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by: Christine Swartzendruber, Chief Technology Officer

I'm a programmer. I create software, mostly for non-profit organizations. The software I create is used to solve problems and to store and analyze data. I'm not just a programmer though. I'm the Chief Technology Officer, a role that requires me to do much more than write code. This is an area where I needed help solving my own problem. How to stay focused and get stuff done. I did some research on productivity and found a few ideas that helped me. Here they are.

  1. Block out time on your calendar for tasks you need to complete. Treat an important task like a meeting you just can't miss. Schedule the task during the period of the day when you have the most energy and the fewest distractions. Don't dismiss the task, just get it done.

  2. Make A To Do List. It doesn't matter how you list the things you need to accomplish, just get those things out of your head. If you're a programmer, you might create a simple app that helps you with this. When we needed to keep track of our work-flow we wrote an app, called PReMA that has evolved into a project and task management system. It still has simple, checklists included, because you can never have too many lists.

       
  3. Stop checking your email. My biggest issue, was becoming a slave to mine. I always left Outlook open, with a noise to alert me when something came in. Every time a new message came in I would lose my focus. I knew something had to change, my productivity was way down. I shut down Outlook and reopened it every two to three hours, whenever I could afford to take a break.

  4. When you do check your email, don't leave it in your inbox. "Inbox Zero" is the practice of keeping items out of your email's inbox, not to revisit later, but to respond, delete, delegate or defer the message right away. Decide what to do with every message then go back to the things you need to complete.

  5. Don't multi-task. This flies in the face of what many of us have listed on our resumes, but in practice it doesn't always pay off. Do your best to focus your energy on one task at a time. If you're trying to do more than then that, you run the risk of making mistakes. Those mistakes can cost you valuable time. It is better to do one thing and do it well.

       
  6. Don't try to do everything yourself. There are many things that have to be done throughout the day, and not all of them are what you are best suited to do. Those tasks can be assigned to others. If you don't have a team to delegate tasks to, consider using a Virtual Assistant. It is important that you are free to accomplish what you most need to do.
       
       
  7. Deadlines are strong motivators. Setting mini-deadlines can really help you to stay on task. The easiest way to do this is to set a kitchen timer or an alarm on your phone. Work in blocks of 30 minutes or so. Do nothing but work on one task. When the time is up take a five minute break. Rinse and repeat for each task you have to do.

These are the things that have helped me the most. I hope they help you too. Go, get started. You have a lot to do today.