Below are three steps for staying focused and keeping yourself on task as you move through the workday, along with the web sites and applications that can help you accomplish those steps and ultimately get things done and make the most of your time.
1. Make Lists
One of the first things you should do to get yourself on task is figure out what you actually have to do for the day. Making lists is a terrific way to keep focused on the things you actually have to get done and prevent yourself from straying into things that are really just wastes of your time. Remember The Milk is one of the best online list applications available. With support for the iPhone, BlackBerry, and other mobile platforms, Gmail and Twitter integration, and reminders by SMS, email, IM, and RSS, Remember The Milk is a great way to get your tasks organized and keep on top of what needs to be done.
Another great option is Gmail itself, which has a built in task manager. One of the great things about using Gmail for task management, is that for those of us who already live in our email inboxes, it keeps tasks top of mind. Plus, you can add emails to your task list with just a couple of clicks (the option is under the "More actions" drop down menu when viewing an email message). That way, if a client or customer sends in something that needs to get done, you can simply create a task from that email.
Whatever tool you end up using, be careful to keep your lists simple and to the point and avoid turning the act of making lists into its own special form of procrastination.
2. Get Organized
Once you have a list of the things you want to accomplish, it's a good idea to utilize web tools that will help you organize each individual task and project. Backpack is a great web application for helping you organize your thoughts and ideas around whatever you're working on. The app combines text, lists, images, files, and discussions into single, editable pages that can be shared with co-workers or customers. Whether you're a designer creating a new web page for a client, a restaurant manager redoing your lunch menu, a travel agent organizing a new vacation package, or a hardware store owner trying to keep track of which new products customers are responding to the best, Backpack can help you stay organized and collaborate on tasks with co-workers and employees. Staying organized can save time by keeping everyone on the same page and making sure you never have to spend time searching for something you've already done.
For those who run very client-centric businesses, good customer relationship management software like BatchBook can be a huge time saver. By keeping track of all your interactions with customers and leads, you can know who said what and when, and stay on top of what needs to be done for customers in order to close sales and keep everyone happy. That can help your customer interactions go more smoothly and save time in the long run.
3. Stay Focused
Distractions can be huge productivity killers – especially for small business owners who work from home. RescueTime is a wonderful application for making sure you stay focused. It functions by allowing you to schedule work times and automatically block out distracting web sites during those times. That way you won't even be tempted to check on your fantasy football team's progress when you're supposed to be doing work because it won't even be possible. You can also set rules to alert or block yourself from sites after you've been using them for a specific amount of time. So for example, you could allot yourself 30 minutes of MySpace use each day and have RescueTime lock you out after you hit that much usage so that you can get back to focusing on work.
For Firefox users, also check out LeechBlock, a free extension that can also be set to block out specific web sites at specific times during the day. And even though it was developed for students, small business owners can also get utility out of StudyRails, another application that lets you schedule work times and block distracting web sites and software.
Image courtesy of iStockphoto, ScantyNebula