4 Easy Ways to Safeguard Your Attention

Even if you’re good at getting things on track to stay productive and focused, that doesn’t keep distractions from sneaking their way into your days and wreaking havoc on your plans and intentions. Here are a few ways to help you safeguard your attention and get the most important things done each day. 

#1 Eliminate “reactive nibblers.”

“Reactive nibblers” (time spent responding to emails, social network updates, and unexpected phone calls and visits) can quickly add up and keep you from applying focused attention to the “big rocks.” Not to mention that by constantly shifting gears and working in reactive mode, you’re a lot more likely to end the day feeling frustrated and like no real progress was made toward your top goals and priorities.

To fix the problem, establish “non-reactive zones” in your day that are reserved for your top projects. It’s better if you put these zones earlier in the day so that no matter what happens in the rest of the day, you’ve at least checked the most important to-dos off your list. Send calls to voicemail (and turn off ringers and notifications), close your email and social network applications, and even ignore the doorbell during these set times.

#2 Be aware of the time.

It’s easy to allow meetings to overrun, to “just check one more thing” when browsing the web, or to make “just one minor change” the minute a client requests it, but just ten minutes out of every hour spent on such things equals nearly an hour and a half out of an eight-hour day.

More than just trying to resist the temptation to let things overrun, always keep your eye on the clock. When you start a meeting, note the time it began at the top of your notepad. Even if you don’t need to take any other notes, you’ll keep seeing that visual reminder of what time the meeting started and how long it’s been going on, which will make you much more likely to stay on point and moving things forward.

#3 Have a plan.

Don’t know what you should be doing right now? Have no clue what you’re going to write for your blog entry today? Not sure where to pick up with that project you worked on yesterday? These are all great places to have a plan in place to help you quickly get on track so that you’re not wasting time trying to figure out what to do next.

Here are three easy tips to help you create a plan. Firstly, always end your day by writing out your top three to-do items for the next day. Secondly, use an editorial calendar to keep you on track with writing and publishing to your blog, or at the very least, have a dedicated notebook for capturing ideas for writing topics so that you’re not staring at a blank screen anytime you sit down to write. Finally, use “start here” markers when wrapping up work on every project, which are simply notes to yourself saying what to do next (for example, “Call client for quick update and then locate designer for logo.”).

#4 Create an ideal environment.

It’s important to set up a working environment that is perfect for you. You might play music to block out other noises, or you might need complete silence and to close your office door to keep you from being distracted by things outside or at home. It might also help to end each day by clearing off the surfaces in your office so that you start the next day clutter-free and feeling organized. Even things like the temperature in your office can impact your ability to focus (I have one setting during the day and then reduce the temperature at night, since I tend to get cold more often during the day, which really distracts me).

Do whatever you need to do to make your environment essentially disappear around you so that you’re able to maintain focus and not get sidetracked by little annoyances and distractions.

No matter how well you’re able to manage projects, goals and priorities, it’s often the little things that get in the way and keep us from getting things done. Be intentional about setting up safeguards to make you less likely to get distracted throughout the day so that you can maintain focus and move the “big rocks” of your day.

What safeguards do you have in place to keep you on track and focused?

Photo by Flickr user NJ.., licensed under CC 2.0

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub. req.):