As many as 74% of Millennials and Gen Zers reported being distracted at work, according to a 2018 Udemy survey of more than 1,000 U.S. workers. Noise, interruptions, and smartphone notifications were cited as the three major attention grabbers.
These days, there's another factor diverting our attention from our work: the effects of the coronavirus outbreak. Many employees are required to either "shelter in place" or stay home as much as possible, and as many as 18% of working people already report having been let go or had their hours reduced, according to a recent poll of 835 adults.
"In the morning, first thing you do is you write down the objectives that you want to get done," says Milo Sindell, leadership coach at Skyline Group International. This helps "keep a person focused," he says.
In the workplace performance book "Sink or Swim," co-written by Sindell and his wife, Thuy Sindell, they suggest keeping two task lists to help prioritize: a general task list, which features items that need to be done that day, and a rolling task list, which features items that are not urgent and can be done later in the week.
Creating lists helps lessen the burden of trying to remember everything you have to do. It clears your head so you can focus and move on to the next task at hand when you've finished.
"Be realistic about how much time it will take to do" a given task, says Kathleen Hall, founder of The Stress Institute. "Don't underestimate the amount of time." Being realistic about how much time each to-do list item takes enables you to see what you can really get done in a day. Not overloading yourself is important, since taking on too much can overwhelm you and make it difficult to focus.
The more you accomplish in a given day, the better and more successful you'll feel. Giving yourself the right amount of time to accomplish each task makes it that much easier.
"You live with less stress when you feel like you are in control," says Hall.
Find a partner like a spouse, roommate, or co-worker to check in with about your progress on a given project or task, suggests Hall. Let them know you're committed to staying on track and ask them to check in with you as many times a day as you feel like you need to hold you accountable to your daily to-dos.
"The members of 12-step programs and support groups experience great success because of incredible group support," she says.
Small rewards enhance motivation, according to a study of several hundred students cited in the Harvard Business Review. The study found that small rewards serve as a "tool for behavioral change in settings when personal interactions are limited."
If you're working from home, take a break when a task is finished to go for a walk, have some coffee away from your desk, or enjoy a short phone catch-up with a friend. It can both give you a sense of accomplishment and motivate you to keep doing that focused work.
As you reform your work habits to ensure you remain productive during a time of great distraction, remember to give yourself some encouragement.
"We have research that tells us positive affirmations reduce stress, clear and center the mind," says Hall.