If you tune in to the news regularly, you probably caught the story of the woman who quit her job and exposed her boss’s nefarious Farmville playing habits in one fell swoop. Even though it turned out to be a hoax (you’d heard about that, right?) it still makes an excellent point: We really need to work on ways to stay on task (and off Farmville!) when we’re at work!
Now, I know it’s easy to get dragged into multi-tasking when you’ve got time to kill. It’s tempting to leave Farmville running in the background when you’re in a tele-conference where your sole role is to sit still and listen, or to have a Facebook chat up and running in the background when you’re waiting for a page to load. The problem is, this isn’t as innocuous as it seems.
Of course, the question isn’t whether or not you should be playing Farmville in the office. You already know the answer to that. The question is, how do you curb the wandering eye that makes it impossible for you to stay on task in the office in the first place? Here are 5 steps from leading productivity experts designed to make it easy to turn off Facebook and turn on your own creative mind:
1) Schedule your day in small bites. All of us feel our attention span start to wander when we’ve been plugging away at the same project for the last 4 hours. Instead of giving in, try giving time boxing a try. That means you dedicate, say, 30 minutes to an hour to working on a project, then move on to the next one when your time is up. That way work stays fresh and engaging, and you’re less likely to wander away.
2) Save auto-pilot for when you really need it. It’s hard to stay on-task when your brain is bustling but you’re doing jobs you could be doing in your sleep. Schedule repetitive tasks for times when you know you’re not functioning 100%. (For example, during that sleepy period right after lunch!)
3) Prioritize. I don’t know about you, but I get frustrated and easily distracted when chances of actually finishing my to-do list dwindle down to nothing. Where’s the motivation when you know you’re never going to get done what you need to get done?
Prioritize. Start your day with what absolutely has to be done, and accept the fact that you might not get all the way from A-Z in the next 8 hours. You will actually do more if you can work without that sinking feeling of failure that comes from being overwhelmed, since your mind will be able to focus on one task at a time instead of all the tasks it still has to do.
4) Reward yourself. You might not have any say in when raises and bonuses come out, but what about your next cup of coffee? Promise yourself that when you finish that report you’ll take a 5 minute break to grab a cup of Joe. The prize at the end of the tunnel makes the journey worth it, and because you know that coffee’s getting farther away with every status update you post you’ll be less likely to do anything that’s going to push that reward any farther away.
5) Pop on headphones and kick on some music. Whether you’re working from home or sitting in your own little cubicle, offices are filled with distractions. By tossing on a good pair of headphones and kicking on some music you’re not only drowning out those distractions, you’re also assuaging your mind’s need to multi-task by giving it something to focus on along with work (which is great for those repetitive tasks we were talking about earlier).
**A word to the wise: Be careful when you choose the music you listen to at work. The last thing you want is for your distraction buster that’s meant to help you stay on task at work to become a distraction of its own!**