Attention seekers: take note

With open-plan offices full of nattering colleagues and an ever-increasing array of bleeping machines vying for your attention, the office is more loaded with distractions than ever before. The steady drip feed of emails into inboxes encourages us to do everything at once, but everything at once all too frequently amounts to nothing at all.

People often wear their long hours as a badge of honour, equating marathon sessions in the office with commitment to their work. But simply clocking up office time doesn’t amount to productivity. It’s no use spending 13 hours at your desk if seven of them are spent checking your emails and reading about football transfer rumours on the internet.

Here we present the best way of getting the most out of your day... and it’s not just good for productivity – you could also end up with some precious extra minutes in bed as well.

Impose a time limit
Starting a task with a blank page and a wide expanse of empty hours in front of you is one of the worst things you can do if you’re prone to wasting time. The reasoning goes: if I’ve got the whole day to do it, then I can afford to watch this seven-minute video on YouTube, or read this 4,000-word feature on Peruvian gender politics that I’d never read if I didn’t have work to avoid. When it comes to putting things off, wasted minutes vanish into wasted hours and before you know it the entire day has gone. To avoid this, break your main task into smaller ones, and give yourself hourly deadlines to complete each bit.

To do list...
There’s nothing more paralysing than not having a clear idea of what you have to do. If your sense of what you have to do exists in your mind as a massive, vaguely confusing mass, you’re much more likely to react by putting things off. Write your tasks out clearly (if you’re really keen you can number each one according to importance), and they won’t appear so overwhelming. Plus you get the satisfaction of ticking them off one by one.

If you’re a perfectionist, let it go...
Counterintuitive, perhaps, but chronic procrastination often goes hand in hand with perfectionism. If you’re obsessed with getting it right, then you are more likely to wait till the last minute when you have an excuse for getting it wrong. Perfectionism also exacerbates the fear of just diving into a piece of work. If you feel like you cannot live up to your own exacting standards then you’ll be reluctant to put pen to paper and start. Get a rough first draft out of the way early – then you’ll have plenty of time for perfecting afterwards.

Get offline
The novelist Jonathan Franzen famously stated that no great fiction can be written on a computer with an active internet connection. As he struggled to finish The Corrections he ripped the ethernet cable from the wall of his office. These days there’s plenty of software that allows you to banish the intrusions of the web without having to vandalise your own office. Leechblock is a popular internet blocker that disables access to designated sites. If you still don’t trust yourself, get Freedom – it blocks everything.

The Pomodoro technique is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 80s. It’s named after the tomato shaped kitchen timer that Cirillo first used to illustrate his method. There are five basic steps: deciding on your task, setting the timer, working until the timer rings, having a short break (3-5 minutes) and having a longer break (15-30 minutes) every four pomodori (“pomodori” has come to refer to each distinct interval of time). It’s not for everyone, but plenty of people swear by it. Try it if you’ve got a big piece of writing to do and can afford to shut yourself away. A single phone-call will ruin the flow.