How to stay focused through the holiday haze
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How to stay focused through the holiday haze

New and Updates
December 21, 2016

A new year is on its way. For many of us, this also means deadlines and general end-of-the-year crunch time. But with the holiday season afoot, it can be near impossible to focus on finishing up your work. Here at Shortcut, we feel your pain; so we thought we’d share a few simple steps to squeeze the most focus possible from these last few days.

Step one: Minimize interruptions

Interruptions, whether it’s a vibrating phone or a ping on Slack, jerk us out of flow state and keep us from being at our most productive. So the first thing we’re going to do is get rid of as many distractions as possible:

  • Set your phone to “do not disturb”

How to turn on Do Not Disturb in Slack

  • Do the same for Slack (or mute the busiest channels)
  • Use a tool like StayFocusd or Cold Turkey (or Go F-cking Work, if you want a cheekier alternative) to block your most distracting sites during work hours, whether that’s Hacker News or Facebook

Of course, you will want to give people a heads up that you’re going dark — especially if they are used to you being “always on” and more responsive.

The best way to approach this is to frame it as a move you’re making for your productivity (“I’m doing this because I want to be able to meet or exceed our deadlines this week”) and give people an option for how to get in touch with you in an emergency. For example, you can tell them to send a notification through the DND mode on Slack, or allow for certain phone numbers to be sent through on your phone.

Step two: Maximize focus & productivity

Now that all the usual distractions are out of your way, let’s make it even easier to focus:

  • Try a Pomodoro timer or a similar technique. The idea behind Pomodoro is simple: you work for 25 minutes, then take a five minute break. You can also do 45 minutes of work and then a 15 minute break, or whatever set of times works best for you. Tomato Timer is a free in-browser timer that you can customize.
  • Sort and batch your tasks. We often put all of our tasks together on the same to-do list — but your most important and/or “flow-state” work isn’t the same as answering emails or doing administrative work. Take a few minutes to look at your to-do list for the rest of the week and put all of your high-focus tasks on a different list than the administrative or low-focus tasks. Aim to knock out the high-focus work first thing every morning, before you get distracted.
  • Batch meetings and block out times in your calendar for uninterrupted work . If you’re normally most productive from 9AM-12PM and you have to have three meetings in a day, book them all for after your lunch break and schedule them back-to-back (but also try to allow a padding of at least 10–15 minutes to prevent overlap).

Setting and maintaining boundaries around the holidays

You’ve managed to get all your work done before it’s family time! Now how do you resist the temptation to check your phone every ten minutes to make sure you aren’t missing anything?

  • Remove distractions. Set your chat channels to “away” or “do not disturb.” Consider putting your phone to airplane mode or just temporarily deleting your work apps. You can re-download them after the holidays.
  • Set a container for “work time.” If you absolutely cannot resist the siren song of your computer, make sure you have very specific boundaries. Allow yourself to check your work email for 5–10 minutes in the morning and 5–10 minutes in the evening. Set a timer and/or have someone keep you accountable. This isn’t enough time to actually do anything, which is the point — it’s just enough time to take a look and reassure yourself that nothing is “on fire.”
  • Remember: very few things are as urgent as we think we are, and people are usually more understanding. A lot of the pressure to check in is self-imposed — do you really think your manager will be furious because you weren’t up at 8 AM checking status updates on Christmas Eve? Probably not.

Finally, if your team is on the lookout for a new project management tool to help keep everyone on track in the new year, check out Shortcut!

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