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It's high season for holiday parties, long personal to-do lists and plenty of shopping. Throw in piles of snow that start falling (and require shoveling) around parts of the country and work seemingly gets lowered on the list of life priorities. While the workload may slow a little, there are still looming deadlines and year-end reports that must be finished. Staying focused is a challenge. Here's how to tune out distraction and tackle that to-do list.
Take a Break
Yup, experts advise that if you want to get more work done, take regular breaks throughout the day. Your brain can't remain deeply engaged for extended periods, so the magic formula is to take short breaks every 75 to 90 minutes. Get up, take a walk, or talk to a friend or co-worker, but not about work. The key is to disengage your brain from work-related thoughts. Those who take regular breaks are more focused and creative overall and report less work-related fatigue.
Schedule and Take Time Off
Similar to taking regular breaks, allow yourself time to recharge. It's better to plan ahead and schedule time off when you need it. Whether your in-laws are coming for the week, you need to spend a few hours at the mall, or you want to spend a day with friends and family, do it, but completely disconnect while you do. This allows your brain to better separate work and personal tasks and will put your mind at ease when you are at work, knowing that time off is just around the corner.
Go back to basics and make a list as soon as you start your workday, prioritizing all the tasks you know need to get done by the end of the day, end of week and end of month. Then tackle those tasks that require the most focus or creativity, or you just dread the most, earliest in the day. That's when your brain is fresh, you're better able to concentrate, and you aren't fighting fatigue.
Trying to get a project finished that requires deep concentration? Stop trying to multitask. Turn off email and phone notifications for 30-60 minutes and immerse yourself in that one task only. A top MIT neuroscientist advises that multitasking "ruins productivity, causes mistakes, and impedes creative thought."
Get to the Gym
Run, take a long walk, crush it at spin class, or whatever you do, get your heart rate pumping to increase endorphins. With fewer hours of sunlight and a diet that likely includes more junk food during the holiday season, your brain and body will benefit from the workout boost. It's highly accepted that 30 minutes of exercise a day will help to boost concentration, increase energy and provide an overall boost to your mood. It will also help counteract all those cookies in the office kitchen!
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Kristin Amico is a career and business writer who spent more than a decade managing creative teams at digital agencies. She has written for The Muse, The Independent and USA Today.