We all have those days where we just can't seem to focus. You have a to-do list in front of you, but the number of tasks on it doesn't seem to be going down.
On other days, you get lost in your work and finish the day feeling incredibly productive. That magical state of being is called flow. When you’re in a flow state, you:
- are completely focused on the task at hand
- forget about yourself, others and the world around you
- lose track of time
- feel happy and in control
- feel creative and productive
Flow is especially relevant for increasing focus on creative tasks for long periods, like writing website copy, creating a business strategy or planning your next product launch.
Remember that no one is productive all the time, and trying to burn through your to-do lists and prioritize work ahead of everything else is a recipe for burnout.
But for when you have a task that does require focus, we've compiled eight top tips to improve focus and flow when you need it, so you can get through your to-do list with more ease.
1. Arrive at your desk refreshed
Admittedly, this one one isn't always easy: you might be a parent with a small child, or other tasks have piled up in your personal life. But wherever possible, do what you can to arrive at your desk after a good sleep and time to unwind.
Think about how you can create boundaries between leaving work and arriving at home, even if that means closing your laptop and leaving your home desk for the day. Human minds love ritual, and end-of-work rituals are both simple and effective for helping us decompress and unwind.
2. Batch similar tasks together
You might have heard that it takes on average 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to the original task after an interruption.
That's a lot of time lost, considering that most people average only 3 minutes on any given task before switching to something else (and only 2 minutes on a digital tool before moving on).
The productivity app RescueTime shares that switching between tasks can kill up to 80% of your productive time.
Doing less task switching comes down to two main things:
- How can you prevent distractions when you're trying to focus?
- How can you batch similar tasks together and reduce how often you change tasks?
Similar tasks that you could batch together include:
- Writing newsletter copy
- Scheduling social media posts on a tool like Buffer
- Opening your inbox and replying to emails
- Checking social media feeds
- 1-1 meetings
For example, you could create a policy that you only check emails twice per day – once in the morning, again in the evening – or create a practice of scheduling all social media content for the week in bulk on a specific day.
3. Taking breaks helps you get more done
If you're really struggling to focus, it might be because your body is crying out for you to take a break. Take a few minutes away from your laptop, get some fresh air if you can, and give your brain a change of scenery.
In Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, a book by Mason Currey curating the habits of well-known creative people throughout history, one of the most common trends is taking a break from work with a walk.
It's also a great practice to pause every hour, perhaps with the help of a Chrome extension reminder, to take a deep breath and look away from your computer screen for a few moments.
4. Block out the distractions
We all have our own techniques for eliminating distractions and staying focused. It may be listening to music that helps you get into a state of flow, a good cup of coffee, noise-canceling headphones... or all of the above.
If you have others around you – such as when you're working at home or in an open-plan office – make sure to communicate boundaries around when you're working and can't be disturbed.
If your workplace allows it, muting Slack and inbox notifications (or even turning your internet off!) can eliminate pesky frequent distractions so you can focus on your important tasks for longer stretches.
5. Find your One Thing
One of the most popular productivity books over the last decade is The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. The key takeaway is asking this question before starting work:
“What’s the ONE Thing you can do such that, by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”
6. Change your working environment
Can you change your working environment? If you work remotely, heading to a cafe or coworking space for a day when you have a lot on your to-do list can be a great tool for productivity.
Even if you simply work from another room in your home for a few hours, test how changing your environment can improve your focus and help reduce procrastination.
7. Identify your peak time
Humans aren't machines, we all have our own body clocks and times when we feel most productive. This isn't set in stone, either. On some days you might wake up feeling energetic, while on others you take longer to get going.
Saying that, you likely have an idea of when you usually work best. How can you protect that time and save it for the priority tasks you really need to focus on with minimal distractions?
8. Automate more of the repetitive tasks
Do you know what helps you get into a flow state? Enjoying the task at hand. Although that's not always possible, you can cut out some of the boring repetitive work on your plate with a few clever processes and workflows.
By automating tasks and streamlining processes, you can have more time and mental space to focus on where you add the most value in your role.
For instance, you could automatically connect your CRM with your email marketing platform so you no longer have to upload and export contacts with CSVs.
Using a tool like Calendly, you can also let coworkers, partners, clients and other contacts book time directly in your calendar, reducing a lot of the back-and-forth to set up calls.