How To Stay Focused

How To Stay Focused


The irony of this post? It took me a record-number of attempts to sit down and write it before I finally got it done.

Thank goodness for my routines (outlined below), the Hamilton soundtrack, and a matching hat.

Getting in the ‘zone’

  • Schedule smartly. I schedule writing or focused project work for the mornings, and meetings/calls/emails for the afternoons. I follow a very specific morning routine that helps me phase into work mode. No matter how much I’ve tried (or how much caffeine I consume), I just can’t get focused my mentally intense work come afternoon. Which is okay, because my inboxes have most definitely filled up and need some serious
  • Develop a routine. Having a set of tasks that signals my brain that it’s time to work has been incredibly helpful (I wasn’t kidding when I said I’d be talking about routines). I’ll go into greater detail on it later, but it basically involves a 5 minute meditation to a song on repeat, writing out my to-do list for the day, and making a cup of tea. My first task is a warm-up, of sorts – writing the outlines of next week’s posts, doing a braindump in Workflowy, researching new charities to pitch Bridge2Act to.
  • Block distractions. I have zero self-discipline when it comes to the lure of social media and e-mails (also, tacos). I pause all my e-mail inboxes and start a Forest session to track my time and prevent me from visiting any of usual web haunts. Sometimes I’ll even start a StrictWorkflow session to block access to my rabbit hole websites. I have yet to find a solution to my taco binges – but welcome any and all suggestions.

Staying in the ‘zone’

  • One task, one time. My days of multitasking are long gone – unless it involves watching old episodes of Grey’s Anatomy while folding clothes. When it comes to work, I can only do one thing at a time, and preferably focus on it all day. I reserve Mondays for strategic planning and writing (blog posts, upcoming guides, newsletters, and the link) and Fridays for administrative work (accounting, organizing, and all that boring stuff). The mornings of Tuesdays-Thursdays are set aside for focused project work, and I take meetings and calls during those afternoons. I check my e-mail three times a day – first thing after my morning routine (and mainly to delete the unnecessary stuff), after my morning work block, and again in the evening. The only exception is when I’m cold-e-mailing charities and publishers about Bridge2Act, and I usually set aside a morning block Tuesdays-Thursdays to do that every week.
  • Race against the clock. I swear by the Pomodoro technique (25 minutes of focused work, 5 minute break). Setting a goal of how many pomodoros a task will take (and trying to match/beat that projection) has been instrumental for me. I use Forest’s Chrome plugin and app as my timer and a way to block the distracting websites I may linger too…
  • To-do lists, the smart way. My goal is to accomplish 3 key tasks every single day. The days I do less, I feel a pang of laziness. The days I attempt to do more, the quality of work suffers. Creating my to-d0 list in the morning doesn’t work for me either. If I want to start the day on the right foot, writing the to-do list has to be a part of my evening routine the day before. The list is task-specific – not e-mails, meetings, or anything else. I’ll log all my activities in my ‘got done’ page I scribble down everyday, and review those items at the end of the week to see where I spent my time, what I did, and what I can do to improve the next week.

I’ll be detailing my routines around starting and ending my workday, as well as my ‘getting back on track’ one, in a future post. In the meantime, here are my FAVORITE products (most I use every single day) to help me get things done and stay focused.



  • Workflowy – I use this to dump all my random thoughts and ideas, and will edit/rearrange them into the correct high-level projects.
  • Todoist for HOTG tasks, Flow for B2A tasks – once I’ve outlined a project within Workflowy, I create a project, the related tasks, and the deadlines in one of my project management tools.
  • ForestStrictWorkflowPomoDone – apps that keep me from wandering the interwebs and to track my pomodoros.
  • Inbox Pause – to lock me out of my inbox. I pause my inboxes during my focused work stretches, and sometimes at the end of the day when I want to give my family my undivided attention (in the latter case, I’ll have an e-mail signature up alerting people to text me if it’s an emergency).


