How To Stay Focused: 7 Ways To Keep On Task

A Monk Staying FocusedDo you sometimes feel as though your current task is the very last thing you actually want to be doing?

Do you put off necessary tasks for something that’s less important, but more interesting or amusing?

If you answered yes to either of those questions, know that you’re not alone. Procrastination and loss of focus is something that all freelancers must deal with at one time or another.

When you work for an employer you may have a supervisor checking in on your progress at regular intervals. If you get behind on your work, then he or she is going to let you know about it.

However, as a freelancer staying focused is solely up to you. It is easy to get distracted to the point where you can’t meet your deadlines. Yet, as a freelancer, you can’t allow this to happen or your business could fail.

To help you stay on focused, and keep your mind from wandering, here are a few simple tricks that you may not have thought of:

1. Break big projects into smaller parts.

A huge project that is due in a month and will take over half your time may seem overwhelming. You may naturally put off starting such a daunting task. However, if you can set up smaller milestones (mini-deadlines within the client’s deadline) for yourself, then you may find yourself less overwhelmed by the huge project.

2. Schedule breaks.

Taking time off from work so that you can get more done may seem to be counter-intuitive. However, one of the reasons that you may find it hard to stay focused on the task at hand is because you haven’t scheduled enough breaks for yourself. If you’re stuck on a project, it’s often beneficial to take a short break and tackle the project again with a new perspective after you are refreshed.

3. Pay attention to your health.

Freelancers don’t get paid sick days, so there’s a big temptation to skip doctor’s appointments and medical checkups. Don’t do it! It’s much easier (and less disruptive to your work) to make the time to see the doctor now and catch any health problems that might be developing early than it is to let a medical condition go untreated until you are seriously ill.

If you’re really pushing yourself hard, check out the health blueprint we published a few weeks ago.

4. Prioritize daily tasks.

Schedule a set block of time, perhaps twice a day, for routine tasks such as checking e-mail or social networking. Limit these tasks to your scheduled time and don’t exceed your time. (Without scheduling these necessary, but routine, tasks it’s easy to wind up checking your e-mail or logging into your social networking site every fifteen minutes or half an hour.)

5. Declutter your environment.

Take a good look around your desk. Is your work environment distraction-free? Or, is it cluttered with personal bills, old project notes, miscellaneous non-work tasks, and other items unrelated to your current project? If, like me, you find that your workspace becomes a distraction then a periodic decluttering may be a necessary part of staying on task.

6. Minimize interruptions.

I know of some freelancers who will only take telephone calls during certain hours of the day. I think it’s a good idea (after all, that’s what voice mail is for and you can always return a call). Minimizing interruptions helps you to get more done. Let your family know that you can’t be disturbed while you are working. If the doorbell rings and you aren’t expecting anyone, let it go.

7. Don’t give up when you “blow it.”

Like a dieter that goes off their diet after eating a binge item, after giving in to a distraction some freelancers figure that they’ve already wasted the day. It’s not true. After a distraction get back to work as soon as possible, even if there’s only a little time left in your day. Getting something accomplished, even something small, will help set you up for success later.

Are you a freelancer now? Do you own your own business? Have you struggled with lack of focus?

Why not share your ideas on how to stay focused here, in the comments?


  1. says

    I also learned recently that setting smaller sub-deadlines for yourself (or breaking up a huge task into little ones, as you have put it here) Also boosts creativity by stimulating healthy anxiety and adrenaline during the creative process.

    Great post thanks.

  2. says

    Very nice post, Laura. Indeed, we need to “engineer” our day so that we “stay focused” and on-track. I find myself with the greatest amount of mental focus in the early morning, so I try to organize my plans for the day in the early morning, and then spend the rest of the day “executing” that plan. Great post, many thanks for sharing.

    Keith Johnson

  3. says

    Great suggestions all! Keep them coming.

    Lorie – I really liked your post.

    Brandon – I do think Twitter has its place, but I’m not one who can work effectively and leave it on. I suggest scheduling it and limiting it.

  4. says

    Aaah so true. Email and twitter are big distractions.

    Something that works for me is setting myself a small reward when I reach a major goal (not the teeny tiny goals). So you pat yourself for working hard.

    Great article. :)

  5. says

    Hi hi. Oooh I was thinking chocolates as a reward … Something my husband and I like to do is to go out on Saturday down a road or street we have not visited. Or visit a new cafe just for coffee. Since we’re so busy, we never have time to do that most weekends and so it works nicely as a reward once in a while. Whether it turns out to be fabulous or not, it’s strangely relaxing to explore.


  1. [...] How to Stay Focused: 7 Ways To Keep On Task-Freelance Folder For those that work without a supervisor standing over them, staying focused and productive is particularly vital. Though this article is directed mainly at freelance workers, the author gives advice that is applicable to everyone. [...]

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