95% of professionals are distracted at work. From chatty coworkers to confusing miscommunications, it’s common to operate in a reactive state where you spend all day responding to issues rather than focusing on value-driving tasks.
However, to reach your goals, you must slow down, determine what your priorities are, and work on achieving them.
Here are 5 actionable strategies that will help you stay focused on your goals.
1) Clarify and Prioritize Your Goals
The first step in improving your focus is developing a deep understanding of what is the most valuable way to spend your time. You’re probably familiar with SMART goals, and those are valuable if you already have a concrete goal and you just need to break it into actionable milestones. However, before creating them, you must first know the primary goal you want to achieve. Is it business growth? Developing a new product line? Improving your company culture? Etc.
Spend some time contemplating what’s the one thing you want to achieve in the next 6 to 12 months. Once you’ve made a decision, develop a series of SMART goals for you to hold yourself and your team accountable to.
2) Organize Your Schedule Around Strategic Themes
If you spend your days jumping between tasks, emails, and meetings with no strategic order, you’re killing your productivity. Research shows that to yield the most value from your time, you must engage in flow states.
Flow states occur when you’re 100% focused on a challenging task. This allows your brain to perform at an optimal level and develop solutions that you hadn’t anticipated. Typically, these are your most productive and enjoyable times at work.
Getting into flow is a powerful productivity booster because it reduces the number of times your brain has to refocus throughout the day. This is key because it can take up to 25 minutes for your mind operate at its full capacity once you’ve shifted to something new.
If you don’t have time to lose yourself in your work, you can engage in flow states by blocking times on your schedule to complete similar work. Spending a couple of hours on related tasks increases your focus by
An assistant can help you do this by attempting to schedule similar meetings on the same day and/or when you’re likely to be doing the work related to that meeting.
3) Collaborate with an Accountability Partner
If you struggle to stay on top of deadlines for personal goals, you will benefit immensely from an accountability partner. Studies show you are 30% more likely to achieve a goal if you promise someone you are going to.
Break your long-term goals into one to two-week milestones and find someone who will encourage you to stay on track. Your partner can be anyone as long as you meet with them on a regular basis and they also have goals that you can hold them accountable for. Choosing someone whom you can have a mutual accountability relationship motivates you to match each other’s success on a weekly basis.
If the reason you struggle to stay focused is that you have a difficult time keeping track of your endless to-do list, adopt a task management tool that will send you reminders or have an assistant do the same.
Assistants can be the best accountability partners because their access to your calendar, and to-do list enables them to send you task reminders at times that you’re most likely to be able to complete them.
4) Get Your Blood Flowing at Work
70% of professionals report that their health habits (exercise, sleep, eating healthy) have a significant impact on their ability to focus. In addition to making an increased effort to spend a healthy amount of hours sleeping and exercising, take brief breaks throughout the day to re-energize your body.
A study found that workers who take a 30-minute midday walk are more relaxed, enthusiastic, and productive. Another report discovered that individuals who walk regularly have improved cognitive abilities.
When you pack your days with back-to-back obligations, plan walking meetings, so you have time to get your blood flowing and potentially get outside for some fresh air.
Though walking is the easiest workplace exercise, here are some others you can try
- Find a secluded corner and jog in place or do squats
- Run up and down a couple of flights of stairs
- Sit against a wall while you’re talking on the phone
- Do calf raises whenever you’re standing and waiting for something
There are also tons of desk exercises you can do while you work.
5) Limit Your Choices to Improve Your Satisfaction
Even with clear goals, an optimized schedule, and an accountability partner, you can still lose focus by making everyday choices. A common - and dangerous - misconception is that to make good decisions, you need to consider all your options. More often than not, the opposite is true. The more choices you have, the less likely you are to be satisfied with your decisions.
When people have many options, they often face analysis paralysis. Analysis paralysis is when you get lost considering multiple factors, and it can seem almost impossible to decide what is best.
In one study, researchers set up a jam sampling station at a grocery store. They alternated between offering six or twenty-four flavors to try. 30% of the people who had to choose between six options decided to buy a jar compared to just 3% of people who had twenty-four flavors to choose from. When offered lots choices, customers couldn’t figure out which jam they liked most, so they opted not to get any.
Researchers have conducted similar studies with a variety of items and the result is always the same; the more choices people have, the less likely they are to make a decision.
To avoid analysis paralysis, you need to minimize your amount of available choices. Here’s how:
- When have to make a decision, ask yourself “What am I trying to achieve?”
- Create mental (for small decisions) or written (for large ones) list of criteria that you want to meet.
- Set a time limit to make the decision. If it’s a simple choice, like what to eat or wear, cap yourself at five minutes. For expensive and/or risky decisions, give yourself more time.
The fewer choices you have, the faster you can make decisions and focus on implementing them.
6) Save Time with an Inbox Management System
Download our free guide for creating an inbox management system that dramatically reduces the amount of time you spend on email and prevents important messages from slipping through the cracks. In it you'll learn:
- How to choose a sorting approach
- Best practices for creating clear sorting rules
- Tips for implementing your inbox management system + productivity hacks
- [Pro Tip] How to delegate your inbox management to an assistant
About the Author: Emily formerly led Prialto's content production and distribution team with a special passion for helping people realize success. Her work and collaborations have appeared in Entrepreneur, Inc. and the Observer among others.