The inability to stay focused and productive is something that near-enough everyone struggles with from time to time. Whether those distractions are external, and caused by what is going on around us; or internal, and being caused by a busy mind that is thinking lots of irrelevant thoughts.
Back when I was studying at school/university, I used to let myself get distracted by literally everything. It could take me several hours to complete the simplest task. However, once I’d figured out how to keep myself motivated and set up a good work environment for myself, it became so much easier to get jobs done. So in this post I’ll be sharing some of my top tips on how you can stay focused and productive, whether that’s with assignments or work.
The Dreaded Phone
Perhaps the biggest distraction of all…
It wasn’t until I was at university that I admitted to myself that if I truly wanted to get a considerable amount of work done, the phone had to go. Some of the best advice I can offer when it comes to eliminating this particularly powerful distraction are:
- Turn off the internet on your phone while you work. I would say to myself that if someone really needed me while I was studying, then they would ring.
- Leave your phone in another room. If you really can’t help yourself, leave it in another room while you work or give it to a family member/housemate to look after.
- Setting a timer. Make it into a game. Set a timer on your phone and challenge yourself to get as much done as possible before the timer goes. This tip always worked amazingly for me because the race aspect pushed me to work more efficiently!
- Download the Hold app. This app allows you to earn 10 points for every 20 minutes you don’t use your phone. My brother recommended it for me after him and his friends made it into a competition amongst themselves. After you’ve stored up some points, you can put them towards a range of discounts or prizes. For example; cinema tickets, discount codes for stores like Amazon and Cafe Nero, and so on.
Setting the Scene to Stay Focused and Productive
This may not be the case for everybody, but for some people the work environment is highly important. I happen to be one of those people, so here are some ways that I would set the scene in order to stay focused and productive while working.
- An organised work-space. My Mum always told me that a messy environment would result in a messy mind. At a young age I just figured that was a really poor excuse to get me to clean my room. However, now I’m older I can appreciate what she actually meant. Working amidst a piles of notes, empty mugs, and wires can be so distracting and demotivating. Alternatively, a clean and clear workspace is such a nicer environment to really get things done.
- Study music/meditative music. Some prefer background noise, others silence, but personally I always enjoyed having some instrumental music playing to help me focus. Spotify and Youtube have thousands of playlists designed to improve productivity.
- Go to the library. Being in that kind of environment helped me focus and stay on track. Another reason is because you can’t talk in the library very much. Therefore I’d always make sure I stayed as focused as I could in order to leave as quickly as possible.
Time-management is a skill that has taken me several years to get my head around. Everybody is different, and different techniques will work for each individual. Here are a couple of tips that I would suggest to you when it comes to managing your time effectively:
- Set yourself SMART goals. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. This is quite a common method people use when setting goals for themselves. You’ll be much more likely to work towards each SMART goal if they’re actually realistic and attainable.
- Create a schedule for yourself. Saying you have to work on something all day until completion makes it so hard to stay motivated. I was never one of those people who could write a whole essay in one go. Instead, I found it easier to make a schedule and tell myself I’d commit one hour in the morning and in the afternoon towards working on it. This may not sound like a lot, but I was far more productive doing it this way than I would’ve been spending all day on it. Because the reality is, I would’ve spent most of that day twiddling my thumbs and looking for anything around me that could distract me from my work.
- Take regular breaks. This is so important when it comes to maintaining motivation and productivity. You can’t expect your brain to stay focused if you’re not giving it any respite.
A Focused and Productive Mindset
Having the correct mindset is a crucial step towards achieving success. Sometimes we need to reflect on our thought processes and habits, and see how we can adapt these to best suit our work ethic. So far we’ve covered the large distractions and discussed how to create a work-friendly environment; but now it’s time to talk about the internal struggles we might have when it comes to staying focused.
- Adopt a growth mindset. This is believing that your skills and abilities can be developed if you are willing to work hard to make it happen. It tends to be the opposite of a fixed mindset, which is basically thinking that your skills are limited and can’t be improved.
- Develop self-awareness. Evaluate which study/work methods have worked for you so far and which haven’t. This will help you figure out what techniques will be most effective in helping you stay focused and productive. View your failures as a learning experience and keep trying different approaches until you can find what works best for you.
- Make a reward system for yourself. It’s scientifically-proven that rewarding yourself can trigger a positive emotional response in your brain, and shows your brain that doing hard work will get you something you enjoy. I say use this to your advantage! Once you get into this habit, you’re likely to start enjoying that work/task more because your brain will associate that task with the pleasure it feels afterwards when you reward yourself.