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Previously on Productivity Now!

Welcome to the second installment of our three-part series on improving productivity at school or work. Without further ado...

Week Two: Concentration 

Get your mind back on track when it wanders or a lack of focus plagues your day.

Cut out distractions. First things first: tidy up your desk, turn off engrossing music, and sign out of Facebook. (One study found that using Facebook at work led to a 1.5% loss in overall company productivity.) When you really need to buckle down, set a "no communication" period, where you turn your phone on silent, log out of email, and close your door for a set amount of time.

Focus on one thing at a time. Research has shown that multitasking isn’t actually very effective. What's worse, it can actually harm your ability to concentrate: according to a 2009 study, multitaskers are more prone to distraction. Let your mind focus all its energy on one task at a time.

Capitalize on peak times. Determine what parts of the day you focus and function best, and plan to work on your most difficult tasks or assignments at these times. Work on more basic or routine tasks that don't require as much concentration at the times you're most prone to distraction or fatigue, like early morning or right after lunch.

Use the power of imagination. Think back to a circumstance that required razor-sharp focus, like a sporting event or a timed test, and channel that energy. For extra credit, imagine that you're inside a safe plastic bubble (with a vent to let in oxygen, of course. An egg works too, if Lady Gaga is more your style than Bubble Boy). As outside distractions and thoughts come your way, visualize them bouncing off the bubble and unable to get inside. It sounds wacky, but it has worked for me!

Set aside a think/worry time to address distracting thoughts or concerns. When your mind won't go quiet, remind yourself of this scheduled time. If thoughts persist, write them down to get them out of your head and onto paper, and then put them aside for later.

Let me know if the bubble technique works for you, or what else you do to stay focused.

Photo taken from this photostream and used with permission of a Creative Commons license.