By Nadia Goodman
Every business leader has trouble staying focused, but some find that distraction is a constant that gets in the way of productivity.
Symptoms like inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsivity can get in the way of a productive, focused work day, and in extreme cases are linked to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The key to success is learning to work with those symptoms, not against them.
“It’s about figuring out how to work with your strengths and downplay your weaknesses,” says Abigail Levrini, psychologist and author of Succeeding with Adult ADHD (APA, 2012).
The tasks you don’t enjoy or want to do require thought and planning if you have trouble focusing. Sometimes, you can easily offload a task or hire someone with the skill set you lack, but when that’s not possible, you need to develop coping strategies to make sure you can focus when you need to.
Whether you have been diagnosed with ADHD or not, these four techniques will help you stay on task and focus your attention.
1. Identify your learning style. Figure out how you learn best, then organize your workplace to play up your strengths. “If you can identify your learning style, then you can start to build systems around it,” Levrini says.
For example, if have a hard time keeping track of information that’s out of sight, creating an open filing system, color coding, and clear containers can help keep you stay organized. Likewise, an auditory learner who needs to prepare for an interview will recall his talking points better if they’re read aloud.
2. Visually map your time and tasks. Map your day by the hour and review it throughout the day to help you organize your time. That visual cue will help you pace your day and budget your time appropriately.
Use free hours effectively by ranking your task list visually as well. Try color coding your list according to priority, with four or five levels of urgency. “Assign levels to each of your tasks,” Levrini says. Do the essential, time-sensitive tasks early in the week while you’re fresh, then save the optional ones for later.
3. Fidget to help you focus. When you need to pay attention during a call or meeting, bring a small object that you can play with, such as putty. It should be something you can manipulate mindlessly while you listen. “That actually frees up your mental energy so you can focus a little better,” Levrini says.
In general, releasing excess energy throughout the day will help you stay on task. “The longer you try to focus on something without moving around, your mind will start to tire,” Levrini says. To improve your focus, climb the stairs between tasks, pace while you talk on the phone, or simply change your environment throughout the day.
4. Break up the tedious tasks. Boring tasks cause excessive distraction and procrastination. Forcing yourself to endure them will only exacerbate the problem. Instead, work in fifteen-minute bursts. Set a timer and try to do as much as you can before it goes off. Make a game of it.
When time is up, do something active, such as walking up the stairs or doing jumping jacks, then work for another fifteen minutes. That burst of activity will give you the energy you need to maintain focus. “By taking frequent breaks and building in physical activity, you don’t get mentally fatigued and bored,” Levrini says.