Staying motivated at workLately, I’ve had a tough time focusing. Usually when I’m busy with tons of writing on my plate, I can knock each one off no problem. But these days, I’ve got a semi-full plate and for some reason it’s just a bit tough to get motivated.

Sure, getting paid is always a great motivator! But sometimes you just feel so overwhelmed by everything that you don’t even know where to begin. Toss in a zillion distractions, and even if you do finally dive in, you’ll quickly be pulled right back out. So in an effort to help myself get motivated, I’ve come up with a list of 10 ways to stay focused and get the job done.

Turn off the music – I used to crank out tunes non-stop when I worked. If it was super quiet, I just couldn’t concentrate. Nowadays, I’m finding the opposite is true. I’m either getting caught up in the music and not paying attention to my writing, or I spend half my time digging through iTunes trying to find a song I like.

Stop being social – Twitter and Facebook are evil, time-sucking demons. There, I said it. It’s true. Don’t believe me? Try this experiment. Keep a pen and paper by your computer. Make a tick mark for every single time you check your Facebook or Twitter timeline. No, you can’t cheat. At the end of the day, look at how many pages of paper you’ve used up. It’s pretty shocking actually. Even just a quick check can add up if you’re doing it every 5 or 10 minutes. So to be safe, do not access those sites while you’re working. Or shut them off and give yourself an hour or two to work before taking a quick peek.

Make a To-Do list – The first thing to put on your To-Do list is simple: Make a To-Do list. That’s one thing to scratch off! Physically make a list on a piece of paper, rather than on your computer. Jot down a handful of things you want to get done today. As you finish them, cross them off your list. That feeling of accomplishment will go a long way towards keeping you motivated. Be sure to start your list over every single day. The act of writing stuff down keeps your head concentrating on the high-priority tasks. Plus you’ll get sick of writing that same item 10 days in a row, so you’ll finally finish it just to get it off your list.

Create small piles – My wife taught me this one years ago. At my first job, I had this massive amount of paperwork that needed to be sorted a certain way. We’re talking hundreds of printouts. Easy work, but there was sooo much of it. I stared at the 200-foot tall pile and just couldn’t even get started. She told me to simply make small piles. She took a small handful, and handed it to me. I got through that small pile and put it aside. Then I took another, and so on. Before I knew it, I was done. Apply this to anything you do in life when you feel overwhelmed. Have a 5,000 word report to do? Give yourself small goals. Get 500 words done this hour. Then another 500. Etc. By breaking down the bigger picture, you’ll have smaller bites that will be way easier to chew.

Get dressed – If you’re working from home, this is one of the biggest things to do. Yes, it’s crazy comfortable to work in your PJs, but your mind will still be in sleepy, I-just-woke-up mode… for the entire day. Getting dressed just helps re-focus your head and get you in the right frame of mind to work.

Stop messaging this instant – Whether it’s texting on your phone or using an Instant Messenger client, just stop. It’s easy to get caught up in conversations that certainly won’t do you any good. So shut down your IM client and turn off your phone’s notifications while you’re working.

No kids allowed – Again, if you’re working at home, little munchkins can be the biggest distraction in the universe. Not just by constantly running into your office to show you how the Hulk can smash apart a Lego castle, but also because you’ll hear them having a blast as they run around the house, and you’ll want to join them. While you can’t ship them off to Siberia (please do not try this at home), you can try to adjust your work schedule around your kids. Also, close your door and make sure they understand they’re not allowed to bother you while you’re at work. Yeah, easier said then done.

Schedule email time – If you’re anything like me, you check your inbox roughly once every 8 seconds. Call it an OCD, but yeah, I check in on my email accounts way more than I should. Instead, I’m going to try to limit myself to reading and responding to emails every hour. It’ll be tough at first, but once I’m in the groove, it shouldn’t be so bad. If there’s any sort of emergency, someone can just pick up the phone, right?

Clean up your desk – Yes, it sounds counterproductive to stop working and just organize your papers, files, etc, but it’s not. A clutter-free desk will look nicer and give off a sort of calming feeling, but also the act of cleaning things up will give you that sense of accomplishment. Even doing a super minor thing like filing bills can help. It’s one less thing to keep nagging you in the back of your mind.

