7 Tips for Staying on Task (When You’d Rather Do Something Else)

Focus on the Target - Staying on Task ConceptThe amount of money you make often depends on your ability to sit down and write every single day. But there are days you might not even feel like writing. And that’s a shame, because the more you write, the more your writing improves.

Yet, if you’re like me, as soon as you sit down, everything else that isn’t about writing suddenly pops into your mind. Isn’t it amazing how a blank page can make you start thinking about running a load of laundry, taking a letter to the post office, or walking your dog?

Just this week, for instance, I had an overwhelming amount of writing projects to accomplish… I’m talking about deadlines every single day. Not once, not twice, but THREE times I considered asking my clients for extensions.

After all, the weather was beautiful, and sitting inside all day was akin to torture.

But, I resisted the urge to ask for an extension and powered through (using the techniques I’m about to share with you). Not only did I manage to hit all my deadlines, but I also cleaned my metaphorical plate to accept new projects… and more project fees.

So, how did I fight temptation and stay on task? Well, here are the seven strategies I used:

1. Set and stick to deadlines.

I’ve found there’s nothing quite like a pending deadline to rein in self-control and practically force action. Yes, I considered asking for extensions, but I knew that behavior could damage my reputation and cause additional stress later.

Extensions should be reserved for legitimate illnesses or emergencies. Making that commitment to yourself and your clients is extremely helpful for getting the work done when you’d rather be doing something else. After all, you worked hard to get to where you are now. Is a day in the sunshine worth risking your professional image?

Pro tip: If your deadlines are self-imposed (things like writing a book, cold calling, or launching your website), consider making yourself accountable to someone else. Often, the shame of admitting failure to another person is enough to make us keep going, especially when something more appealing begs for our attention.

2. Schedule your time commitments.

I use Google Calendar to plan my entire daily life. My “appointments” include client deadlines, chunks of writing time, bills, emails that require action, and much more. And, they’re all color-coded.

Setting up my calendar like this allows me to visualize my days and see exactly how my time is spent. Throughout the day, I refer to the calendar to stay on track. I add checkmarks to completed tasks and adjust the time to what was actually spent. (This process allows me to better judge future time commitments.)

Pro tip: Divide big projects into manageable chunks. While it’s simple to think you’ll spend a week or two on a 20-page promotion, it’s easy to get distracted (and overwhelmed) when your calendar vaguely says, “Work on promo.” Instead, break the project down and schedule multiple time slots for research, outlining, writing, editing, and revisions.

3. Do one thing at a time.

You’ve probably heard our brains aren’t wired for multi-tasking… which includes watching TV while writing. However, if you constantly force your brain to multi-task, the habit will become routine, and you’ll lose the capability to focus.

“We’ve trained our brains to be unfocused,” said David Rock, the author of Your Brain at Work.

“Practice concentration by turning off all distractions and committing your attention to a single task. Start small, maybe five minutes per day, and work up to larger chunks of time,” recommends Entrepreneur.com.

If you find yourself distracted by all the things you need or want to do, take a few moments to write them down. This will clear your head and allow you to better focus on the task at hand.

Pro tip: Use the Pomodoro Technique. This is one of my favorite ways to focus and get a lot accomplished. Here’s how it works: Set a timer and work on one task for 25 minutes. When the timer goes off, set it again… this time for a five-minute break. Repeat the process three or four times. Then, take a 30-minute break. I’ve found I can get a lot done in 25 minutes, and I enjoy the forced breaks.

4. Eliminate distractions.

Our world is full of distractions… and most of them come from our phones — text messages, phone calls, Facebook updates, games, you name it. That’s why, when I really want to focus, I put my phone on silent… and leave it in another room.

To eliminate distractions, you must first discover what they are. If you keep a calendar, fill in each time block with what you actually did. After seeing chunks of valuable time spent on Facebook, email, or napping, you’ll get a much better idea of where your time is going — and how to eliminate those distractions.

To avoid things like social media — or other time-wasting sites — try a tool like RescueTime or Freedom, which allows you to block distracting websites.

Pro tip: Batch distractions. In the past, I would get up from my desk several times an hour… to let the dog out, take a bathroom break, or refill my water glass. Now, I batch everything for once each hour. When the alarm goes off, I get up, stretch, and “make my rounds.” As an added bonus, I can often hit my goal of 250 steps-per-hour at the same time!

5. Tell others about your plans.

If you work at home, you might experience family members coming into your office or friends “just stopping by.” In their minds, they think you can simply reschedule your work for another time. But, if you have looming deadlines or a lot of work on your plate, these interruptions can be very stressful.

You can often manage “people distractions” simply by sharing your plans. If you have set working hours, make it clear you can’t be interrupted during those times. I found you need to be firm and consistently unswerving, but (eventually) loved ones understand web writing is a real job.

Pro tip: If your home is particularly chaotic or busy (perhaps relatives are in town?), head to your local library. There, you’ll likely find a quiet table, plus hundreds of research options at your fingertips. Avoid your local coffee shop, which is full of distractions… coffee bean grinders, TVs, business meetings, and a constant flow of other customers.

6. Don’t beat yourself up.

It’s easy to get off track. So easy, in fact, you might not realize it’s happened until a long while later… maybe even hours later. At that point, don’t be too hard on yourself. Yes, you wasted time and are now feeling the pressure of project deadlines. But, if you beat yourself up, you’re more likely to waste the rest of the day — figuring, “What’s the point?”

Instead, recognize you wasted time, but you can still save the day. Make a note of what distracted you (so you can better recognize and avoid it in the future). Then, get back to work.

Pro tip: Reward yourself for a job well done. When you need to focus on a task — but you’d rather be doing something else — tell yourself you’ll get a reward when you’re finished. Your ideal reward might be a cup of hot tea…  or a leisurely walk around the block. My favorite reward? A piece of chocolate (Yum!) and five minutes on Facebook (Like!).

7. Remember your why.

If you’re having trouble focusing, remind yourself why you’re doing the task in the first place. Maybe you’re writing a blog post to market your business… which will make client attraction easier. Maybe you’re finishing a project… so you’ll have the money to buy a new outfit.

Or, maybe you’re launching a web-writing business so you can stay home with your kids… or set your own schedule. I often tell myself, “If you get this done now, you can have the whole weekend free and not even think about turning on the computer!”

Whatever your reason, know it and refer to it often. This will make staying on task easier — especially when you feel like doing something else.

Pro tip: Think about the consequences of not completing the task. You might have to ask a client for an extension — risking your professional image, and possibly losing work in the future. You might have to skip a movie with a friend to catch up on work. Or, you might be stressed tomorrow when you have to cram two days’ worth of tasks into one.

For instance, I now shudder when I remember spending huge chunks of my valuable day playing Candy Crush. I’d think, “Just one more game while I drink my coffee.” Little by little, I drank my coffee more slowly… and before I knew it, it was noon!

When I finally made it to my office, I’d be overwhelmed by the amount of work I didn’t complete and the self-control it would take to get back on track. Now, I realize it’s just easier to go ahead and get the work done.

By using the strategies above to resist distractions and stay on task, you can accomplish more, feel less stressed about your workload, and ultimately make a lot more money.

So, what about you? What tips do you have for staying on task when you’d rather be doing something else? Let’s talk about it in the comments below.


Christina Gillick

One Comment

  • Thanks for an informative article Christina.

    I have read about the Pomodoro Technique often and always wanted to try it. You explained it concisely and clearly, now I have tried it and it works so well.

    Thanks again!
    (P.s. Chocolate is also my reward- for EVERYTHING!)

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