Not long ago, a client emailed me begging for advice on time management. “I’m too easily sidetracked by all my to-do lists, non-work activities, and sunny weather,” she wrote. “Help!”

I’ve been hearing this lament a lot lately. So many things clamor for our attention, both at our jobs and in our lives. How can it be that we’re so busy, yet nothing important is getting done?

The answer to this question comes in two parts: How do we get so distracted and, perhaps more importantly, what can we do about it?

Here are the most common reasons my clients have trouble focusing on their priorities.

External distractions. Phone, email, kids, dogs. Employees standing at your door. You get the idea. Anything can be a distraction if you don’t have a strong grip on the task at hand.

Lack of clarity. You may think this project is a priority, you may say it’s a priority, but your actions aren’t aligned with that intention. Are you certain what your priorities are?

Defeatist self-talk. Listen to what you’re telling yourself about the project: it’s too big, it’s too hard, it will take forever! Is it even worth it?

Procrastination. That little voice is telling you to go enjoy the beautiful summer day, respond to that email, grab a cup of coffee. Anything to put off the task at hand.

Lack of discipline. Sometimes you do the work, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you start the day knowing what’s important, other days you feel scattered. Some mornings you have a to-do list, other times it doesn’t happen. As Tony Robbins said, “It’s not what we do once in a while that shapes our lives. It’s what we do consistently.”

Getting lost on the internet. “I just wanted to read one article, and before I knew it, an hour had passed.” We all know how one article can lead to the next, and then to the next. The internet is endless.

Multitasking. The phone rings when you’re in the middle of a project. It’s Carl, whom you’ve been trying to reach all week. You pull out Carl’s folder and cover up your project. Then your email pings and you see Rachel has scheduled a meeting that requires you to reach out to two vendors before the end of the day. Then an email from your wife pops up. Now, where were you again?

If any of these scenarios sounds familiar, don’t lose heart. The following solutions have helped my clients (and me!) get back on track when we lose our focus.

1) Tackle the most important items on your to-do list early in the morning, while you still have the energy. We have only so much willpower allotted to us each day, according to The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. Once you use up your willpower, it’s hard to dig down and find more.

2) Turn off the external distractions for a specific period of time. Mute the volume on your computer so the ping of your email doesn’t distract you. Shut your door so people know you don’t want to be disturbed. Set your phone to go directly to voice mail.

3) Let others know about your work structure. Alert your colleagues about that closed-door session. If you’re available beforehand and afterward, people are less apt to interrupt your thinking time.

4) Use “pull” energy to get the task done. Create a vision of what the completed project, task, or priority will look like and feel like. Let that vision pull you along. Allow its energy to help keep you focused. The vision could come to you through meditation, journaling, or talking with others.

5) Build a habit. Successful athletes have training routines: they warm up, work out, take breaks, and cool down. As a result, their bodies learn to perform on demand. You can create similar routines for yourself and/or the people you manage. For instance, your warm-up ritual could include having a cup of coffee, reviewing your vision, and becoming clear on the result you want. Build regular breaks into your schedule to stand up, stretch, and re-envision today’s goal. About 10 minutes before your time is up, begin to wrap up and cool down. Make notes about what your steps will be the next time you pick up the project.

6) Celebrate! Acknowledge the progress you’ve made on your top priorities. Feel the sense of accomplishment. Smile.

In this multi-tasking world, being able to focus on a single task is no small feat, but it’s more important than ever. At times you may have no choice but to juggle, but make sure you carve out time to concentrate, too. Your attention span is like a muscle. If you don’t use it, you lose it!

Author's Bio: 

Andrea Novakowski is an executive coach who has been helping clients align their professional goals with their personal values since 1997. By tapping into Coach Andrea's knowledge, tools and skills, clients are able to meld career development and personal growth to reach higher productivity and deeper levels of job and personal satisfaction. Visit to download your eBook, "Top 7 Tips of the Week for Business Owners," and to request a complimentary coaching session.