Do you have a long to-do list and a short attention span? Whether you procrastinate, let your mind wander, or keep hopping between tasks, never finishing one, you can prevent distractions from breaking your concentration. Try these seven strategies to stay focused on the task at hand.

By Paula Jhung

1. Be flexible and accept distractions as part of the process.

"As long as you're getting your work done when you need it done, distractions can keep your brain alive," says Lee Silber, author of Time Management for the Creative Person (Three Rivers Press). "Knowing how to handle them can teach us how to bend and not break."

2. Control the phone.

The telephone has all too often turned from a servant to a master. Keep it in its place by turning down the ringer and return those messages when it's convenient for you to do so, suggests Carol Venolia, author of Healing Environments (Celestial Arts). If you need further convincing to let the machine pick up, remind yourself that the dinner hour is the favorite time for telemarketers to call.

3. Master e-mail.

A flashing message can be highly seductive, but unless you're expecting something crucial, check and answer messages no more than once or twice a day.

4. Avoid the temptation of attending to clutter.

"I like to have a lot of projects close by, but I keep things stashed in clear-lidded containers," says Silber. "They're clear, so I know what I've got, but they're snapped shut so they won't call out my name."

5. Tune out the world with headphones.

"Music is a great way to muffle noise," says Silber, "especially when you listen to something that mimics the rhythm of the heart. That natural beat is very soothing and can get you in the flow."

6. Find creative ways to carve out personal time.

If you have young children, you need to be creative. When you set aside a specific time every day for a project, give it a label like "the quiet hour" or "mom time." They'll be more apt to understand that it's your time, and yours alone.

7. Cultivate your self-respect.

"You and your work are of value," maintains Venolia. "Whether it's personal or work time, it's important to set aside sacred time for yourself when you can't be disturbed."