If you’ve ever struggled to stay on task, you’ve come to the right place.
Maybe you slept poorly the night before or you’re struggling to avoid distractions. Whatever the reason, it’s frustrating. You need to complete the tasks on your to-do list and caffeine can only help so much. So, what do you do?
Here’s where having a handful of strategies to help you stay focused can be an enormous asset. In this article, we’re digging into everything you need to stay on task and looking at the best strategies to help you pay attention.
What does “staying on task” mean?
When “staying on task,” you focus on your work without getting distracted. The task at hand has your undivided attention. In other words, you’re focused on one task and only that task.
For individuals with ADHD, task management can prove incredibly challenging. You may be reminded of another task while working on the current one and suddenly switch. As a result, you’re multitasking, which diminishes your productivity. ADHDers focus on what needs to be done right now, which makes planning for future deadlines or projects difficult. Here is where procrastination finds its way into the workday.
Whether neurotypical or neurodiverse, you may struggle with staying on task. Procrastination, struggling to focus, and getting distracted can impact anyone at any time. That is, unless you have a few tricks to help you stay focused.
What does not staying on task look like?
It’s mid-morning, and you’re sitting at your desk. Try as you might, you can’t seem to focus on the task at hand. You feel overwhelmed and unable to complete anything.
Instead of getting caught up in what you’re struggling to do, zoom out to look at the bigger picture. The goal is to identify and address the root cause of your inability to stay focused.
If your attention is constantly pulled in other directions every time an email or message arrives in your inbox, consider pausing notifications. If you’re reminded of another task while working on something else, consider writing it down so you will remember to do it later instead of context-switching to the new task.
Once you’ve named the reason, it’s time to resolve it.
8 strategies for staying on task
As you consider each strategy for staying on task, remember there’s no one-size-fits-all technique. The strategies listed below can work independently or in combination with each other.
For example, you can use timeboxing to structure your day and temporarily pause your notifications to help you stay on task. Feel free to mix and match how you build the most effective strategy for you.
- Temporarily pause all nonessential notifications
Temporarily pausing desktop notifications is one of the simplest and most effective ways to remove distractions from your workspace. If you’re someone who receives a steady flow of messages, consider pausing those that are nonessential.
Add filters to your Slack so you only get messages from certain channels or people. Your team needs your support and input during parts of the day, but you can’t be expected to drop everything you’re working on at a moment’s notice. It’s wise to establish boundaries that allow for time dedicated to your work and when you focus on providing support.
Pinpoint the part of the day when you’re the most focused. If you’re a morning person, this time period likely falls during the early working hours. The opposite is true if you’re an evening person. Block out time on your calendar during these hours and pause notifications, so you can achieve deep work.
- Maintain a clean workspace
You might be surprised to notice how easily you get distracted by physical items in your workspace. Everything from your cell phone to a trinket on your desk can be distracting. Now, we’re not suggesting you work in an entirely blank environment. Having a workspace that brings you joy can help you stay focused. But if you notice certain items regularly pull your attention away from work, consider moving or reorganizing them.
For example, if you have piles of mail or documents crowding your desk, create a filing structure to organize them. Have a basket in your office where you drop random items that don’t have a home. This strategy will help prevent them from cluttering your workspace.
- Timebox your schedule for deep work
Timeboxing is a tried and true technique for helping you focus. The idea is to assign a time limit to the tasks on your to-do list based on how long you estimate it will take to complete them. Now, box out this amount of time on your calendar.
During the timeboxed period, you focus solely on a single task and nothing else. Put on noise-canceling headphones and pause notifications—whatever you need to do to focus your attention on the task. Once the timebox is over, you stop working on the task.
The idea is to focus your attention on a single task for a given period of time. It’s a highly focused and productive working timebox. While working, you know the time period will end and you’ll move on to other tasks. Timeboxing gives you control over your workday by giving you the freedom to schedule a day in a way that works for you. It ensures you complete the necessary tasks during normal working hours to support a healthy work-life balance.
- Avoid multitasking
Multitasking is the enemy of focused work time. When you try to work on too many things at once, no single task receives your undivided attention. As a result, you’re probably chipping away at several tasks without finishing any. You might be more prone to making mistakes or missing important details resulting in setbacks later in the process.
The simplest way to avoid multitasking is by planning out your day. Start with prioritizing everything on your to-do list. You can use a priority matrix to rank your tasks based on their required effort and expected impact. Determine what needs to be done today versus what can be pushed to another day or delegated to a colleague.
Now, schedule your day around completing these tasks. Make sure to keep it realistic. Create a to-do list that you can feasibly complete in one day without working overtime. If you efficiently work through all your tasks, get started on tomorrow’s work.
- Avoid procrastination
Procrastination impacts everyone here and there. You may feel yourself drawn to scrolling social media, chatting with colleagues, or completing other tasks instead. The causes of procrastination can be as simple as putting off doing a task you dread, avoiding mentally exhausting work because you’re tired, or dealing with time management challenges.
No matter how far back you push a task, it still needs to be completed. The more you procrastinate, the more you risk scrambling to finish it when the due date is rapidly approaching.
To avoid procrastination and help you stay on task, consider building a reward system for finishing your work. For example, you need to write copy for a week of your company’s social media posts. Give yourself a set amount of time to focus on writing the posts. Once you’ve finished writing them, reward yourself with a trip to your local coffee shop or 20 minutes scrolling through social media.
- Schedule time for breaks
No matter how long your to-do list is, you can’t focus 100% of the time. Your brain needs breaks to rest and recuperate before diving back into work. Without time to rest, you increase the risk of making mistakes and burning out. Give your brain proper rest and it will be better able to accomplish creative problem-solving and work efficiently.
Scheduling regular breaks into your workday is one of the simplest ways to maintain a work-life balance that supports your well-being. You can even take it a step further to assess your daily energy levels and then build a daily schedule based on it. There are a few time management strategies that can help you naturally work these break times into your schedule.
- Consider implementing a time management strategy
Time management and staying focused work hand-in-hand. When you optimize your time during the workday, you can build a routine that aligns with your goals and maintains healthy work practices. Timeboxing is a time management strategy, but several others might work better for you. Let’s take a look at two.
First up is the Pomodoro Technique, which you’ve probably heard of before. The Pomodoro Technique is a popular approach. It limits how long you focus on a specific task before rewarding you with a short break. Usually, you work in 20 to 30-minute sprints and then take a 10-minute break. You work through several rounds of these time blocks, alternating between breaks and focused work time.
Secondly, you could consider a strategy called eating the frog. When you “eat the frog,” you complete your most important tasks first thing in the morning. You’re doing the hardest work first so you move through the rest of your day already feeling a sense of accomplishment. It’s a prioritization and time management strategy all rolled up into one.
- Use the right tools like Sunsama
Pinpointing the right strategy to help you stay on task is a great way to start building a productive and realistic routine. The next step is having the right tool on deck to support your newfound strategy and workflow.
The best tools will have features built-in that collaborate well with other strategies to help you focus. Here are some features to keep in mind:
- Ability to timebox tasks and tag them with an urgency level to help with prioritization
- Integrations with your calendar so you can easily plan each day
- Automatically moves uncompleted tasks to the next day
- Helps you stay focused by pausing notifications for a given period of time
- Built-in timer for simple time tracking
Sunsama does all this and much more.
Sunsama is here to support your healthy work habits
Any strategy you employ to help you stay focused should support you to build healthy work habits and improve your work-life balance. You want to accomplish the most work in the least amount of time so you can log off at the end of the day with a sense of accomplishment.
Sunsama focuses on giving you the tools and resources you need to be productive while maintaining healthy routines.