3 Steps to Focusing at Work When It Really Counts

Are you able to focus when it really counts? When deadlines are looming -- when funder reports are due (or maybe were due a week ago), when you need to submit that important journal article -- how do you carve the time out of your already busy week to produce great work?

It's not like you can make the everyday emails, meetings, and work tasks stop while you work on this one really important thing.   You have to fit it in somehow.  Here's how.

Step 1: Identify The Conditions You Need to Do Your Best Work When, and under what conditions, do you get your best work done?  If trying to squeeze in a big writing project at the end of a busy day clearly won't work for you, what would work?  Some things to consider:

  • Time: Do you do your best work early in the morning, or  do you kick into high gear after everyone else has gone to sleep?
  • Place:   Can you do focused work at your desk, or do you need a change of scenery?  Consider taking a chunk of time out of the office if your everyday setting is too distracting.
  • Duration: At a certain point, you will face diminishing returns.  A 90 minute sprint of focused work (at your most productive time and place) may produce better results than a 4 hour marathon.

Step 2: Book It Once you know when and where you can get your best work done, schedule it.  Put it in your calendar in no ambiguous terms: "8 - 11 AM, report writing at public library."  This now represents a commitment to yourself.

Step 3: Do Everything You Can to Protect Your Focused Time This is the most important step -- because if you do the first two steps and then let the time disappear, you're back to square one.

  • Protect the time from others: Don't schedule meetings or phone calls during the time you've set aside for this important work.  Let others know you will be unavailable, and that they shouldn't disturb you.  If you are staying in your office, you might want to put a "Do Not Disturb" sign outside your work space.
  • Protect the time from yourself:  Before starting work, preemptively eliminate whatever distractions might pop up and pull you off course.  Turn off your phone and use web blocking software (I use this and this) to keep yourself from wasting time online. If you're working offsite, bring only the materials for this one project so that you won't be tempted to work on others.

Once you've taken the three steps above, you've created a solid container for doing your best work.  Now all that's left is to hunker down and be brilliant!

What have you learned about the conditions in which you do your best work?