It goes by different names: prioritization, procrastination, pushing yourself…
Whatever name you prefer, these days, finding a way to concentrate in the working world is difficult. Professional environments are rife with distractions.
On the computer, out the window, or in the office, interuptions sneak up on you, keeping you from that important deadline or from finishing your work product.
“I’d love to stop working right now and check my email, or visit my refrigerator, not just because either one would provide a hit of pleasure, but also to get away from the discomfiting challenge of trying to wrestle the jumble of ideas in my head into clear, evocative sentences,” explains Tony Schwartz for the HBR Blog.
We explain away these stolen moments—coffee breaks, social hour, and trips to the refrigerator help us to rejuvinate, clear our heads, and generally work harder, longer, faster in the future, right?
To some extent, yes. It has been proven that small breaks to check personal e-mail or Facebook do help employees become more productive by giving the brain an equal chance to shut down.
However, too many “small” breaks add up to a big difference in efficiency and work flow. So, how can you tame your concentration at work?
“Over the course of my life, I’ve taught myself to stay focused in front of my computer. But even after four decades as a writer, it’s never easy,” commiserates Schwartz.
“The Pavlovian pull of email has only made it harder to focus in recent years—and nearly impossible for many people I know.”
But, it is possible. And, here are a few ways you can do it.
1. Separate space
Although this is much easier in a home office, any professional struggling to prioritize should practice separating workspace from space used for pleasure. For example, if you plan on spending a few minutes playing solitaire or watching YouTube clips, take your computer to a different room.
At a home office, this means watching Hulu on the couch—not at your desk.
At headquarters or law firms, swivel your computer monitor to face the other side of your desk or move your laptop to the guest chaise located in a separate corner of your bureau. That way, when it’s time to get back to work, your brain, body, and mindset are regrouped, refocused, and now placed appropriately.
2. Minimize temptation
This one was taken directly from Schwartz, who says, “Think about cake or cookies at an office party. If they sit there in front of you, you’re eventually going to succumb. The same is true of incoming email. If you don’t turn it off entirely at times, the ongoing pings will inevitably prove irresistible.”
Don’t keep Gmail, Facebook, or Twitter open in different tabs on your Internet browser. Turn off your smartphone and forward all calls to your office phone. And, hide the clock.
Tracking the minutes as they tick by can actually make time appear to slow. Remember the old adage, a watched pot never boils? Well, waiting impatiently for five o’clock happy hour works in the same way.
3. Create incentives
When marketing or work incentives fail, it’s usually because the founders don’t understand what really motivates their target group. This is why creating incentives for yourself is much easier.
For example, if you have a weakness for watching all of the Apple movie trailers, tell yourself that after 45 minutes of work (or set a work product target, like proofreading an entire brief), leave yourself five minutes of trailer time.
If your weakness is coffee, do the same for coffee breaks. Tell yourself in an hour and a half, you’ll treat yourself to the neighboring cafe’s best latte.
Schwartz has a similar idea, except he creates energy rituals, or specific behaviors done at precise times to alleviate your most difficult challenges.
Whichever method you choose, increase your productivity at work by setting small, attainable goals for your day. Check them off in increments—every 45 to 90 minutes. If you need to implement a closed-door policy at the office to accomplish this, do so.
It’s important not to fall prisoner to your work. But, don’t become a prisoner to procrastination at work, either.