How to Boost Your Productivity and Focus

I’m obsessed with productivity. That doesn’t mean I’m as productive as I can be every day. But I do know what tends to work for me so I thought I’d share a couple of tips on how to boost your productivity and focus.

Time Tracking

When I worked at a content marketing agency for two years, I had to track my time in 15-minute increments for my clients. It never occurred to me then that time tracking was improving my focus and helping me stay on task. I first heard about time tracking as a productivity and time management tool from author Laura Vanderkam, who writes on such matters. I participated in her time tracking challenge one month, tracking not just my work hours but my personal time to see how I was spending my day. The idea is that people like Beyonce and Tim Cook have the same amount of hours in a day that you do. (Yes, they have people that help them, but so do I. And I don’t have any children.) A white woman's hands type on a laptop keyboard at a desk, with a coffee mug in the background.

I already knew that I was my most productive self in the morning: prime writing time. But tracking my time showed me that if I check email first thing, I get sucked in and lose out on quiet, undisturbed hours of writing. I also already knew that I was drawn to check my personal Facebook page during transitions between projects. But time tracking kept me more accountable—even though I wasn’t sharing the information with anyone else at the time—and kept me off social media. This also kept me from jumping around from task to task, causing me to feel less scattered.

Deep Work

Feeling less scattered is a constant goal in this world of social media and smartphones. Earlier this year I made a goal to become a bookworm again. After being a lifelong avid reader with a book always in hand, I got away from reading for pleasure about four years ago. Part of this was because now that I work for myself at home, I lost my one-hour commute and dedicated lunch hour. However, I also blame social media, as much as I love it. Social media causes you to skim and click and scroll. You are not reading deeply, and I think it hinders your brain’s ability to focus on longer articles, novels and in-depth pieces. I’m not the only one who blames social media and our smartphones for this scattered brain feeling.

But this year I became a reader again. I set a reading goal and dove in. It took about three weeks for me to get lost in a book again without getting easily distracted by every movement and sound. I pushed on and I finally became my former bookworm self. This led me to picking up a copy of “Deep Work” by Cal Newport, who defines deep work as “the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task.” Ironically, I bought the book about a year ago but didn’t get through the first chapter because of my tendency to “scatter.” Now, I am digesting Newport’s tips. I have started out by scheduling dedicated time for deeper work. In this case, it’s writing. I schedule several hours to write, turning off all notifications, turning off my smartphone ringer and setting my phone where I can’t see it, and closing my email and social media tabs. If I have a meeting I can’t miss later, I set a phone alarm. Knowing the alarm will pull me out of my work is reassuring that I won’t lose all track of time.

Deep work, as Newport describes, is also about setting the scene, which I’ve always been a fan of. For me, this means cleaning off my desk and starting fresh. I often put on headphones with Mozart playing, even if I’m the only one in the house. I also sometimes light an orange-ginger candle, a smell that promotes energy. How can you create a comfy, yet productive, environment around you as you begin your deep work?

What techniques help you stay productive during your day?

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