Tag Archives: productivity

5 Tips to Increase Productivity for People Who Are Easily Distracted

photo credit: Crowd Control via photopin (license)

photo credit: Crowd Control via photopin (license)

Being someone who is creative and passionate, but easily distracted has it’s challenges. Completing important tasks is difficult. People often see you as absent minded or spacey. Sometimes there is so much going on in your mind that you have a hard time finishing things that others would consider easy. You may have earned a reputation for showing up late to events or for forgetting to pay bills on time. Goals you have in mind may be forgotten as quickly as they appeared. There’s just so much exciting stuff in this world!

Does any of this sound familiar?

For someone like me, every day there are countless opportunities to lose track of focus. The image above is a great visual example of how it feels – shiny (or brightly colored) object syndrome!

I’ve spent most of my life as an easily distracted person so I understand how going through life like this (with or without an ADD / ADHD diagnosis) can be stressful and frustrating, both for the person going through it and for those closest to them. With a lot of trial and error, I’ve found several things that help me stay on the ball. The obvious payoff is being more productive, but it’s also made me a happier, less stressed person, which is just as valuable.

Here are 5 things you can try to increase your productivity if you’re an easily distracted type:

1. Do the thing you want to do the least, first, then let everything else follow.

We all have long to do lists and these lists can seem even longer if you are easily distracted! Making a list and focusing on getting your least favorite task done before distraction sets in can set a positive tone for the rest of the day. You’ll feel good about being able to check off something that weighed heavily on you and the next thing on your list will feel like a breeze.

2. Schedule important tasks in a calendar for specific times.

If you have 5 things you want to accomplish today, estimate how much time you’ll need for each one and then schedule a specific slot in your calendar for that task. If you aren’t finished with a task when it’s time for the next activity, stop what you are doing anyway and move on but schedule some additional time to complete those tasks later (#3 can help with that).

This seems counterintuitive but after you get into the habit of doing this, you will know how long certain tasks take you to do and you’ll be able to more accurately plan your time and won’t have to rely on scheduling additional time. Knowing what you are planning to work on each day can make a big difference when you do get distracted. When you finally come back and are ready to work again, you’ll know exactly where to put your focus.

3. Schedule in a small amount of “buffer” time towards the end of your work time.

In anticipation of distractions occurring, schedule a “buffer” time each day. If you are someone who knows you’ll get side tracked at some point, having a 30 minute to an hour block to catch up on activities that you lost your focus on can help you finish up. This is great for when you are in the early days of scheduling tasks (as in #2) and need more time to finish when time is up. It’s also helpful for creative types who need to work when inspired. That buffer at the end will ensure you get the less glamorous jobs done.

4. Take a break.

Preferably a technology break! It’s important to give your brain some down time even during the busiest days. I used to think taking a break was a bad idea since it was so difficult to regain focus after I walked away from what I was doing, but sticking to #1-3 has really made it much easier! Those of us who are easily distracted need breaks that are invigorating but not too stimulating. Go for a walk, chat with a friend, meditate. Do something to center your energy before coming back to your work. Even just 10 minutes can make a big difference in your productivity.

5. Be thoughtful about your food and drink choices.

When you have a lot to do, sometimes it seems like caffeine is the only way to get through it, but for those of us who find focus difficult, sipping on coffee or soda can sometimes make it harder to sit still and do what needs to be done. Instead sip on water with lemon or herbal tea. It will refresh you and won’t leave you buzzing. As far as food goes, try to keep sugar to a minimum and eat meals that are balanced with fiber, protein and fat. You want to choose food that will give you sustained energy so that you don’t have the added challenge of being distracted by feelings of hunger or discomfort.

Do you have any tried and true strategies for getting stuff done? What’s been your biggest challenge with productivity? Share in the comments!

Let’s talk about priorities

I know I need both alone time (spent outdoors) and social time to feel my best.  How about you?

I know I need both alone time (spent outdoors) and social time to feel my best. How about you?

Today I want to talk about what is getting in the way of the things you wish you had time for. Do any of these statements sound like you?

  • You envy your friend who finds time to workout almost every day but you’re too busy.
  • You miss going out with your girlfriends once in awhile but that laundry isn’t going to do itself.
  •  You’d like to eat healthier but you just don’t have the time to cook.
  • You’d like to start a meditation practice but you just aren’t disciplined enough.
  • You’d love to have a date night with your husband but you’re too tired at the end of the week

If some of these statements are true for you, you should take a moment to reevaluate your priorities. We all have things that we’d like to do more or less of and have a hard time making them happen.  The three biggest reasons for this are because:

  • it’s not really something we want that badly (despite feeling like we should want it)
  • we’re not ready for change
  • we don’t believe we deserve it

Are any of these ringing bells for you? If you’re like most busy women today, you fall into the 3rd category but don’t even realize it. We spend so much of our time taking care of the needs of others (husband, wife, kids, job, our home etc) that we often end up neglecting our own needs. That isn’t to say that these other things aren’t important (quite the contrary) but in order to give them the attention that they deserve we first have to make sure that we are getting what we need.  This means becoming #1 on your priority list.

