While we try our best to stay on top of our tasks and to-do’s, we all have days where our minds begin to wander, and procrastination (or falling prey to the fallacy of multitasking) wins out over productivity. The reality is, the neverending demands of everyday life can make it challenging to buckle down and focus, but small behavior changes — like making tweaks to your workflow and planning strategic breaks — can lead to new and helpful habits. 

We asked our Thrive community for the focus tips that have worked for them, and their answers are inspiring us to head into 2020 with our eyes on the prize. Which of these Microsteps will you implement in the new year? 

Turn off phone notifications

“Turning off all of the notifications on my phone has made such a huge difference for me, and helps me avoid getting distracted from the constant dings, beeps, and buzzes. It has helped me focus for longer, and with greater intensity.”

—Brandi Good, business systems consultant and tech integrator, Regina, Saskatchewan

Carve out “distraction time”

“To improve my focus, I’ve started scheduling the things that used to distract me. I block out half an hour a day to be on social media. I also check email in two 20-minute blocks per day. When I’m checking email, that’s all I’m doing, so I can be intentional. By carving out ‘distraction time,’ I give myself around six hours to focus on meaningful work that requires my full attention.”

—Zach Mercurio, author and speaker, Fort Collins, CO

Take limiting words out of your vocabulary 

“I’ve taken the words ‘if,’ ‘maybe,’ and ‘could’ out of my vocabulary when I have to sit down and focus. Instead, I’ve started speaking in absolutes, saying, ‘I will.’  And while things don’t always work out as planned, I’ve been more productive this way. I make a firm plan and stick to it. I’ve learned that it’s the best way to hold myself accountable.”

—Andrew Karpisz, writer, Denver CO

Do an end-of-day tech sweep

“As a former insufferable multitasker, it has been a game-changer for me to finish my day by closing all internet tabs, saving all documents in the right folder, closing any unsent emails, turning off my laptop off, and letting it rest. When I have unfinished thoughts, I write them out in a prioritized list for tomorrow. It’s magic!”

—Marijke de Jong, founder, coach, and speaker, FL

Try a new app

“I recently discovered Google Tasks. It has helped me get all of my to-do’s synced with my calendar and get my email out of my head. I can set deadline reminders for myself within each task, easily rearrange the order of tasks to reflect priorities, and create different lists for different projects. I’m someone who always loved crossing items off my list on paper, and Tasks has a feature that allows you to digitally cross off completed items. It’s so motivating!”

—Rachel Druckenmiller, speaker and trainer, Baltimore, MD 

Establish a consistent routine

“I’ve been able to achieve a much more clear focus throughout the day when I stick to a consistent morning routine. I wake up early, sit still with a cup of coffee, make my bed, exercise, get into the office and scan my to-do list from the night before, and then address my inbox. I’ve adjusted my morning routine over the years, and I’m at a point where it feels comfortable and helps set me up for a focused day.” 

—Suzy Haber Wakefield, designer, Montclair, NJ

Go for a walk

“When I’m feeling overwhelmed and struggle to focus, I simply go for a walk. If I’m working from home, I walk outside and water the yard for a few minutes. If I’m in the city, I walk outside and listen to the hustle and bustle of the street, enjoy the weather, and take a deep breath. At the same time, I read my to-do list and prioritize it for the day. Even if I only have time to get one thing done, I choose what it is, and tell myself, ‘This is all you need to accomplish today.’ It helps keep me focused and calm.”

—Rudy Chavarria Jr., founder, Diamond Bar, CA

Schedule your to-do’s into your calendar 

“Scheduling everything into my cell phone calendar, including small breaks in between work and meetings, has helped me focus.  I also set alarm reminders on my phone to ground and prepare myself so I’m always on my game and ready to tackle my busy schedule.”

—Carrie McEachran, executive director, Sarnia, ON

De-clutter your desk

“When I have a big project that I know will require several hours of focus, I will literally pack up other items that are on and around my desk and put them someplace out of sight.  I’ve even put stuff in a box, put a lid on the box, and moved it to another room. To clean up these items is itself a distraction, so it’s best to get it out of sight and start with a clean desk for the project.”

—Francine Tone, attorney, business strategist, and leadership trainer, Truckee, CA

Try a meeting scheduling service

“Scheduling meetings with people used to be a big distraction for me. All of the back and forth felt like a waste of time and energy, especially when coordinating multiple people’s schedules. I recently signed up for a scheduling service called Calendly, where all I have to do is send people a link and they can pick the time that works for them, and it syncs with my calendar. It’s been a game changer for my focus! 

—Rachel Druckenmiller, speaker and trainer, Baltimore, MD 

Keep only one tab open

“To help me stay focused on one task, I close all other browsers and applications. This makes it a little more difficult for me to go and check email, read the news, or catch up on social media.”

—Leah Masonick, life and career coach, Minneapolis, MN

Put your phone on Airplane Mode

“One of the simplest and most powerful strategies that has helped me stay in my bubble of total focus is keeping my phone on Airplane Mode for the duration of my work. Answering unimportant phone calls, responding to every text message, and checking social media or news notifications are the most powerful focus disruptors. This shift has helped me truly put my timeline first.”

—Joanna Echols, executive wellness and leadership expert, Glastonbury, CT

Set alarms for your tasks

“I set alerts on my calendar for the time of day I need to remember something, like ordering contacts for my son when I get home from work, or making cookies for the staff luncheon the evening before I need them. The alerts pop up and help me remember. It also gives me a place to put the info before I forget about it.”

—Lori Booty, teacher and certified health coach, Houston, TX

Do you have a go-to tip or trick that’s helped you stay focused this year? Share it with us in the comments!

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  • Marina Khidekel

    Chief Content Officer at Thrive

    Marina leads strategy, ideation and execution of Thrive's content company-wide, including cross-platform brand partnership and content marketing campaigns, curricula, and the voice of the Thrive platform. She's the author of Thrive's first book, Your Time to Thrive. In her role, Marina brings Thrive's audience actionable, science-backed tips for reducing stress and improving their physical and mental well-being, and shares those insights on panels and in national outlets like NBC's TODAY. Previously, Marina held senior editorial roles at Women's Health, Cosmopolitan, and Glamour, where she edited award-winning health and mental health features and spearheaded the campaigns and partnerships around them.