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Can't stay focused? Try these 4 tricks

Can't stay focused? Try these 4 tricks

You’ve got a project to work on. You know what you want to accomplish and how you’re going to accomplish it. You sit down to work on it, and an hour later you realize you’ve gotten nothing done.

We all fall prey to distractions, and they come in all forms: email, phone calls, kids, pets, food, Facebook, fun.

When you’re in the middle of something and one of these shiny objects pops up, it’s nearly impossible to resist switching over to it for “just a second.” Before you know it, you’ve gone down a rabbit hole and taken your productivity has gone out the window.

Some of the reasons we might succumb to a distraction are:

  • It’s truly an emergency
  • It’s urgent
  • Someone else wants something from us
  • We don’t want to forget it
  • It’s more interesting or fun
  • It’s easier

An emergency is one worth dropping everything for. The others — even things that are urgent (are they really?) — can probably wait for an hour or two.

Next time you need to get some work done, try these tricks to prevent distractions from derailing you.

1. Keep a distraction list

Get out a pen and paper and keep it next to you while you work. As distractions pop up, “offload” them by writing them down. Now they’re off your mind and on your paper. They could be anything from “reply to Jennie’s email” to “Go back and look at the photos from Disney World” to “get Joey a snack.”

If it’s something you absolutely have to get done ASAP, put a star next to it. If you’ve blocked out a specific amount of time to work on your project, allow yourself to stop 15 minutes early and go back and tackle a starred item or two.

Later, when you go back to look at the rest of your list, you’ll probably find that some of the things on it aren’t very important after all...and they definitely weren’t worth derailing your project over.

2. Set a timer

This age-old productivity tip really does work. Get a kitchen timer or your phone, set a timer for 15 minutes, and start working. 

If when the timer goes off you’re sitting in the corner flipping through your high school yearbook, forgive yourself for getting distracted, set the yearbook aside, and get back to work.

Reset the timer and continue working in 15-minute increments until your project is complete or your allotted block of time is up.

This trick is designed to make you aware of how much time you lose and give you constant reminders to get back on track.

3. Pretend you’re somewhere where you’d never even consider tending to the distraction

If you were in a movie theater, in a doctor’s examining room, or at a funeral, you probably wouldn’t deal with the distraction in that moment. Why? Because in that moment, those events are more important. 

When you’re working on a project, make it the most important thing and let everything else wait. Prioritize yourself and your need to get the work done. 

It may feel selfish in the moment, but later when you have time to watch a movie with your kids or make progress on another project, you’ll realize it was a wise decision.

4. Think of yourself like a robot

You know what needs to be done. If you were a machine, you’d plow through it with no problem, because you’d have no emotional attachment. “Must. Complete. Tasks. Beep beep boop.”

This comes in handy when working on projects like sorting through clothes or going through photos. With sentimental items, it’s easy to start strolling down memory lane and forget why you’re sitting in front of your closet in the first place.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t experience the emotions associated with the objects. If you get to something that triggers emotions, set it side and come back to it later. Then get back into robot mode and beep beep boop your way through your tasks.


Do any of these tricks resonate with you? Try one of them or try all of them and you’ll be amazed at what you get done!