Eek, did I say that?  Yes, I know it’s not popular to put ourselves first or to own up to the fact that we are number one.  It’s considered selfish.  We’ve been taught to put others first and for some reason we ignore ourselves entirely in the mix.  The only way you’re going to be any good to any of the people, activities or obligations in your life is if you take care of yourself first. Think about the flight attendant safety spiel we hear every time we get on an airplane:  “put your oxygen mask on first” before helping other passengers.  That’s no joke.  You can give more when you’re getting what you need.

So what do you need to perform your best?  Think about this.  For me, that means sleep, exercise and good nutrition have to come before anything else.  If I’m getting those three things most days, I’m going to have more energy (and less attitude) to do all the things that I need to (or want to).  Those are 3 of my priorities because when I let them go, I become a crabby lunatic who cries at commercials or gets flustered for seemingly no reason.  I also need a good balance of alone time and social time.  When my instinct is to say “no” to events, I know it’s time for a quiet day at the beach or a walk in the woods, alone!  Get to know yourself and your needs.

Here’s an exercise to try.
On a piece of paper, draw a line down the center so that the page is divided into two columns.  On the left hand side, list how you would spend your ideal day if you had no obligations or restrictions (would you sleep in late? get up early and go for a run? volunteer at your daughter’s school? go for a massage?).  Once you have that side well squared away, list how you actually spend any given day on the right hand side.  Include all the little things (like checking facebook 10 times throughout the day, watching TV after dinner, meal prep etc).  When you are done, compare the two and ask yourself the following questions.

  • Is there anything that you are doing during your actual day that you could do less of so that you could have a little time for something on your ideal day list?
  • Is there something you could delegate to someone else?
  • Could you get by with putting off laundry, errands etc for just another day or two?

Your first instinct will be to say “No, Andrea I can’t delegate or push things off. I’m too busy!” but I bet if we videotaped you every moment of every day for a week, we could find some lost time. As busy as we all are, we accidentally waste a lot of time.  Those minutes we spend searching for something to watch on Netflix or goofing off on the internet really add up.  How satisfying are those moments really? Not knocking watching movies or browsing the web (or anything else in your life) but how important are those other things vs. the things you really want?

If you are frustrated that you don’t have time to exercise each week but are spending an hour on facebook or watching TV each night, why not cut that FB or TV time down to 30 minutes and give yourself 30 minutes of exercise. Heck, you could do them at the same time.  I’ve been known to do tricep dips, squats and pushups while watching my trashy Bravo shows.  Or maybe it’s household chores that are taking up too much of your time.  Ask the kids to help.  There’s no reason they can’t pitch in (even the young ones can help a little).  You are not a mean parent for asking your kids to pick up after themselves. There will be a learning curve but it will ultimately benefit all of you.  And if there are no concessions you are willing to make then maybe it’s not about not deserving these things, maybe you just don’t really want it.  It’s ok if you just wish you wanted to exercise but really don’t have the desire.

But if you are truly willing to make yourself a priority, make no mistake about it, if there is something you really want to do or someone you really want to see, you can and will make it happen. I don’t care how busy you are.  Your friend with two kids who somehow manages to workout each day? Your sister who seems to always be out with friends?  Your co-worker who always brings in a healthy homemade lunch? They all have busy lives too. In order to get exercise, have an active social life, and eat healthy they may be putting something else on the back burner that you can’t see.  Odds are it’s not the important stuff like family or the job, but it’s the little piddly things we busy ourselves with.  Before you judge that someone else must not have that much to do because they’re able to do something you can’t, take a moment to check in with yourself. Are you jealous that they feel they deserve those things?  Put the torches down folks, I’m not saying that you ARE jealous, just asking you to quell that judging thought process for a sec if that is popping up for you.  As a side note, you have no idea what their life is like anyway (despite thinking you do) and our reactions to other’s lives are usually about us, not them anyhow.

Now that I’ve got you questioning what your needs are and what you deserve, I want to bring your attention back to other’s needs for a moment. For some of us, time with friends is very important for our wellbeing.  Or maybe it’s not that important to us but there are people we care very much about who want to spend time with us.

