One way to stay focused when working is to use the Pomodoro technique. It involves concentrating on a single task for 25 minutes at a time and then taking a 5 minute break. After four Pomodoros, you get a 15 minute break. During those 25 minutes, you only work on what is in front of you. No surfing the web, no checking e-mail, no nothing. In fact, make sure notifications are out of sight. If any thoughts pop into your head about errands to run or people to call, write them down on a sheet of paper and forget them. You can organize that later. Instead of relying on a clock or regular timer, you can use the Tomato Timer online or download Tomighty, among other options. I’ve had really good results with this technique. Instead of being scattered and going off in all directions, once the timer is on, I’m focused. No distractions. I get a lot more done this way and it’s of better quality. I don’t always do 4 Pomodoros in a row and don’t always work on the same task from one Pomodoro to the next, but it still works.
When you want to be productive, being organized is also important. Besides my daily to-do list, I use three main apps: Evernote, Wunderlist and Pocket. Wunderlist is great for all types of lists: your grocery list, lists of bills to pay with reminders, lists of projects and their next steps, lists of things you might want to get to someday, etc. Evernote is for all the interesting things I find on the Web or information I want to remember. Microsoft One Note also does a good job with that. Finally, Pocket is great when you come across an article you would like to read, but don’t have time for in the moment. Just save it in Pocket and get to it later, maybe on your phone while waiting in line. All of these apps, except for OneNote, sync across all your devices. If you like sticky notes, you might also want to check out Google Keep.
Of course, there are so many productivity apps out there that it’s a little overwhelming. I’m still searching for the holy grail of apps that will be the perfect blend of visual and textual. One thing I did discover that is pretty intriguing is Mind Mapping. It’s basically a visual representation of your ideas. Instead of writing out the steps of a project in a linear way, you put down the project name or main idea in the middle of a page and then branch out the different steps and substeps. It’s much easier seeing the whole project at a glance than if it were just a list on a page. You can then make a list of the different steps and assign them, if applicable. You can draw your mind map free-hand on a sheet of paper, but there are also apps for a cleaner look. I’ve been trying out XMind, which offers a free version.