Struggling with how to stay focused at work? We are building Taskable to help people focus on their priorities - whether in work or in their personal lives. In practice, this means turning some of the best productivity techniques from thinkers in the space, coupled with our research and insights, into a software product.
Regardless of whether you use Taskable (we hope you do, of course), we thought we’d open source our view on how to get your best work done, without getting distracted or overwhelmed. We’re sharing this in part because we want everyone to access this information, even if they prefer to write things down in a notebook rather than in our app. The other reason we are sharing it is because of Cunningham’s law, where the best way to find the right answer on the internet is to post the wrong answer. If someone has a better idea out there, we’re all ears! Based on our research, here are the five tactics that can help you to stay focused on your most important work.
Before you can find the most important thing to work on, you have to know it exists. The problem with modern workspaces is information is spread across so many different platforms and apps. You get messages in Slack related to a task in Asana that a client has also emailed some notes on in Gmail. Some of your action items come out of a meeting, a Jira ticket, or a CRM task. Having to look across all these applications is distracting, time-consuming, and takes up unnecessary time. The key is to extract action items and information from these platforms and bring them into your single source of truth. That way, you have a handle on all the things you need to do, and then you can start to prioritize them accordingly.
Not all projects are equally important. Also, you probably have more to do than there is time in the day. With that in mind, focusing on the highest impact items becomes critical. What projects get you the most bang for your buck, help you achieve your most important goals, and get you closer to the outcomes you want to achieve? Pay attention to these. We suggest for each project or task, set an effort and impact. Sort your list of things to do by the highest impact, lowest effort items, and start with those. High effort, low impact items should be removed entirely if possible, or delegated.
Try to keep your list of things to do organized by what is relevant now. For example, you might have a big proposal due in a few months. Avoid letting that item clog up your brain space and task backlog until it requires your attention. There’s nothing worse than getting bogged down in the thoughts of all the things you need to do, so much that it slows down your ability to do anything. Give things attention when they need it. Ignore things that don’t need your attention yet.
Whether you plan the night before or in the morning - try always to have a plan of action. I pick 5-10 things each day I want to work on. How many items depends on how big your actions tend to be. Having that list each day gives you a goal to achieve, and is something you can refer back to if you get overwhelmed or bogged down. Just put your head down and move on to the next item. Critically, set time aside for these items. Don't let meetings creep in and take up all your time if you can avoid it. If you can't, then keep track of your other commitments so you can better plan how you spend time each day. There is nothing worse and more demoralizing to your productivity and focus than having big plans, and not achieving them because you lost control of your time.
It’s easy to skip into letting your inbox dictate your day for you. But, if you work on the most recent thing to land in your inbox, you are, by definition, not working on the most important thing. One way to avoid this is to capture new action items, but don’t work on them that day. Instead, the later than night/next morning, when you plan your day, check-in on those new items and see where they fit into your other priorities. This gives you time to reflect on whether this is pressing or important. You can also view them in the context of all the other things you need to do.
Sure, emergencies will pop up sometimes, and there’s no avoiding having to action those. But, if you can avoid it, give each new action item some time to decide how important it is.
We hope this is helpful for you to get the most out of your days. Of course, we’ve built Taskable to enable this process and workflow. If you’d like to check it out, then sign up!