One Productive Work Day, and Hold the Distractions

One Productive Work Day, and Hold the Distractions

“Distraction” type poster by designer Patrick Flanagan. Click on the image for a link to his Behance portfolio.

 

How many times have you sat in front of a computer screen, and struggled to find an original idea; struggled to find a new way of approaching whatever work you’re faced with for the day? If you’re anything like me, then you feel this frustration almost daily. I don’t know about everyone else, but I find it extremely hard to stay focused on one task at a time. I jump between different projects, finding it difficult to finish one before I want to move onto the next. Over the last few weeks especially, I’ve found myself distracted continuously by everything and anything possible. This is extremely frustrating because staying focused is such an essential part of creative-thinking – a skill which is used not only by those of us in the creative industries, but by people in all sorts of professions. And although I love doing creative work because it can be one of the most exciting and fulfilling experiences, it can also be one of the most frustrating because at times I just can’t stay focused.

Working from home, as well as in an office, I’ve found there are some important factors which are essential in helping me to stay creative and productive.  The first is to surround myself with the perfect work environment so I don’t have any distractions close-at-hand; and the second is to ensure my mind and body are focused and ready for my work day. Below are some tips for adjusting these two factors to suit your specific work style; the result can mean the difference between coming up with good ideas and coming up with great ideas.

Illustration by Reza Farazmand. This is exactly what happens almost every time I sit down with a book and a cup of tea. Click on the image to visit his website and see more of his work – it’s well worth a look!

 

The state of your mind and body can greatly affect how well you do the mental work needed to stay focused on your daily tasks. The nature of your respiration, the effect of your physical positioning – are you sitting in a chair, lying down, wearing an uncomfortable sweater – factors such as these can steal your attention and break your concentration at a critical moment. Here are some tips which I find help me to stay in my chair, working productively, all day long:

  • Engage in physical exercise daily. Although it can be hard to find the time to do exercise, I try to make it one of my priorities. If you’re like me, and you work at a desk all day, then you need to take the time to get your muscles moving and your blood flowing. I like to run to expend all of the physical energy that I store up during the day, and I like to do yoga to relax my mind and body from any mental stress that I may be holding onto.
  • Simple breathing and meditation techniques, like those you learn in yoga, can help stop stressful thoughts when you’re racing to meet a deadline or feeling overwhelmed with work.
  • Coffee is good to give you a quick jolt of energy, but too much can give you that jittery feeling, making it even harder to concentrate. I like to start my morning with one coffee and maybe another at mid-morning, but apart from that I like to alternate with tea, which is a healthy lower-caffeine alternative.
  • Know yourself. If you know you’re always more productive in the morning, or always more productive at night, make sure you block out that time and dedicate it to work. Not everyone is naturally most productive on a 9-5 schedule, so if you have the freedom to work when and where you want, make sure you take full advantage of your time.
  • If you’re starting to feel lethargic, recognize it, and take a break. Go for a walk, tidy up your workspace – anything to get your blood moving and your ideas flowing.
  • Set an alarm for two or three hours at a time and dedicate yourself to working productively for that entire period. When the alarm goes off reward yourself with a break doing something you enjoy.

Another factor that has a big impact on creative expression is related to your physical environment. The condition of your work station, the sounds, the light, and interactions that are going on around you all have a huge inpact on not just your ability to be creative, but in what ways you are creative. So, put yourself in an environment that you find inspiring. For me a well-lit desk with a view outside, not too much mess, a warm cup of tea and snacks, all help me to stay focused. Without these things my mind wanders very easily. When I’m trying to work my mind will come up with almost any excuse to do something else: “This chair is uncomfortable, I better go lie on the sofa and work,” or, “I’m thirsty. I have a headache. I better go make some tea.” All of these are excuses and not actual problems. But if you can minimize your ability to come up with these meaningless excuses that distract you from your work, then it will go a long way in helping you stay focused.

  • Make sure your work environment is bright, and if possible, let in lots of daylight. A dark setting can cause you to become drowsy.
  • Spend time each day tidying your work station. A clean, de-cluttered desk will help you to not feel overwhelmed by the work that can, at times, be literally piling up around you.
  • Make sure you have water and some healthy snacks on hand so you don’t have to get up and go to the kitchen when you have a craving.
  • Reduce social distractions. Put your phone on silent, de-activate your email alerts, and stay away from Facebook. All these things can waste time better spent focused on creating your own work, rather than responding to questions from friends and acquaintances. Set aside short periods throughout the day to respond to your contacts.
  • Write a to-do list and pin it on your desk in plain sight. If you have your to-do list in a prominent place, you’ll keep seeing it throughout the day, and ticking off the items will become more of a priority.

As you can see there are dozens of factors which can help you to reduce distractions throughout your day, but ultimately, staying focused comes down to willpower. You need to have the willpower to recognize that your mind is wandering and that you’re engaging in activities that aren’t leading you towards completing your best work. Remind yourself of the big picture; why do you need to stay focused on your work? You may need to meet a deadline, or your boss may be asking for updates. But, all of these reasons are secondary when you compare them to the reasons why you need to stay focused. If you don’t, then it will be impossible for you to create work that you are proud of and which pushes you towards achieving your potential – whatever that may be.

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