Q: I need to get better at getting all my work done. I honestly think it’s doable — I don’t have too much in objective terms. But I have many, many things to keep track of, so I often just feel scattered.
Allie, 44, analyst
A: Organization and focus are needed when tasks proliferate.
Staying organized comes naturally to some people. They may enjoy making lists or creating detailed schedules. They may also be good at tuning out distractions.
My hunch is that you are not one of these people!
There’s nothing wrong with that, but you will be well-served by trying to acquire some of these skills.
The key will be devising systems that work for you.
Otherwise, your good intentions are likely to fail, as you will be pushing yourself too far from your natural inclinations.
Try making lists of the things that need to get done each day. Use a notebook, a white board, whatever works for you.
If you are motivated by such things, gamify it by giving yourself rewards after a certain level of accomplishment.
Go through your meeting notes, flagging all the tasks that may have emerged. Highlighting or color coding is a fast and visual way to keep things top of mind. Staying focused can also be challenging when there are many things to get done, and there are also tricks here that can help.
Plan your tasks, estimating how long each will take. Then time box them so that you stay within that time.
Close your e-mail and IM windows and put all your attention on the task at hand. It’s amazing how much you can do, even in 15 minutes, if you focus on it.
This builds a lot of energy, and makes it easier to take on your next task. E-mail will always be there, and you can check between tasks so that it doesn’t pile up.
Setting time frames for tasks also can help avert any tendency to perfectionism. If you estimate a task at 30 minutes, you shouldn’t spend two hours on it.
Typically that extra time isn’t adding actual value and could be adding considerably to your stress.
Practice focusing your mind. You will feel less scattered if you think only about the task you are working on.
But the brain is a funny thing, and likes to throw out distractions. When other tasks pop into your mind while you are working, mentally set them aside.
If it’s something you don’t want to forget, add it to your list and then go back to your focus.
You can practice this outside of work by taking up a meditation practice, which will help you learn to keep your mind more focused and calm.
Trim back on distractions as much as you can. If you are in an open office, use noise blocking headphones if conversations and other background noise lure you away from your work.
Be patient with yourself, as it takes time to learn new habits.
Keep trying new things so that you find tools and strategies you use are comfortable for you.
That way, it will be easier to be in it for the long haul.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, leadership coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.