Staying focused

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I have been an editor and writer for more than 20 years, and I have worked from home for the last 6 years. Sometimes I am super-productive and honestly, sometimes I do too much fiddling around. But, I always meet my deadlines, and aim to create high quality work. 

Here are a few thoughts on how to focus and be productive, for any kind of work situation:

Know yourself. My best time for productive, creative work is in the morning. When I am organizing my daily tasks, I make sure to focus on the projects needing the most brain power earlier in the day. Writing, editing, and my best thinking happen in the morning. Later in the afternoon I can do more administrative tasks – planning time, invoicing, following up on emails. Once you discern your most productive times, then arrange your work schedule as much as possible to follow your natural rhythms. 

Know who you are working with. I work with clients and co-workers across multiple time zones, and I also work with people in my own time zone who work varied hours (for example, the mom who submits her writing projects around midnight and the graphic designer who works after his triplets are in bed). So as deadlines approach, I want to make sure I respond to people with appropriate timeliness, so we can keep a project moving forward. I also may push a deadline to be one day earlier, to allow for the lag of different times when people are able to respond.

Think of projects and deadlines in terms of a day, week, and month. It is obvious that I need to focus on what is due today, and what is due this week. But I also regularly review the deadlines that are a month or two out – because they quickly become today’s deadline! If I have an article that is due in six weeks, I don’t necessarily have to start writing the article yet, but I do need to take a few minutes to email people who are providing input for the article. If I need to schedule an interview, I would much rather have the luxury of providing a few weeks of options to schedule the person I am interviewing, rather than scrambling to get an interview done the day before I have to write the story. Five minutes spent on an email today will save me stress and rush a month from now. 

Pace yourself. Figuring out when to take breaks is also part of staying productive. Our brains and bodies need to reset and move. I try to set mini-goals and use short breaks as rewards. I may decide to edit 10 pages, then walk into the kitchen and make a cup of tea. Or finish an hour of tasks and then step outside for a breath of fresh air. Too many breaks definitely reduce productivity, but too few breaks can also impair our work. A short break can introduce fresh thoughts and renewed vigor into our work. When I am writing, I try to get at least a first draft done before my afternoon walk break. I will often have an idea while I am walking that will solve some problem or improve the article for the second draft. 

Minimize distractions. This is obvious advice and hard to implement at times. I have turned off most notifications on my phone, because I don’t necessarily need to know when a new headline is posted or when someone likes a social media post I have written. I do manage social media for a client, so part of my work is staying up-to-date and responding. But that doesn’t mean I have to respond every minute. On days when a post is active, I can still take breaks between checking. And most of the distraction is not from work-related social media, but from “interesting” but nonessential information. If I feel the need to check on news or social media or any other non-work-related information, I can put that into my break time, between productive times of work. Some days the best thing I can do for both my work and my soul is to pause and let go of the “need” to know everything always.

Staying focused and productive is a process. By evaluating what works well for us, and changing patterns that are not working, we can continue to improve our work habits and the quality of the work we send into the world.   

By Carla Foote, Fine Print Editorial

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