It's 3 p.m. and your eyes start darting away from your screen and the long list of tasks ahead. Maybe you scroll through your Instagram feed; maybe you find an excuse to get up and grab a snack or chat with a co-worker. No matter what stage of your career you're at, we're all familiar with this scenario and the niggling distractions that tug our focus away from the task at hand.
While getting distracted is totally normal—we're only human, after all—it can take a serious toll on productivity. A University of California Irvine study found that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to refocus, which certainly adds up. To find a workaround, we called on 34 women at the top of their field and asked them how they deal with distractions.
Intriguingly, technology was at the core of their responses. The vast majority have learned to momentarily go offline and focus on the present and then return to their screens to delve back into the most pressing task. but don't just take our word for it. Here's how 34 female founders, CEOs, and thought leaders refocus to power through their day.
Taran and Bunny Ghatrora, Co-Founders of Blume
"I block out time for everything on my calendar and use a Pomodoro timer to get through tasks (in 20-minute intervals). Things that would normally take me an hour get completed in 20 minutes since I've removed all distractions for that time period. I learned this trick in law school and use it to this day!"— Taran Ghatrora
"I make a list, ranked in order of priority for my top focuses of the day. I try to tackle the most important first while I'm still fresh and energized. To make the most of this organizational tactic, I also remove all possible distractions. This means turning my phone off (when I can), logging out of my email inbox (again, when I can), and working in a quiet setting alone. I give myself a certain time of uninterrupted focus (usually 45 minutes) and try to power through!" — Bunny Ghatrora
Eunice Byun, Founder of Material
"It might seem counterintuitive, but I allow myself a few minutes to let my mind wander or simply zone out. I tend to become unproductive when my mind is on overdrive and overflowing with tasks, so by taking a moment to look out the window (the streets of NYC are always interesting for people watching) or grab a snack (we live for food here at Material!), I can create a bit of space and rest so I'm able to dive back in or re-focus."
Alex Fine, CEO of Dame
"I set my intentions at the beginning of each day. I know that I can't fully manage my time, but I can learn to spend it wisely. Setting my intentions at the beginning of the day really helps me prioritize how I'm going to spend it that day. Also—don't brag about being busy. You probably didn't start a business to be busy but instead to get something done."
Nicole Centeno, Founder of Splendid Spoon
"The simplest thing to do is put my phone on airplane mode, close my email tab, put on a great mix or song (Music for 18 Musicians is my favorite), and just tackle my to-do list. No excuses.
If that doesn't do the trick, then I'm probably distracted because of an emotion, and I need more of a hard reset. Emotions can really get in the way of productivity, and if they aren't acknowledged they'll continue to creep into your headspace. In this case, my go-to method to push myself is with a body scan:
1. From head to toe, acknowledge how each part of your body feels and any emotion connected to that feeling. (Sometimes I’m anxious because I have a complex task on my to-do list, and I feel rushed. Or maybe I’m nervous that my work is not going to be good enough for an audience.)
2. Take three deep breaths to release the emotion.
3. Repeat to yourself, 'Start now.' It sounds silly, but creating a little mantra to designate a new starting point really helps."
Vic Ashley, Founder and CEO of Laundry Day
"My morning bulletproof coffee is extremely necessary for my daily productivity. That's right—I'm one of those people who puts butter in their coffee, but don't knock it till you try it. I swear by this stuff. When you work from home, you really need to find your headspace and what helps you focus."
Cat Chen, Founder of Skylar
"We all have a lot going on, and it's easy to get caught up in the one-off issues, losing focus on the key priorities at hand. If you're like me, one way to refocus and get back on the path to productivity is by changing up your scenery. If you're at your desk, try getting up and moving to a new location, whether that means going outside, heading to the kitchen, or finding a conference room to hole up in. A change of scenery provides a physical reset, which in turn helps me reset mentally. Sometimes, I take my change of scenery to the extreme by heading to my favorite Pilates studio and doing a 45-minute class before jumping back into work."
Bouchra Ezzahraoui and Sophie Kahn, Co-founders of AUrate
"I know it's not very sexy or exciting, but [writing a to-do list] is the first thing I do when I feel overwhelmed. Today was a crazy day at AUrate, and I'm staring at my piece of paper with checked and unchecked boxes right now. It gives you a sense of priority, calm, and that there's a method to the madness. It also forces you to take a step back for a moment and focus on what you really need to get done. I can't live without it." — Sophie Kahn
"Do not multi-task. This is even more crucial while running a high-growth startup where priorities keep changing on a daily basis. I usually start with the low hanging fruit in the first hour of my morning then tackle one task at a time. After a year at AUrate, I learned very quickly how to prioritize with a few to-do-lists (I do have many versions of those: paper, digital, etc.) that assign the big-picture goals to each task. No distraction almost guaranteed." — Bouchra Ezzahraoui
Amber Jacobsen, Co-Founder and Director of Toby’s Estate
"When it comes to productivity, I live by the rule that meetings are for decisions, not discussions. I find that preparing my team prior to any meeting and letting them know my expectations beforehand is extremely helpful in expediting the decision-making process.