  • Productivity Planner – I follow this planner’s method of organizing my weeks and days, and track every day on a fresh document (by backing the Kickstarter, I received the full PDF which I use in the interim). If you’re looking for a new tool to keep you organized, I can’t recommend this one more highly.
  • GSD Sticky Notes – I write my top three things to do on this little sticky and stick it to the corner of my computer. It’s a small step that helps me stay focused on what needs to get done that day.
  • Today and To-Do – I use this planner to track my time when I feel like I’m not being as productive as I want. I will diligently track time for a week and analyze where I’m spending the most time, what time is not being effectively used, etc. While I don’t use this planner every day, it’s a great tool for bringing me back on track.
  • Fisher Bullet Space Pen – this pen writes beautifully and feels really nice in your hand. Having a nice writing tool can go a long way in making you want to write out your to-do list, and makes crossing items off SO satisfying.
  • Beats headphones – I need massive headphones and a sick playlist (see below) to keep me focused on work. These gold Beats do the trick perfectly, blocking out all the sound while keeping me free from wires.
  • A.HAM cap – The afternoon sun is too strong from my desk in the bedroom. This hat blocks the sun successfully while giving a nod to my favorite founding father. Bonus – it never ruins my blowout.

PLAYLISTS (all via Spotify)

  • Vitamin String Quartet – string renditions of your favorite contemporary songs.
  • ESM | Electronic Study Music – house music that won’t give you a headache.
  • Movie Score Goodness – my favorite film scores of all time. I’ll usually pick a single score and listen to it on repeat for the duration of the day.
  • Grey’s Anatomy – the show that rewrote the game in music direction. I love basically every song ever featured on this show, and this playlist puts me in a peppy, get shit done kind of mood. #christinayangismyspiritanimal

image via

  • Tammy

    Yes! I love all of these already. I recently got into the Bullet Journal and I’m loving how basic it is! The daily ‘brain dumps’ have been instrumental to me.

    • hithaonthego

      Bullet Journaling is amazing! I was going strong last fall and lost my notebook, which was shattering. I think you’ll love the Productivity Planner as a complement to it.

      • Tammy

        I’ve read about the Productivity Planner. I’ve incorporated the PP into my day by choosing my top 3 focus for the day. I def have to look into Forest! Thanks for sharing!

  • Jessie Buckmaster

    Bookmarked! So many helpful tips! Right now I’m in multi-task mode. Being on a jobsite means a million people popping into your office, needing your attention for the multiple unexpected “fire drills” every day, emails expecting immediate response, plus normal deadlines for things…it’s frantic. But if/when I transition to my new position (fingers crossed) I’ll be creating not only my own brand new position, but department also. And I will need some help getting organized to tackle things!

    • hithaonthego

      Thank you, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for you on the new gig! Your work situation sounds like my old one in pharma – constantly working according to someone else’s deadline, and not by my own systems. Even allocating an hour a day, in a place where no one will bother you, may help. Good luck and sending good new job vibes your way!

  • Sean

    Yes! Contributing a few essential tools of my own:

    – Tab Suspender: suspends idle tabs in your browser to keep your computer running efficiently
    – Pocket: stowing articles into the cloud to read later on any device
    – Evernote Clearly: reformats web pages in order to read in a consistent, uncluttered, custom view sans ads
    – Feedly: works like an RSS feed to gather new posts from your favorite sites (HOTG included!)
    – 1Password to securely store all your passwords/logins/ID numbers. Since I did this I feel like a huge burden has been lifted off my shoulders and I never have to worry about forgetting bank account IDs, passwords, or other important info you have to remember but only need once in a while.
    – Coffitivity + for ultimate ambiance. Only been testing for 10 minutes, but so far it pairs well with ESM on Spotify

    BONUS: My favorite, low effort, high-impact tip: removing text labels on bookmarks. Our brains are constantly processing text everywhere we look and cutting back on as much text in your view as possible helps add what feels like 1-5% of my focus on the task at hand. (It’s also why I remove all the front-facing labels from the products in my bathroom/kitchen).

    Hope this is helpful to someone out there!

    • hithaonthego

      These are awesome! I’m a huge Feedly and Cofftivity fan, but am adding all of those tools to my #GSD arsenal.

      On Pocket – better than Instapaper? Worth making the switch?

      • Sean

        I’ve never tried Instapaper but I have friends who use it and it looks great too.

        I will say Pocket recently launched a social component so you can make recommendations that push out to your followers, as well as read what people you follow are reading, which is fun! But other than that, you’re probably fine with Instapaper.

        Last tip! Dark Skin for YouTube on Chrome. Not exactly “productivity” but it darkens the background of YouTube in your browser to save your eyes. Sounds insignificant but it actually helps a lot – I have a hard time looking at regular YouTube on other people’s desktops now.

        • hithaonthego

          Oh this is brilliant! Thank you for sharing!

    • Tammy

      Holy crap! this is awesome. saving this :)

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