Focus is difficult enough to achieve without the pounding vibration of jackhammers or sheds collapsing outside your window. With construction coming to an end at the ‘peg, I’ve developed a few survival tactics.


These are essential on any day. Not only do headphones protect you from loud distractions, they also keep out subtler sounds that can be equally invasive in a quiet environment. Bonus: certain kinds of music can improve your productivity. Just make sure your tunes aren’t too loud to hear the phone or a coworker. Tempting, I know.

Schedule Breaks

The Internet is inconclusive as to whether you should allow ultradian rhythms or a little Italian tomato dictate your breaks, but scheduling time to let your brain relax is important for maintaining focus. Personally, I drink a lot of water and coffee. Both the coffee pot and water cooler are at the opposite end of the building. A stroll to the kitchen gets me up and moving for a few moments and doesn’t necessarily have to distract my current train of thought. Unless the cats are up to something, which I must admit is a lot of the time.

Make a List from Big to Small

I am not someone who instinctively makes lists. Grocery shopping is always an adventure. However, I’ve learned quickly lists are essential to survival in the workplace. Beyond seeing what’s ahead, keeping a prioritized list lets you schedule your week and allows for flexibility (depending on the deadline).

Typically, I approach several smaller tasks in the morning when I’m more likely to be interrupted by a meeting or a request for another small task. This gives me large chunks of time in the afternoon for the projects that require more focus and attention.

When lots of projects are looming and postponing the larger ones isn’t an option, I use smaller tasks to break up my time. Keeping a prioritized list lets me rearrange my schedule like a game of Tetris, with deadlines providing the bottom line.

How you keep a list is entirely personal. There are lots of convenient apps for To Do lists; we use Insightly to keep track of our personal tasks as well as give each other assignments. Even so, I also use a pen and notebook to write out what I need to do every week because it’s easier to edit during team meetings. Writing my list also tricks me into believing I’ll remember my tasks better. Knowing what you need to do next allows you to focus on the task at hand.

Add a Spoonful of Sugar

Work is work, and short of hiring Mary Poppins there’s only so much to be done to make every aspect of your job enjoyable. Yet there are ways to trick yourself into doing things you’d really rather not do. If I keep putting off making a phone call, I tell myself I can’t get another cup of coffee until I dial. I also try to get less desirable tasks out of the way earlier so I can focus on other things without the dreaded phone call looming over my head.

Get Rid of Distractions

Easier said than done, especially when you have the entire Internet at your fingertips. I’ve read about many freelancers who intentionally disconnect from Wi-Fi when they need to be productive. No email, no social media. Just get work done.

If you do need the Internet to complete the task at hand, there are many apps that provide self-imposed tunnel vision. SelfControl for MAC is dauntingly brilliant: select the distracting websites and set a time, and it won’t let you access them even if you reboot or delete the app.

Ultimately, focus is a muscle. Exercised regularly, maintaining focus for longer periods becomes easier. My list of personal hacks is how I concentrate on every day tasks.

If you’re feeling slightly more ambitious, here’s the master plan filled with organizational skills for taking back control of your life. I’ll add it to my list.

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