With Thanksgiving in the rear view and the rapidly approaching frenzy of Christmas, Hanukkah, and assorted other December holidays, it’s amazing that anybody manages to get any work done at this time of year. Factor in the normal demands of everyday life, from work to family to keeping your wheels on the road and your body and brain in tip-top shape, and the fact that most of us remain functional, lucid, and productive astounds me. How are you managing? What are you doing to cope with so many daily distractions and diversions?

Here are my Barrel O’Monkeyz “Ten Keys to Staying Focused:”

  1. KEEP IT SIMPLE. This includes both work and home life. If you try to fit too much into any given day, you may find yourself prone to distraction—a sort of survival mode attention deficit disorder to help you deal with the overwhelm of too much to do in too few hours.
  2. MAKE IT MANAGEABLE. If you’ve got numerous projects lined up and multiple deadlines to juggle, chunk it up into manageable pieces to make the overall task less unwieldy. This goes for work related “stuff” as well as holiday shopping. Don’t try to do it all in one day. Break it up, spread it out, and you’ll be glad you did.
  3. TURN OFF THE TV (or social media feed). Believe it or not, the world will go on doing its thing if you’re not there every 30-minutes to check on the news or the latest trending topic online. Just because we can watch the news 24×7 or stay connected to our friends and communities in perpetuity doesn’t mean we should. Try it. You just might find the quiet time a welcome respite that boosts your productivity—and your sanity.
  4. SILENCE YOUR CELL PHONE. Unless you’re expecting important news, the text, call, or Tiktok can probably wait until your cross-town commute has ended, or you’ve finished your lunch, or you’ve gotten your morning cup of Joe.
  5. CLOSE THE DOOR. If you’ve got an office door, use it. If you’ve got a bedroom door, use that too. Open doors can lead to numerous interruptions that are lethal to your productivity and concentration. And an open bedroom door is a tacit invitation for kids and pets to disturb what would be an otherwise sound night’s sleep.
  6. TAKE ON YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGES FIRST. Chances are there’s a big project, relationship, or personal “to-do” that’s taking up an inordinate amount of your mental, physical, and emotional bandwidth. It could be a relationship that’s gone (or going) bad, a much-delayed project, or even a health concern that you just seem to keep putting off for whatever reason. Imagine what life would be like if that particular item were resolved. Pretty nice, huh? Now take care of it.
  7. TALK ABOUT IT. If something’s bothering you to the point of distraction, talk about it with your spouse, significant other, friend, family member, colleague, or mentor. Sometimes just getting something out into the open can lift a heavy burden and help us focus.
  8. CHECK EMAIL FEWER TIMES A DAY. Checking email every time you get a new message notification can be a huge distraction. If you’re always checking, reading, and replying to email, how can you expect to get anything else done—especially with the amount of SPAM and unwanted email that sneaks by even the stingiest of email filters? Unless I’m expecting an important email, I try to check my inbox only 2 or 3 times a day: morning, noon, and late-day.
  9. CLEAN YOUR SPACE. Whether you have an office at home, at an employer, or you do most of your work out of a laptop bag or briefcase, chances are you could do with a little de-cluttering to help lower visible distractions and discord. Even small improvements can have a big impact on focus and productivity.
  10. MAKE A TO-DO LIST EVERY DAY (and you can even check it twice if you like). List making keeps us focused with our eyes on the prize, which, presumably, is to cross each item off our list! Try it. Writing something down allows us to stop trying to remember it, which can be a huge brain drain. Then, when you find yourself completing one task, you just need to take a peek and—voila—there’s the next thing you need to get done, no muss, no fuss.


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