How do I stay focused and disciplined

4 tips to stay focused and get things done

Put yourself briefly in the following position: You get a cup of coffee, switch on your notebook and take a deep breath; it's time to focus. You open a blank note to begin creating a project plan. But instead of having a first draft ready within the usual first hour or two, you find yourself on social media, you keep staring at your smartphone or just switch off your mind.

If you're distracted by the current flood of news, getting used to working in a new place (or working from home for the first time), or trying to ease worries that suddenly arise, the feeling that it is impossible to focus on the Focus on work. But in times of uncertainty the goal is not to get back to the old top level in terms of productivity right away. Instead, the first thing to do is to find and create situations and spaces throughout the day that are conducive to concentration, and in this way gradually to free yourself from all the distractions.

Below are four tips to help you focus on your tasks and get the work done.

1. Practice your mind ignoring distractions

If you have to concentrate for longer periods of time, the motto “less is more” applies. At least that's what research by Joe DeGutis and Mike Esterman of the Boston Attention and Learning Lab suggests, who found that things are done most effectively if you focus for a while and then take a short break before you go concentrates again.

This is the scientific background for the Pomodoro Technique (English), a method of time management in which you divide your working day into 25-minute sections with five-minute breaks. The work phases are called pomodori and after every four pomodori take a longer break of 20 to 30 minutes.

That may sound simple, but in practice, distractions can quickly creep into your work even during a 25-minute period. Stacey Harmon, a certified Evernote consultant and Getting Things DoneⓇ (GTD) practitioner, recently published an exercise on how to use the Pomodoro Technique to focus in uncertain times, including how to the number of distractions in the course of a pomodoro can reduce.

According to Stacey Harmon, the best way to combat distractions is to first identify whether they are internal or external. Internal distractions are your own ideas and thoughts, such as when you sit down to work and suddenly feel the urge to check your e-mail or look up something on the Internet. You can prevent yours pomodoro wasting on visualizing such distractions and writing them down. By writing down your distractions, you can clear your mind and focus better on the tasks at hand.

External distractions are when someone interrupts you, such as a coworker needing help with a project or a friend texting you. Since your goal is to reach the end of the pomodoro, you should take a few seconds to briefly devote yourself to the interruption and then focus again. Harmon recommends telling the interrupting person something like "I'm in the middle of a pomodoro, I'll get back to you in 25 minutes" or "I'm busy right now and can't react right away."

Over time, you will get your brain used to doing the full 25 minutes of continuous work with no internal or external interruptions.

Expert tip: You can use this Evernote template to record your Pomodoro assignments.

2. Plan your tasks around your ultradian rhythm

Your ability to concentrate fluctuates throughout the day and week. There will be times when emailing or completing a project is easy for you and others when it feels completely unnatural and challenging to sit down and get the work done. While you cannot and (should) not eliminate the less productive times of your day, you can find out when you are most likely to be in tip-top shape and then make the most of those times.

We all have an internal clock with a 24-hour cycle called our circadian rhythm. It tells us when to go to sleep, wake up and feel the most energy. Within this 24-hour cycle, we go through 90-minute blocks of increased productivity and concentration, also known as the ultradian rhythm.

To better understand your own ultradian rhythm, record your concentration, enthusiasm, and energy levels every hour for an extended period of time. In any case, make a note of any changes to your daily routine (for example, if you went for a lunchtime walk). After a week or two of data collection, you will see a pattern gradually developing. You will then be able to read when your concentration and energy level is highest or lowest, and you will be able to adjust your tasks accordingly.

You can then, for example, save your most creative and strategically demanding projects for times when experience has shown that you can concentrate best. While doing your more manual and administrative tasks when you have less energy and are more easily distracted.

Expert tip: Use this Evernote template to track your concentration, enthusiasm, and energy levels.

3. Save time to switch off

Many productivity strategies teach you how to calm your mind and keep your mind from wandering. While it may seem illogical at first, a more efficient approach is to encourage daydreaming - at set times.

Paul Seli, a psychologist at Harvard University, has identified two types of daydreaming: intentional and unintentional wandering of thoughts. He believes that only unintentional wandering of thoughts is detrimental to productivity, and that people who take the time to deliberately wander their thoughts, such as while doing stupid tasks, suffer less than people who randomly daydream all day .

"When a task is easy, deliberately wandering around isn't likely to come at the expense of performance, but it should give people the opportunity to take advantage of mind wandering, such as problem-solving and planning," Seli said in one BBC article.

But what does that mean for you? Give yourself 10 to 15 minutes each day to rest, but choose this time slot wisely. For example, you could let your mind wander while you tidy your desk after lunch or take a walk to grab a cup of coffee. That way, you will be less likely to daydream at work or important meetings.

Expert tip: Schedule fixed times for your mind to wander, and use Evernote to set reminders.

4. Choose the right place to work

One of the easiest ways to change your behavior is to make changes to your surroundings. For example, if you want to sit less during the day, buy a standing desk for your office. Or, if you want to concentrate better, work in a suitable place.

“One way to take advantage of the hippocampus' natural memory storage is to create different work areas for the different types of work we do. […] If you are working on two completely independent projects, dedicate a desk or blackboard or part of the house to each. Simply by entering another area, the reset button in your brain is pressed, which enables you to think more productively and creatively, ”writes Daniel J. Levitin in his book“ The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload ”(English).

For example, if you work from home, you will be more fortunate to be able to focus on your chores in a permanent study than if you sit on the couch in the living room, where you usually watch TV.

If you don't have a separate study at home, contextual cues can make a converted space feel different. Say you have to work from your dining room table. You could then focus on reshaping your surroundings so that they feel new to you. For example, by putting away the centerpiece and all glasses and plates and replacing them with visual cues that signal your concentration, such as your work-related notepads, an office plant or an external monitor. The key is to put these things away once you are done with your work to ensure that these contextual cues are only associated with focus and concentration.

Expert tip:Take a photo of the items in your "workplace" or create a checklist. This will make it easier for you to prepare the area for your work day to get to work.

Stay focused in unpredictable times

Getting work done is never just about the work itself. Your ability to complete tasks certainly depends on how simple or complex they are, but it also depends on your mood, your surroundings, and what is happening around you.

When it's particularly stressful or things are changing quickly, look for opportunities that will help you stick with it. Try a new strategy every week and make a note of what works for you and what doesn't. And as you get used to a new way of working, remember to also celebrate the times when you find focus on strength.