You're just getting into the groove, your train of thought is leaving the station, and you're ready to be productive... and then an email comes in, someone messages you on Facebook, or you think of something else that has to be done, and the next thing you know, you've lost half an hour.
Now, not only are you behind schedule, but you're wasting even MORE time on mentally kicking yourself!
This challenge comes up a lot in my lines of work.
As a novelist, artist, copywriter and coach, I have lots of fields of expertise that require prolonged periods of attention and concentration.
And as a creative type, I'm naturally prone to daydreaming.
Wandering through fictional scenarios is my mind's natural habitat, so depending on my energy levels, it can be a challenge to buck that tendency for long enough to write a blog post, create an email for a client, or actually write a scene instead of just thinking about it.
So how do I stay on task for an hour or more at a time?
As a creative daydreamer, I've had to come up with a few good strategies for staying mentally on track for long periods of time. Here are five things that work for me - hopefully they'll work for you, too.
Strategy 1: Break your tasks into chunks of time.
If you can't concentrate for an hour, don't schedule in a block of time that lasts for an hour.
If you can't think clearly during a certain time of day, whether it's the evening when you've been working for hours, or the morning when you're a zombie slowly shambling out of bed, don't schedule your more challenging tasks for that time period.
Determine which tasks are the most important and mentally demanding, and schedule those in for the parts of the day when you tend to have the most mental energy.
Also, break them into manageable chunks, and schedule brief breaks between tasks, so you can rest your mind, go to the bathroom, grab a snack, and otherwise rejuvenate and be ready to concentrate on your next task.
If your attention span tends to work optimally for half an hour, schedule your tasks in chunks of half an hour.
Whatever you need to do, as much as possible, work WITH your natural mental rhythm, not against it.
Strategy #2: Close unnecessary tabs and programs.
Do your Facebook or email keep interrupting you? Unless you have good reason to believe that someone will contact you through those channels with a legitimate, time-sensitive emergency, turn them off.
Close the tab, log out, mute your notifications - whatever it takes to silence the interruption long enough for you to complete your high-priority tasks.
You can check your inbox between tasks, but if you want to get through your to-do list on time, you can't interrupt your work every time someone wants a piece of your day. Your day belongs to you, not them - prioritize your attention accordingly!
Strategy #3: Use instrumental music.
If you've never tried playing beautiful instrumental music during high-concentration tasks, I highly recommend it as a way to both stay focused and make the job a lot more pleasant.
If you have an album or artist you especially enjoy listening to, it gives you something to look forward to when it's time to start working, and the ambient sound helps to block out the distractions in your surroundings.
It helps if you choose a full album or long compilation, rather than needing to break your focus and switch songs every few minutes. Just look up "1 hour of peaceful music", or "1 hour of (whatever mood you desire) music" on YouTube, and you should have plenty to choose from.
If you'd like a recommendation, here's an hour-long compilation by two artists I especially enjoy.
Strategy #4: Get up and move.
If you've been sitting still for long enough that your butt is sore, your mind is starting to wander, or your body is beginning to feel twitchy, it's probably time to take a two-minute break and move.
Walk around, go to the bathroom, grab a drink - or, if you're like me and your cats are a bad influence, sprint randomly around the house a few times. (Yes, I do that. My family has learned to cross certain paths with caution in case of low-flying writers.)
Don't let this break stretch on and on - that defeats the purpose of me writing a blog post to help you concentrate and stay on schedule.
But you'd be amazed by how much difference the occasional movement break can make in clearing your mind and keeping your body feeling good when you work in a sedentary occupation.
Strategy #5: Don't get distracted by having been distracted.
If you realize that your mind's been wandering and you lost a few minutes, the worst thing you can do is waste even MORE time on beating yourself up about it.
Instead, just pull yourself back to the task at hand, and keep going.
Now it's your turn.
Do you have trouble concentrating on your writing, art, or other work?
Did any of these tips help you?
How do you keep your focus?
I look forward to hearing from you in the comments!