Make yourself comfortable – But not too comfortable! Don’t start working on your laptop in bed. But make sure your chair is comfortable with enough back support, and that you have wrist guards for your keyboard and even mouse if needed. Adjust your monitor’s height, take care of any glares, etc. Over time, these things can really bother you and start hurting. Boring tasks become 50 times more difficult to finish when your back is screaming at you in pain.

 What do you guys do to stay focused at work?
Let me know in the comments below!

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

13 Comments

  • All very good tips! The social reading and email checking tips are really hard habits to break.

    I tip I’ve found helpful for myself is to try to take advantage of the blocks of time that I’m the most efficient and productive. I know Mondays tend to be a bit scattered, and Fridays are filled with thoughts of the weekend — so I block out the days and times where I can accomplish the most with the least resistance (from myself).

    • Andrew

      Hey, Robin! Thanks for the comments. Good point too. Friday’s are the worst. I also find myself more productive in the early mornings and right before lunch, like around 11:30. I get so focused then, that I usually don’t even break for lunch until 1 or 1:30.

  • Hi Andrew,

    Fantastic advice! The only place in which we differ is the music. I can actually tune out the words, but having that background noise is really important for me to keep hyped and productive.

    If you work at home, getting dressed is super important. It tells the mind that it is time to work instead of laze around in your jammies. :)

    Great advice!
    Morgan recently posted..Will You Install The Facebook WordPress Plugin?My Profile

  • Andrew

    Hey, Morgan! Thanks for the comment. I go back and forth on the music. It really depends on what I’m working on at the moment. If it’s mundane work, I definitely crank the tunes. If it’s real heavy stuff that I need to focus, I find the music actually distracts me more nowadays. Must be an age thing. :)

  • Great post, Andrew! Luckily, I’m pretty good at staying focused while working (most of the time). All of your tips are spot on, but the ones I think might prove most important are 1. Turn off all social media (and email for me) 2. Get dressed.

    It may seem silly, but I put on full makeup, do my hair, and dress. I don’t work in my pajamas. Now, don’t get me wrong…I don’t don the Jos. A. Banks business suits I wore as a pharma rep, but I put on a comfortable ensemble (not necessarily one that’s appropriate anywhere, but the pool, but dressed all the same) each day before starting.

    Super informative list here. XO and Happy Father’s Day!
    Samantha Gluck recently posted..Dads We Love on the Social WebMy Profile

    • Andrew

      Thanks, Samantha! Most of the time I’m pretty good at focusing as well. When the kids are home, though, is when it really gets rough. And no, it doesn’t sound silly putting on makeup and gussying yourself up. It’s all a mental thing to get you in the right frame of mind.

      Thanks for the Father’s Day wishes!

    • Andrew

      Hey, Glori. Thanks for the comments. Yeah, I definitely need a shower first thing in the morning just to wake me up. Getting dressed goes a long way too. And yes, fitting into your office clothes is always a good thing. 😉

  • My work gear is my sleepwear and it doesn’t bother me at all. What I essentially do each morning is make myself sit in front of my PC and yell, “WRITE!” and I write furiously and only get up from my chair when it’s 11:00 AM.

    I don’t like being comfy when working, a little discomfort spurs me on to finish whatever writing needs to get done.

    Yes to everything else you posted. :)
    Sandy recently posted..Canon in D (The elegance of Pachelbel)My Profile

    • Andrew

      Hey, Sandy. Thanks for the comment. But if you don’t like being comfy when you work, why do you work in your sleepwear? Do you sleep in uncomfortable clothing?!? :)

  • These are all great tips, Andrew!

    Besides the classical to-do list, I may add, a “not to-do list” has proven just as important and motivating for me! And it may be in strong connection to other points you’ve mentioned.

    To give you an example of what I mean, besides my usual to-do list, I also make a not-to-do list in which I write, for example, that I should never spend more than 10 minutes browsing facebook or IM-ing. This is usually the little extra boost of motivation I need to keep myself from being distracted by facebook for the next hour, by simply quitting it once I remember about the “not to-do”!
    Andrew M. recently posted..Staying Motivated 101 – Secrets to Never Lose Your MotivationMy Profile

    • Andrew

      Hey, Andrew. Thanks very much. Yeah, a DO NOT or NOT-TO DO list is a definite. Probably helps if you get yourself a little timer too so you know not to look at Facebook until that bell dings.

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