Think about what you are saying about yourself when you don’t make time for your needs (you don’t deserve it, you’re not valuable etc).  You also send a message to others when you don’t make time for their needs. Maybe you can’t hang out with your best friend on the spur of the moment like you used to, but if she calls you and wants to get together for dinner this week but you’re just too busy?  Don’t hang up the phone with her until you find a time you can get together. It doesn’t have to be on the time schedule she is asking for but you’re going to eat meals anyways, why not spend a few minutes together, even if it’s shorter than you’d like? Meet for breakfast the following week or try facetiming or skyping on your lunchbreak at work if you have to. It’s understandable if it takes a few weeks to find a spot of time that will work for both of you (especially if you don’t live in the same town) but if you really want to, you’ll make it happen.  If you really care about this person, you’ll find a way to put less important things on the back burner for a moment (laundry, facebook etc) and spend time with her. And if you don’t? Well, she’s probably not a priority for you and don’t worry, she’s hearing that message loud and clear.  Again, this doesn’t mean you have to drop everything when a friend reaches out, but don’t leave them in limbo.  Make sure they know they are on your priority list, even if it’s a tough one to juggle.

The takeaway to this long post?  

  1. You deserve the things that make you able to give/perform your best (sleep, massage, social time etc).
  2. Figure out what your priorities are and how you can get more of those needs fulfilled.
  3. Remember that you don’t know what someone else is giving up to get what they need.
  4. Be conscious of the messages you send. Make time for those who consider you a priority (if you consider them a priority) even if it takes some juggling.

I think that’s all for now!  Does any of this resonate with you?  Do my words infuriate you or make you feel empowered?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Untitled drawing (1)

The Secret to Getting More Done

take a breakI have to say, I’m really happy I decided to start my own business last year.  It was something I’ve always wanted to do and finally had the courage to go after and things are going really well!  I love the work that I’m doing.  Even the behind the scenes stuff, writing blog posts, newsletters, research and planning client programs is fun and doesn’t feel like work but I can easily work from 9am to Midnight some days and only stop for bathroom breaks or dinner!  That’s no good.

When I work at these long clips, I started to notice that my mind was wandering more and I wasn’t getting as much done in the time I set aside.  I want to give my best self to my clients and in my work. I want to be a great wife and a great friend. And I want to be productive and effective. I can’t do that if I’m burning the candle at both ends. I have to take breaks and nurture other parts of me. So do you.

That’s the secret to getting more done:  Breaks.

I know it sounds like the opposite of what you should be doing when you have a lot to do or are on a roll but it’s the truth. A study from the University of Illinois found that taking breaks from a task can improve your focus and creativity drastically. Breaks refresh, recharge and rejuvenate our minds and souls.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a small break like a 30 minute walk or a big break like a week long vacation.  There is a part of you that needs those segues.  It’s like rebooting your computer.  Suddenly things that you thought were broken seem to work again.

This past weekend, I decided that once 7:00pm on Friday rolled around that I was done working from then until Monday morning (okay it was closer to 7:30 but still!).  This weekend was for me to reboot! My husband took me up to Portsmouth Saturday to walk around and go out for a nice dinner. We stayed over in a downtown hotel, had Sunday brunch with my brother in law and then spent Sunday evening cuddling with the cat and watching 80’s movies.  It was a short break from my usual routine but it was just what I needed! It was hard not checking in on my work email or looking at my to do list when I came home Sunday night but I felt great and was really excited about all the things I wanted to do in the upcoming week. My mind feels more clear!

I’ve learned that if I want to be able to give my best in all I do, then I need to nurture myself.  No one puts out their best work or gives their best to their families or friends if they’re not taking time for themselves.  It’s not selfish and it’s not lazy.  It’s essential!

Obviously I can’t go away for the weekend every time I need a break (wouldn’t that be nice!) so I’m committing to taking regular breaks during my work day so that I don’t burn out. A few things that can help get your energy and focus back are:

  1. Exercise. Getting some fresh air and your blood pumping is incredibly invigorating.
  2. Read a book (something fun!)
  3. Meeting a friend for tea or coffee. Friends can be great stress relief.
  4. Cat naps.  Just 15 – 30 minutes is enough to clear your head and feel refreshed.
  5. Have a snack.  Something with complex carbs, fat and protein.  Some celery and carrot sticks with hummus or an apple and a hard boiled egg are energizing options that won’t slow you down.

Do you feel scattered when you don’t take breaks? Do you need to make more time for you to be your most productive? Is there a part of you that feels like you don’t deserve to take time off? What sorts of things do you do to take a break?

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