Ever start your day with the best intentions to get things done only to reach mid-afternoon wondering what happened to your productivity ? Solving small and persistent issues as they come up and dealing with emails and phone calls as they come in can easily derail you, says Peter Bregman, author of 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done (Hatchette Book Group; 2012).
"With all our technology, it's never been easier to get distracted," he says. "In fact, we often welcome distractions because they give us a break from work that takes effort and energy."
The secret to effectively managing distractions as well as your time is sticking to a ritual, says Bregman: "It needs to be an ongoing process we follow -- no matter what -- that keeps us focused on our priorities throughout the day."
Here is his three-step 18-minute daily ritual to help manage focus and increase productivity:
STEP 1: Plan (5 minutes).
Before you begin your day or check your email, sit down with a blank piece of paper and write down tasks that will make the day successful, says Bregman. Then take your calendar and schedule those things into open time slots.
"There is tremendous power in deciding when you are going to do something," he says. Place the hardest and most important items at the beginning of the day when distractions are fewer. If your entire list does not fit into your calendar, reprioritize your list.
STEP 2: Refocus (one minute each hour).
Set an alarm on your watch, phone, or computer to go off every hour during your workday. When it rings, ask yourself if you spent your last hour productively. Bregman says this ritual will help catch you when you get off track. How you spend your time can be compared to what you eat at a buffet, he says.
"People often eat poorly at a buffet because what they want to eat in the moment is different than what they wished they'd have eaten at the end of the day," he says. The same thing can be said for time -- what you want to do in the moment is often different than what you wished you had accomplished at the end of the day. Checking in every hour will help keep you on track.
STEP 3: Review (5 minutes).
At the end of your day, review what worked, where you had the most focus and where you got distracted. "Did you accomplish what you wanted to accomplish?" says Bregman. "If not, what can you do better tomorrow?"
For example, if you got a lot done during the morning but had a hard time concentrating in the afternoon, consider scheduling work that requires focus, such as writing a proposal or designing a marketing campaign, for early in the day. Save less-taxing tasks, such as reading email or reviewing website statistics, for the afternoon.
Bregman says it's also a good time to tie up loose ends so they don't leak into the evening. For example, express gratitude to those who helped you and send quick updates to members of your team.
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