"On a personal level, every morning I read and filter through my emails once. I write down anything important and actionable, effectively creating my to-do list in the process. Once I get into the office, I spend the first three hours of my day tackling these items. I do not check my email again until these high-priority items are completed so that I don't waste my mental freshness getting caught up on things like ads, reports, and junk mail."
Sarah Ahmed, Founder and CEO of Warp+Weft
"For me, feeling distracted is a strong indicator that I need to take some time to reset and rebalance myself. My go-to activity is swimming because there is nothing more peaceful than being in the water, away from all the external stimuli. Taking this time is doubly important especially when things are hectic because if I don't, I will not be able to give my 100% and ultimately let down the people who put me in this wonderful position in the first place."
Alyce Tran, co-founder of The Daily Edited
"My number one tip is to always have your phone on night mode so you don't receive any notifications and check your phone when you feel you need to rather than being dominated by it."
Shirin von Wulffen, Co-Founder of Bastide
"My number one tip for being productive at work when I am feeling distracted: fresh air. I get out of the office and walk around the block to clear my head. Even 10 minutes helps me to come back refreshed and motivated. (Picking up a latte on the way helps too!) I also refuse to feel guilty when I am not at the top of my game and accept that I am just refueling for the next brainwave."
Tran Wills, Co-Founder of Base Coat Nail Salon
"One thing that has been the most impactful to keep me focused that I have started doing in the last couple years is forcing myself to do a daily digital detox, stepping away from my computer and turning my phone off for an hour a day. Doing this has really helped my mind truly rest, and in turn keeps me positive and focused about the day ahead and really helps me continue to stay creative. It's like a breath of fresh air for my mind."
Jenny Ming, CEO of Charlotte Russe
"To avoid workday distraction, I prioritize completing important tasks and initiatives in the morning before meetings and calls begin. Arriving at the office about an hour before everyone else affords me invaluable time to organize and plan my day before the official workday starts. To consolidate my day most efficiently, I schedule shorter touch bases and meetings."
Sara Panton, Founder of Vitruvi
"In my office, it's easy to get pulled in lots of different directions from departments wanting me to weigh in on things. When I need to refocus and quickly complete a task that involves my utmost attention, I go for a quick brisk walk outside and then use scent to cue my brain to get into the zone.
"For me, that means diffusing five drops of Cedarwood and six drops of Bergamot essential oil at my desk. This aroma is one that reminds me to stay grounded and focused. Scent is a really subtle way to cue the brain and body using familiarity that helps establish ritual. I also travel with cedarwood and eucalyptus essential oil in my bag and apply them to my wrists and neck if I need to get in the zone and get work done on a plane or in a car."
Alicia Sinclair, Sexuality Educator and Founder of COTR
"My favorite productivity hack has been/continues to be the removal of my company email from my phone. Now, more than ever, I feel that it is incredibly important for us to be in the present moment—whether that moment is enjoying time with friends or slaying it at work. Being focused, thoughtful, and in the right frame of mind while making business decisions means my work is delivered at a level that I feel is the most productive."
Shelley Sullivan, Founder and CEO of ModelCo
"Keep phone calls short. Talking on the phone to clients, friends, or suppliers can consume a lot of time. Try and limit each phone call by explaining to the other person that you're 'on deadline' and can't talk for long. Obviously, you won't be able to do this with some clients. In that case, turn your phone on silent when you're especially busy and ensure your voicemail explains that you're currently unavailable but will be checking messages later that day."
Yen Reis, Founder and CEO of Skin Laundry
"A good run or hot yoga session in the morning! A nice workout always gives me clarity and really helps me stay energized and focused throughout the day."
Rachel van Dolsen, Principal and Founder of RVD
"Working in an email-heavy industry like PR, I've found it essential to maximize my productivity during times when normal humans aren't working and emailing. Thankfully, I'm also an early riser––aided, of course, by matcha, cold brew, and my pup Esmé, who enjoys licking my face at the break of dawn.
