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In today’s world of constant distractions—from emails and texts to the chaos of open-concept offices—staying on task can sometimes feel like a Herculean effort. These simple, smart tricks can keep you focused:

Time yourself. Make a deal with yourself to allocate certain timeframes to certain projects, and nothing else. Saying “I’m going to focus on this proposal for the next hour” can actually help you do just that. Afterward, you can reward yourself with a quick break.

Don’t panic. Freaking out about a deadline or the number of tasks you have to do is counter-productive. Stressing out actually makes you less likely to stay on task, so take a deep breath, remind yourself that you’re going to steadily work through all your projects and get down to business.

Take a break only when you need it. It’s been proven that whenever you switch between tasks, you use up both time and mental energy getting focused again. So, even though you may want to check your email for just five minutes while you’re writing that paper, it’s best to wait until you’re finished, or at a natural time for a break.

Get some exercise. Taking a break to walk around the block, feel the sun on your face or do some stretches gets your circulation flowing and makes you more productive when it’s time to return to the task at hand.

Make your workspace work for you. If possible, remove files or materials from projects you aren’t working on. Make sure your workspace is well-lit, not too warm or too cold and has a comfortable chair. If you’re forced to work in a busy environment, try wearing noise cancelling headphones. Unless you need it for the task at hand, keep your phone where it won’t be distracting.

Keeping on task might be harder than ever, but with a little planning and some focus guidelines, you can manage your time and your attention and get that to-do list down to zero.

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