It is really, really hard in modern society to keep yourself focused. We have social media to blow our time on, the endless depths of the internet to read, meetings upon meetings at work, and thousands of messages in Slack to keep up with. Getting things done and being productive for 3 or 4 hours of a work day often seems like a huge moral victory and getting anything at all done in your personal time seems like an impossibility. How do you stay engaged with things you need to get done or living your life in any semblance of someone who is accomplished?

Figure Out Your Flow

Back in 2006, Time Magazine published a cover story on Night Owls and Morning People. I tend towards Morning Person tendencies so it is kind of terrible that I usually write on this here site in the evenings. It’s often a slog, but if I write in the mornings I’m a machine. Your own flow is unique. Figuring out when you’re productive and choosing to protect those times is a big deal.

Prioritize and Ruthlessly Cut Scope

You need a system. If you don’t have a consistent way of approaching the things that you want to accomplish and figuring out how important they are, you’ll be stuck and drowning in the mental anguish of having a gajillion things to do. I call mine The Tracking System. Don’t be afraid to say no to yourself. Don’t be afraid to tell yourself that was a bad idea and not worth pursuing.

Stop Multi-Tasking

I’d often get status updates from Engineers that they are currently working on this, that, and the other. Impossible. Not only does this feel overwhelming while you spin around in a circle of half-finished things, it doesn’t reflect reality. Unless you’ve figured out how to clone yourself (if you have, do tell), you can only actually work on one this, that, or the other at a time. Focus on that this. Get it over the line. If you’re blocked by something on this, go to that. Finish that. Then go back to this. Lost? That’s because I made you multi-task. Don’t do that to yourself!

Throw Away The Remote When Necessary

Media is a time suck. The Bachelor, celebrity gossip, car videos, memes, video games, all of these vie for your attention, and often win out. I have an awful habit of trying to watch every single minute of San Jose Sharks Hockey. During the 9 months of hockey season that’s an hour every other night, where I will turn on the TV even if I have things to do that are way more important. Don’t get me wrong, rest and relaxation are crucial to productivity, but know when you’re just throwing away your time.

Silence your phone. Close all those tabs. Turn off the TV. Set a timer for 25 minutes and then…

Take Breaks

… take a short break. A gentleman by the name of Francesco Cirillo pioneered the “Pomodoro Method”. It involves setting a timer for 25 minutes (or 50 if you’re ambitious), focusing on a single task for that time (logging distractions you come across along the way), and to keep going on the original task until time is up at which point you *TAKE A BREAK. Get up. Walk. Get a drink of water. Stepping away from a problem often helps you approach it from a different angle and working in sprints often helps you get things done faster overall without burning yourself out.

Go forth and be productive!