9 Tips for Staying Focused

Many designers and developers love their work in part because they can work from home or anywhere else that they choose. While not working in a typical office setting can be a nice perk, it also brings its own set of challenges. Possibly the most significant challenge is that there are all kinds of distractions and no one is there to help keep you focused.

In this article we’ll take a quick look at 9 things you can do to stay focused and productive.

1. Work from a To-Do List Each Day

One of the best ways to stay focused and on task is to have a list of specific things that you need to do each day. Without having a to-do list it is easy to get distracted or to dedicate time to things that aren’t important, but with a to-do list you’ll always know exactly what you need to do each day. Most of us don’t like to end the day with things from our to-do list still unchecked, so it serves as motivation to stay on task and to get things done.

2. Eliminate the Easy Tasks from Your To-Do List First

This may be more personal preference than anything, but for me it is one of the most important things I can do to stay focused. Each day will have a few siginifcant tasks that will take up most of the day, and a few smaller tasks that can be done in a matter of a few minutes. When I look at my to-do list and see things crossed off I feel good about my progress and it’s easier to stay focused. When I leave the little things till later my to-do list will look more intimidating all day, and sometimes it can be distracting. I prefer to take care of the easier things early in the day so I can get them off of my list and then I can focus completely on major tasks without distraction of having a to-do list that looks very full.

3. Keep Your Expectations Realistic

There is only so much that you can get done in one day. If you overload your to-do list you will be stressed out all day and you probably won’t do your best quality work because you’ll be feeling rushed. If you keep a smaller number of things on your to-do list you can focus more on doing your best quality of work.

4. Work Ahead of Deadlines Whenever Possible

Working on tight deadlines can hurt your focus in a few different ways. First, if you’re thinking more about the deadline than the details of the project, it can hurt your work. Second, if you have deadlines coming up you’ll have little choice about what you’re going to work on since you’ll need to rush to meet the deadline. When you’re not working with tight deadlines you’ll have more flexibility to choose what you are going to work on each day, allowing you to use your time and attention wherever you want.

You won’t always be able to avoid tight deadlines, but it’s a good habit to work ahead of deadlines whenever possible.

5. Close Out of Unneccesary Programs

Most designers and developers work in a lot of different programs throughout the day. If you have programs open that you are not using it’s easier to get distracted by something that you aren’t expecting. Closing the programs that you’re not using at the time will help to declutter and you’ll eliminate potential distractions before they can become an issue.

6. Turn Off Your Phone

Phones can be a distraction not only when you’re receiving calls. Most people receive and send several text messages each day. By turning your phone off you won’t hear notifications of new text messages, and you won’t pick up your phone to read it. Once you pick up your phone the interenet and apps can also be a distraction. Turning the phone off for a while obviously helps to eliminate these distractions as well.

7. Don’t Try to Multi-Task

Multi-tasking is one of those things that most of us have been programmed to do, and it’s often considered to be a great skill. The problem is that when you are multi-tasking you’re not focusing on any one thing, and your work will typically suffer in all areas.

Rather than trying to do several things at once, focus on one thing at a time and move through your to-do list by checking things off individually. This will help you to get things done faster and with better quality of work.

8. Have a Comfortable, Dedicated Office Space

Your environment has a lot of influence on your focus. If you’re working from home make sure that you have an area that is dedicated to being your work space and nothing else. A private room with a door is best, but if you don’t have the space for an office make sure you at least have a desk and a section of a room for your work space. This work space should be confortable (including a good chair) and preferrably in a quiet area of the house.

9. Take Short Breaks Throughout the Day

Trying to work for too long without any breaks will lead to poor focus. Just taking 5 or 10 minutes to stretch your legs, get some fresh air, or get a drink will help to improve your level of work. Breaks don’t usually need to be long in order to have an impact. If you feel like you are struggling to focus, take a break for a few minutes.

What’s Your Experience?

How do you stay focused throughout the day? If you have tips or advice for our readers please share in the comments.

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9 Responses

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  • Adverse.co, May 23, 2012

    The “short breaks” method has done wonders for my productivity throughout the day. Great tips! Thanks for sharing.

  • Jenn Staz, May 23, 2012

    If I’m having a problem focusing, I take two or so minutes to write down everything that comes to mind, whether it’s personal, work related, or something totally random. Clearing my mind helps me make room to get more intense work done more efficiently. I love this aspect of the Getting Things Done method!

  • Deidre, May 22, 2012

    I use Wunderlist, its a great programme I use for my to do list. It even syncs with my desktop and tab. Its also good to break your day up into chunks. In the morning I design, after lunch I check emails, and again at 4.30pm. Emails can be quite distracting. So I only open my email up twice a day. Thanks for all the great tips.

  • Gabriel, May 21, 2012

    Great tips! Although I am partial to turning off the phone. Customer service is #1 and if you’re not available, you’re risking it. Overal…GREAT LIST!

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    Gabriel Cuevas | QuoteRoller.com

  • Steven Snell, May 19, 2012

    Good point. That is included in what I meant by having a dedicated office space, but it wasn’t specified. I agree that having a door is important.

  • Kimi, May 19, 2012

    Good tips, thanks so much :D

  • paul, May 18, 2012

    Have a door on your office, and use it. Tell family members that when the door is closed you cannot be disturbed. My wife loved it when I worked at home, but she kept talking to me all day long. When she agreed to respect the door, and I agreed not to keep it closed all day long, life and work both went much better!

  • Laurence Care, May 18, 2012


    Love this post, i wdon’t work full time in developement, (though i would love to,) but i thought I would share this with my work mates as it does make a lot of sense in most evnvironments.

    Good Post, Cheers!