Distracted By All Your Holiday To-Dos? Try My Favorite Technique to Get the Important Stuff Done

Merry Almost Christmas!

It’s the Thursday before Christmas! If you’re like me, your brain is probably full of stocking stuffer to-dos and Christmas menu recipes and last minute shopping items. At the same time, you probably still need to be productive – whether you are taking/administering finals, have a full-time job, stay home with kids, or a combination of any of those – when all you want to do is wrap those last gifts, bake those last minute tasty treats, watch yet another video of how to make a beautiful Beef Wellington for your Christmas dinner, or go shopping for a new holiday outfit. Basically, anything but focus at work. Unfortunately for us, we still need to be productive. So what are we to do?!

Write All The Things And Then Prioritize

I really really really wish that I had some great, time-tested advice that works every time to stay focused. Instead, I have one main technique that I use and several backups.

The main thing I do to help me stay focused at work is to prioritize what MUST get done.

First, make a to-do list. If you need to, separate them into work to-dos and home to-dos. Get it all out on paper (but don’t freak out if it gets long…that’s okay). This first step is just about identifying everything that’s up in your head (well, everything related to what needs to be accomplished).

Second, prioritize what needs to get done. If you’re at work, decide what absolutely MUST get done first, then second, then third. Or, decide what absolutely MUST get done today/this week/this month. Is it getting that report out? Is it studying for your last final? Is it turning in grades? Is it analyzing that design and providing feedback? Is it responding to your client or your sub? For home, decide what is your top priority. Maybe it’s doing laundry so you have clean underwear tomorrow, or it’s finding a recipe for an easy Christmas dessert or finding a recipe for a showstopping main meal. Your priorities could change from one day to the next. Today, you might have to go to the end-of-year HOA meeting and tomorrow you might have a fun activity planned with a friend, while knowing that this weekend you need to go grocery shopping for your Christmas dinner. In between you also know you need to walk the dog, feed the chickens, and oh yeah, feed yourself.

Third, start with the highest priority thing on your list. Wherever you are, start with that list. If you’re at work, start with that list because that’s what you’re getting paid to do. If you’re at home, start with that list.

my to-do list this week
Way Pup helped with cleaning up the yard after some branches fell down (which got marked off on my to-do list above)

That’s the main thing I do! It sounds simple because…it is. You don’t need a complex system to get stuff done. You just need a system. If you worry that you’re wasting time by writing everything down, you’re probably wasting even more time by not focusing. If you take 10 minutes to write everything out and another 5 to prioritize, that’s better than spending 30 minutes spinning your wheels. Just sayin’.

Also just sayin’, go ahead and add stuff to your to-do list so you can cross it off.


If this doesn’t work, there are other things you can try, such as:

  • Clean. This isn’t glamorous, but picking up your space (especially if you have lots of paper and dirty dishes lying around) can really help you. Chances are, you probably already know this technique and use it, but a reminder is always good. I’d say that over half the women I talk to clean when they have other important stuff to do. So, if you need to clean, then pick up your space and then get right to work.
  • Go for a 10-15 minute walk. This might help some people, but for me it’s just more time to think about what I need to to. I take walks to get fresh air, not to refocus.
  • Use a timer. I’ve tried timers with limited success, but they really do work for some people. The most common timer method is the Pomodoro principle – work for 20 minutes, take a break for 5, work for 20 minutes, break for 5, repeat until you’re done. Another way is how someone at work uses a time – he has a timer set every 30 minutes to remind him to stand up and stretch, stop goofing off, or change tasks, which works really well for him.
  • Change location. If you usually work in one spot, changing locations can sometimes be a huge difference. In college, I spent the semesters studying in my dorm room, but then would always move to a favorite coffee shop to study for finals. When I was tied to my desk, I would try to change which part of my desk where I worked (it’s an L-shaped desk). Now, my office has a lounge where we can take our laptops if we want to get out of our offices. So, if it’s an option for you, try changing it up.

Whether or not you celebrate Christmas, we all have times when we need to focus at work but it’s the last thing we want to do. Hopefully the advice above will help you out and help you focus when you least want to, year round.

And finally, Merry Christmas! Whether or not you celebrate, I wish you a joyful holiday season and best wishes for the last few days of 2018.

Identifying What We Don’t Know How To Do Versus What We Don’t Like To Do

What’s the difference between avoiding stuff we don’t know how to do and avoiding what we don’t like to do? In most cases, there’s a very thin, fuzzy line between the two and sometimes they’re the exact same thing. Growing up, we tend to do things that come easily (or more easily) to us and avoid things that are hard. Or, we focus on what our parents teach us. As adults, those tendencies have become more ingrained and we focus on the easy(er) stuff. In my experience, we don’t like to do things that are hard for us because it can be hard to admit when you don’t know something. In adulthood, most of us don’t like to consider ourselves beginners. It can be hard for us our egos to admit when we don’t know something. If we don’t know how to do something, then we probably convince ourselves that we don’t like it. Continue reading

It’s the Little Things…Little Things To Make Small Differences in Daily Life

There are some little things that are little enough that they don’t quite merit their own post, yet could be immensely helpful to some of you out there. Each of the 5 things below have helped me in big and little ways, and I want to pay it forward. Hopefully, at least one of them can help you too! Continue reading

It’s the Little Things…Noticing Unwritten Rules at Work (or, Set Up Your Office for Success)

Each office has its own unwritten rules of conduct. There are the rules that everybody knows but doesn’t say, such as how long you can acceptably chat with coworkers or how casual you can be on casual Friday, and then there are the rules that everybody might not realize they know but they still follow. One of these unwritten rules in my office is how the computer screens are set up and how clean the desk is. It might seem like a little thing, but I can guarantee that the bosses and supervisors subconsciously take note. Continue reading

Adventures in…Getting Through the Afternoon Slump During a Meeting

If you attend meetings at work, chances are you’ve had trouble staying awake in at least one of those meetings. It’s not ideal, but I don’t know a single professional who hasn’t struggled with this at some point in their career. The good news is that I’ve noticed that it gets easier the more you progress in your career. Regardless, you may be invited to meetings relatively in your career and, due to a bad combination of events, you struggle to stay awake. Most of the time, the culprits are a big lunch, bad sleep the night(s) before, a dark room, a warm room, a boring speaker, tangents that don’t involve you. Picture it…you’ve just had lunch and have to attend a meeting. You’re full, maybe the room is dark, maybe you didn’t get enough sleep the night before, and you don’t have a major role. You aren’t the organizer or a main speaker, and it becomes hard to pay attention. Those early and mid-afternoon meetings can be so hard because you’re so tired.

I’ve talked before about how everything is a skill and this is no different. It is definitely a skill to stay awake during the afternoon slump. There are a variety of little ways I’ve tried getting through the afternoon slump during a meeting. Some of them have defintely worked better than others and none of them work every time. That’s why I keep trying new ways and combining them to see what works. Continue reading