"I've made a point to bang out bigger writing projects, plans, timelines, and proposals before my inbox starts to blow up. Often, I start my 'real' day having already accomplished a lot of my to-do list. This leaves me ample time to review my team's work, take meetings, join calls and respond to media inquiries, etc. On days that my early routine isn't possible, I input heads down time into my calendar––this is a signal to my team (and, more importantly, myself!) to sit down and do things, not let my inbox set my priorities."
Amanda Chantal Bacon, Founder of Moon Juice
"Clearing out my work area so I don't have clutter, loose papers or any other distractions around, and making my foolproof quickie tonic: The Sex Dust gives me fire and the Brain Dust helps me focus. I feel results within 20 minutes of drinking."
1 tsp. of Instant Coffee
2 scoops Vegan Collagen Protection
1 tsp. Sex Dust
1 tsp. Brain Dust
10 oz. hot water
1 tsp. of Instant Coffee
2 scoops Vegan Collagen Protection
1 tsp. Sex Dust
1 tsp. Brain Dust
10 oz. hot water
Kristin Cavallari, Founder of Uncommon James
"I'm a list girl! If I'm feeling distracted, I make a list and put them in order of priority. Sometimes I start at the bottom since it won't require as much focus, but it gets me in the swing of things before tackling the more important items. I get serious satisfaction out of crossing each item off once completed."
Olivia Carr, Founder of Shhh Silk
"I spend the first 90 minutes of every morning working on the highest payoff activities for our brand week-to-week. Daily interruptions are always going to happen, especially in an open-plan workspace like our HQ, so I remove myself to a quieter part of the office for the first 90 minutes of the day when I need strong focus time."
Vimla Black Gupta, CMO of Equinox
"I go grab a matcha tea from Juice Press with a hint of almond milk. I find that it energizes me and allows me to focus. Plus, I love the looking at the color of matcha—the green energizes me."
Jennifer Bett Meyer, Founder, JBC
"While we have so many tools at our fingertips to help us be efficient, these tools can become distractions that can knock you off your game—from social media, Slack, Twitter, phone calls, even emails. That said, it's important to set aside one hour each day to not answer emails, not take calls, and not hold meetings. I do this every day, and use this time to read and do research for the business and our brands. It’s so important to not always be in a reactive state and allow yourself time to not be so scheduled."
Leila Janah, founder of LXMI
"I am a big fan of meditation, positive affirmations, and exercise. I'm not a great meditator, but I find that even five minutes of deliberate breathing on my bed in the morning helps a ton. There is evidence that our thought patterns impact our body and brain, and that these thought patterns are changeable. One way to change negative thought patterns is to replace them with positive beliefs about yourself, the people around you, and the world."
Nidhi Kapur, Founder, Maiden Home
"When I want to jump-start my productivity, I step away from my to-do list and seek inspiration both on and offline. For me, this can be browsing design inspiration on curated sites, like Pinterest and Instagram, or even getting out of the office to visit local stores throughout NYC. Being able to get a fresh perspective and come back to what I love most about my work—creating beautiful design—always gives me the energy boost I need to refocus on what needs to get done in any given day."
Joanna Griffiths, Founder and CEO of Knix
"Take two minutes and write down everything you want to accomplish that day. Not the nice to haves, but the must-haves. Write them down and start to make your way through them. It sounds simple, but there is something so gratifying about crossing things off a list that makes it a great way to get your focus back on track."
Sali Christeson and Eleanor Turner, Co-Founders of Argent
"We're constantly trying to juggle a number of competing priorities. When we feel overwhelmed, we step away for some fresh air. Even five minutes of walking and talking helps put us back on track."
Lindsey Andrews and Lara Crystal, Co-Founders of Minibar Delivery
"I find a quiet spot alone and focus on the most important task and try my best to not check email or Slack. If I'm not on top of my game, it usually means I'm tired so I might go get an iced tea or matcha to perk me up before tackling my to-do list."—Lindsey Andrews
"I like to take a walk around the block and get some fresh air. The rush of energy helps me focus on my next meeting or my next big to-do."—Lara Crystal
Jac Cameron, Co-Founder of AYR
"My definition of 'work' feels very different at AYR by nature of the environment we have built. We like to make sure that our successes are celebrated and have worked hard to create an environment that’s energetic, flexible, and above all, one that is enjoyable to work in. I think it’s important to make time for the things that help center yourself. I go to yoga religiously and work out with Megan Roup, who founded the Sculpt Society. I make sure to get a good amount of rest so I can approach the day with clarity of mind."
Mignonne Gavigan, Founder of Mignonne Gavigan
"I often need to clear my desk to clear my mind. This enables me to begin again, so then I can get messy and be creative."
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