest thing for me at least is to stay focused. Especially when I have family around me.
    Also the internet is a big distraction but I can’t just turn it off since most of my work is internet related.
    One of the only way I found I can stay totally focused is when I’m alone in the house and I woke up early in the morning. By the time my family gets back home I would have a lot of work done.
    Cristian Balau recently posted… Can flash websites be indexed by Google?My Profile

  12. I may need to throw my phone out of my window to get some concentration. Cant think of a bigger distraction than my ringtone!
    Linda recently posted… Certified Medical AssistantMy Profile

  13. […] How to Stay Focused & On-Task (by Michelle Shaeffer) […]

  14. I am an email junkie so if I’m working on something and it’s taking too long I have to close out of my email. It’s amazing how much more I accomplish when I’m not constantly distracted by who just emailed me. And I am called the TIMER QUEEN. I always have a timer within reach and actually own about 5 of them. I highly recommend one (or two). Another tip I use is whenever I feel myself slipping into overwhelm I focus on my breath for just a moment and imagine enveloping myself in love and then repeat: There is more than enough time to get done everything that needs to be done with time left over to spare. ?
    Julie Geigle recently posted… Overcoming PainMy Profile

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