Work distractions are everywhere. At any point during the day, we’re only a few clicks or swipes away from the latest headlines, sports scores, or viral videos. Is your phone within arm’s reach right now? That rectangle of glass and aluminum might be small in size, but its ability to derail our productivity is enormous – one study showed that the mere presence of our smartphones impairs attention and problem-solving.

If you’re tired of feeling like your attention is being pulled in sixteen different directions, the good news is that you are in control. Flip the script by starting Monday with these simple tips to stay focused at work.

A hand holds a silver pen above a blank page of a notebook, about to start making a to-do list.

Start your day with a list.

The to-do list is a tried-and-true method to stay focused during the day. But keep in mind, productivity is getting important things done – not getting more things done.

Just like we kept this list to four items, keep your daily to-do list to the most important items that you can realistically complete in one day. Keeping lists is a great habit, but when they become too long, you can feel overwhelmed and end the day with a feeling of disappointment or failure at not crossing off every single to-do.

Try this: As soon as you get to work, set aside ten minutes to prioritize your most important tasks for the day. Start your list with a “top three,” prioritizing three things that must be completed today. Add less-important tasks below the top three, but fight the temptation to add line-items that don’t need to be completed today. As you’re writing your to-dos, be as specific as you can: “Schedule John’s annual review” is an actionable task, “annual reviews” isn’t.

If you have a lot of “someday” tasks, keep them on a master list that you can reference as needed – otherwise, these tasks turn into distractions, too.

Set a timer to get back on task.

When you feel your focus fading, or you realize you’ve been doing everything except working on the task you set out to complete, try setting a timer. Figure out what block of time works best for you. For some people, it’s 60-90 minute blocks, for others, it’s 20-minute sprints.

Open up the timer app on your phone (yes, our phones can occasionally aid us in our pursuit for productivity), plug in a number, and don’t stop working on a task until you hear the alarm.

Once you’ve made it through a block of time, give yourself a short break. Use this time to reward yourself and clear your mind before digging in again. Check your email, catch up on the news, or take a walk – just be sure that your short break is just that – short.

Setting a timer allows you to refocus for a window of time and gives you the momentum to get started on something you might be putting off. You might even surprise yourself with how much you’re able to get done in twenty minutes.

A businessman looks toward the sky next to a tall office building during his lunch break.

Take your lunch break.

As the day wears on, our brains fatigue from the little tasks and decisions we’ve been making from the moment we wake up. Your lunch break (and any other breaks) help your brain recharge for the rest of your day.

While you might be able to knock out a few emails during lunch, in the long run, you’re probably not doing yourself any favors by staying put at your desk. When your mind doesn’t get a chance to rest, your brain’s cognitive capacity is impacted, and your ability to be creative takes a hit.

So, when midday rolls around, don’t think twice before leaving your desk for lunch. The simple act of taking a lunch break will set you up for a more productive afternoon. Before you head back to your desk, take a five-minute walk outside, and then get right back to business.

When you get off track, try the five-second rule.

In a now-famous TEDx Talk, author Mel Robbins shared her five-second rule. What began as a method to get out of the bed in the morning is now a widely used tool to take action in any area of your life.

The idea is that you count backward from five to one. Once you hit one, you don’t think twice – you just take action. Instead of thinking about what you need to do, you do it.

When you take immediate action, you don’t give your brain a chance to procrastinate. Do you have one last task on that to-do list that you can’t seem to start? Count down from five, and then start.

Are you feeling more productive already? For more ideas on maximizing your day, check out 9 Ways Successful People Spend Their Free Time.


About the author